top of page

Here you will find a detailed account about some of Davids escapes.

 including actual newspaper clipping.


16TH April 1983 Yorkshire Post


A Children’s entertainer is planning a Houdini- style escape on Monday from the condemned cell in York Castle Museum. The famous dungeon which held Dick Turpin before his execution.

Forty four year old magician David De-val has accepted a challenge from the Museum curator and will be shackled and chained to the six foot thick cell wall and then locked in by staff. He says it will take him 20 Minutes to escape.

Mr De-val who will be wearing a track suit will have a chance to examine his bonds before his escape bid. Staff will also check to ensure he has no keys, although the great Houdini escaped from cells in Bradford, Huddersfield, Manchester and Lancaster, he refused the challenge of York made to him in 1909.


Today Mr. David De-val said “I am confident I will succeed although it could take me more than 20 Minutes, I know how Houdini did his escapes, I have studied his methods but this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to put it into practice.” “I think I will be the only man to escape from a condemned cell so I could find myself in the Guinness Book of Records” He added.

Dr. Graham Nicholson the Museum curator challenged Mr De-Val after hearing him say on television that he wanted to escape from a prison cell.


17TH April 1983 Yorkshire Post


Children’s magician David De-val escaped from the condemned cell today – and claimed to have beaten the great Houdini.

In just three minutes he freed himself from the cell in the notorious 18th century debtor’s prison, now part of York’s Castle Museum.

Nearly 80 years ago Houdini turned down a challenge to try one of his amazing escapes from the cell where highway man Dick Turpin spent his last night before his execution.

David 44 of Springhead Oldham had been manacled and shackled to the 6ft thick walls of the grizzly cell by deputy museum curator Hilary McGowan.

He was padlocked into the same Iron waist girdle that held Turpin, had handcuffs attached to the girdle locked around his wrists and had 18th century leg irons locked onto position on both legs with antique handcuffs.


Mrs McGowan then padlocked the irons to a heavy chain that had been there since the prison was built in 1705.

De-val wearing a track suit was locked in the cell with his clothes locked in another room. But three minutes after about 30 Press, TV and media men had filed out of the cell; De-val was seen running down the corridor in his ordinary clothes.


This is an account of David's Dick Turpin cell escape according to Frank Koval.

On March 24th, 1983 David received a letter from Dr Graham Nicholson, Curator of the castle museum, York, challenging him to escape from the very famous prison cell under his care. Dr Nicholson wrote 'I would be very happy to challenge you to try, so long as you allowed yourself to be shackled and chained in an authentic eighteenth century manner. I should add that the windows are double and triple barred, and there are some pretty thick doors and walls.

David was overjoyed. Many people have claimed to have Houdini's jail escape secret but he now had an opportunity of proving that he had the real secret! He wrote back to Dr. Nicholson three days after he had received the challenge saying, 'I wait for you to name the day and date and I'll be more than happy to accept your challenge'.

The cell at York is, indeed, very famous. It was no less than the condemned cell in the Debtors prison. The cell walls are six feet thick and the tiny windows are securely barred. Dick Turpin spent the last night of his life there, before being executed at the Knavesmire in April 1739. So, the escape attempt was arranged to take place on April 18th, 1983.

David swung the publicity machine into operation immediately. He was photographed handover a sealed file on the Houdini secret to his bank manager. Journalist Stephen Pile covered the coming event for the Sunday Times in his column on the leader page of the newspaper. Dr Nicholson also played his part by issuing a press release which began, 'Dick Turpin couldn't do it! Houdini wouldn't do it! Can David De-val do it?'.

On Monday April 18th 1983, the press arrived in strength and crews from BBC TV and Yorkshire television fussed over their equipment. After the interviews with the media, David was taken to the privacy of an adjoining cell by Dr. Rosemary Swain who had been brought in from York district hospital. There David stripped off all his clothing and was examined thoroughly by Dr Swain. She then minutely checked a track suit that David had taken along, before allowing him to put it on. Then, looking somewhat shy after the physical examination, he returned to the Turpin cell. Under the sceptical scrutiny of the press, David allowed the steel waist band to be locked tightly on him. Then his wrists were locked on each side of the waist band. His ankles were secured in heavy leg irons and finally a short chain was locked at one end to the waist band and to a ring attached to the wall at the other end.

Hilary McGowan

The last person out of the cell was Miss Hilary McGowan, Deputy Curator of the Castle museum, who doubled locked the solid oak door calling out, 'Good luck David'. The Curator Dr. Nicholson was unable to be present as he himself was confined - at home with mumps! David had learned of this only at the last moment, but the stunt had to go ahead.

Hilary McGowan summed up the general feeling that morning by declaring that she would be 'absolutely amazed' if David succeeded in escaping. Security guards checked both ends of the passage where the cell door was. No-one would be allowed to open the door from the outside. Five minutes or so after the cell door had been slammed shut there was a cry from the press of 'He's out'! Not only was David out of the shackles and the cell, but he had already escaped from the prison and was found fully dressed in his street clothes (but these were locked in the cell adjoining the turpin cell)! They found David some three hundred yards away from the prison, drinking a pint of milk. The press fired questions -Was a double of David used? Was a confederate involved? Was there a tunnel between the Turpin cell and Clifford’s tower, where David was found? These were the questions and a little thought showed them to be very wide of the mark. How did David do it? That’s a good question isn't it?


By Eddie Dawes

In April 1983 national newspapers carried the story of David’s Escape from the dungeon cell at York that held the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin Captive prior to his execution on the Knavemire in 1739. The cell located in the old Debtors Prison is now part of the famous Castle Museum and Curator Dr Graham Nicholson re-issued a challenge which allegedly Houdini had declined almost eighty years previously. David was chained and shackled to the wall but nonetheless made his escape. Visitors to the Museum can enter the cell, gaze upon its six feet thick walls and tiny double barred window and ponder the mystery of how any shackled mortal could possibly get out


15th June 1983 Yorkshire Post


Self styled Houdini David De-val hopes there won’t be any extra “body” in his beer when he tries to go one better than the king of escapologists in Leeds, Saturday.

The 44 Year-old children’s magician is to attempt to escape from a full 50 Gallon barrel of best Yorkshire bitter with a lid padlocked from the outside.

David from Springhead Oldham gives him-self 90 seconds to complete the stunt, which almost killed the original Houdini when he attempted it at Leeds Empire in 1911.

On that occasion, frantic aides had to split the barrel open with axes in front of a shocked audience and Houdini almost drowned.

The challenge is being thrown down by Joshua Tetley’s Brewery of Leeds, which organised the great Houdini attempt. The 1983 version will take place at Westwood Gala.


A Houdini disciple, David pulled off his biggest escape trick last April when it took him only four minutes to escape from shackles and unlock the death cell door in York Castle Museum, where highwayman Dick Turpin spent four months before being hanged.

The man who admits to being “three sheets to the wind” on two pints of ale is quietly confident and jokes “I just hope the beer doesn’t reach the places others aren’t supposed to”

But he adds: “I’m serious when I say this is going to be a real danger. One slip and I could drown” It’s not a sure fire set up, as many people seem to think.”

He will have an emergency team standing by with axes and bolt cutters. If there is no sign of him after 90 Seconds, he will give a signal to get him out.


20th June 1983 Yorkshire Post

Escapologist David De-val rolled out the barrel this weekend- and rolled straight in to the record books. And he did it by celebrating Fathers Day a day early in a way many dads would love – up to his ears in Tetley’s bitter!

The Oldham escapologist did what the famous Houdini couldn’t when he escaped from a padlocked 50 Gallon barrel of beer at the Tetley’s gala day in Westwood, Headingley Leeds.

Mr. De-val was challenged by Tetley’s to perform the escape after he shot to fame when he escaped from Dick Turpins cell in York this April.

In 1911 the brewery issued the same challenge to Harry Houdini at the Leeds Empire, but the attempt failed and the famous escapologist had to be freed from the barrel with axes.

Before climbing in to the steel barrel, Mr. De-val told the 2,500 strong crowds “Carbon dioxide was Houdini’s problem. Although he and I both managed to perform the escape in water, with beer is a different matter. As CO2 builds up in the barrel if there is any “Air Space”, and this can send you unconscious”

Anxiously watching he was lowered in to the barrel.


20th June 1983 Yorkshire Post

A Stunt man proved at the weekend that some people will do anything for a drink.

Mr. David De-val 44 escaped from a 50 Gallon barrel of best bitter- a stunt which nearly killed Houdini in 1911 at the Leeds Empire.

The stunt was the highlight of Saturdays annual gala at Tetley’s sports ground in Westwood Leeds

Mr. De-val, above of Springhead, Oldham practised for the escape by holding his head in a 12 Gallon container filled with the bitter and the stunt provided no problem for him. Mr De-val said “I discovered the main problem during rehearsals that was that if you tried to create an air gap while inside the barrel, it was poisonous – not oxygen. I am delighted to have beaten Houdini at his own game.”


By Eddie Dawes

The Houdini Milk Churn escape was naturally grist to David’s mill at the Llandudno British Ring Convention in 1983 he accepted the challenge to escape from a churn filled with 50 gallons of milk, featured as the outside publicity stunt. This followed a similar escape at Westwood Gala Leeds, when the magical folklore of the Houdini beer escape was re-enacted with a milk churn filled with Tetley’s

Ripon Cell Escape

26th July 1983 Yorkshire Post

POLICE looked on smiling as a man escaped from prison yesterday.

An escapologist, Mr David De-val 44 walked out of prison just 11 minutes after being handcuffed to iron bars in a locked cell, and notched up another success in his new career.

His escape marks the opening of a two month exhibition in the 17th Century building in St. Marygate. It displays the work done so far.

Ripon Cell Escape

By Eddie Dawes

Another historical setting was the scene of a De-val escape later that year (1983) a cell in the old 17th century prison at Ripon in North Yorkshire which closed in the 1870s. Fittingly the occasion was the opening of a new police and prison museum exhibition in the old building. After the statutory medical examination, David was put in leg irons and handcuffed to the iron bars of the door. He was out in changed clothes, well within the 15 Minutes time limit imposed

Rochdale Escape

Manchester Evening News

Bernard Spilsbury

Steel kept heavy weight Cyril Smith locked up today – but only for 21 minutes. It was the steel bolt of a former police cell door beneath Rochdale town hall that kept Cyril Incarcerated – not like the liberal leader David Steel- but the fine point did not escape the big man. It was all part of the lead in to the Rochdale Festival in which big Cyril had challenged 44 Year old Escapologist David De-val, who boasted no cell could hold him.

He put up a £50 to back his claim that Mr De-val could not escape and volunteered to be inside the cell at the same time. For the attempt Mr De-val was handcuffed by Chief Supt Douglas Richardson who used his own “Cuffs” before securely locking the steel cell door and then chaining and padlocking the bars of an outer exit to the cell.

As a final problem for Mr De-val- who has only been in the escaping business for nine months- the lights were switched off. Said Chief supt Richardson “There are no windows it is pitch black in there. But just 21 minutes later Mr De-val emerged leading the obviously relived MP –and a mystified police chief found the chains and locks still intact. Joked Cyril “He slid me under the door and through the bars – there a good three inches apart” He had not helped in any way with the escape.

After the escape Mr De-val said he did not want the £50 but Mr Smith should give it to any charity he wished. The secret of his escape will remain so Said Mr De-val. “I have studied for eight years to find out how Houdini did his escapes. Now the secret is lodged with the magic circle I’m telling nobody. “The only thing I’m worried about is that I might get a flood of offers from criminals” He Said.

Burnley Cell Escape

By Eddie Dawes

Eighty two years after Houdini had amazed people of Burnley by escaping from a cell at the county Police station, David De-val repeated the feat from a cell beneath Burnley Town Hall. These cells had been built in 1886 to hold textile rioters and remained in use until 1958. David changed into a track suit, he was medically examined and handcuffed behind his back before being incarcerated in the windowless cell which possessed an iron reinforced wooden door and triple lock. David emerged within ten minutes and, to the amazement of all he had changed back from his track suit in to street clothes but still his hands were handcuffed behind him.

Foxdenton Gala Escape

21st July 1984

David escaped from a welded box at Foxdenton Gala day where he was bound by ropes, Chains and handcuffs. He escaped in 12 Minutes.

Oldham Escape

27th August 1984

Another big public challenge was put to David this time by the Chairman of the Oldham R.S.P.C.A

Mrs H Bennett, The challenge to “The Jail Breaker” (David) was the following:

To be secured in steel barred dog kennel which was to be triple locked. A police officer would handcuff and lock him in the kennel, and to be examined by a local vet to ensure nothing on his person to assist in his escape. This was to publicly occur prior to the dog show at the venue.

David accepted the challenge and on Saturday 27th August at the R.S.P.C.A Animal Shelter on Coronation Street, in Oldham at 1pm. He undertook the challenge and escaped after twenty minutes.

David presented the prizes and rosettes to the winners of the dog show after his amazing escape.

Blackpool Rollercoaster Challenge

September 1984

In 1984, David De-val was challenged to escape from the "Revolution" roller coaster at Blackpool pleasure beach by Mick Hanzlik and Blackpool based magician Derek Lever. A challenge he gladly took on and succeeded in. The original stunt was filmed for the popular BBC entertainment programme, "Hotline". The Hotline TV show was a Surprise Surprise-style series with Hosts Mary Parkinson and Chris Tarrant. It was filmed live to my knowledge and David was there with the host Jenny Barnett who watched as the escape began. I know that these locks and items were genuine and were real. He had to escape from them without any help and he did so. The skill alone is just amazing to even be able to remove these with out being on a roller coaster! Mick Hanzlik Supplied the 2 locks in the video Derek Lever supplied the steel face mask and thumb cuffs the lady collector of police equipment supplied the Hamburg 8's.

Blackpool Rollercoaster Challenge

By Derek Lever

There was a time a few years ago when I challenged him on live television to escape from a set of thumb cuffs, with an iron mask locked on his head, whilst seated on one of the most terrifying rides I’ve ever seen –The revolution at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. How on earth he managed to pick the locks whilst the Revolution looped the loop time after time is quite incredible, but he did and made his escape in minutes.

To accept challenges requires Guts and lots of them, but to my certain knowledge David has never turned down a challenge or been beaten whilst attempting one- a quite remarkable record.

Blackpool Rollercoaster Challenge

By Eddie Dawes

The intrepid escapologist’s tour de force was undoubtedly the marriage of the old and new when before television cameras on BBCs Hotline he escaped from traditional restraints such as an iron mask, thumbscrew and handcuffs while travelling on the stomach churning, very modern Revolution ride at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. The challenge had been issued by Derek Lever and the programme was broadcast on 26th September 1984. This fearsome ride in which the cars loop through 360 degrees, running at 60m.p.h along the straight stretched and then going back in reverse, must be testing enough for the passive rider. The additional stress it must have placed upon the escapologist can only be imagined. Viewers were able to see David’s effect his release from Thumbscrew, handcuffs and finally padlocked helmet by means of a video camera and lighting attached to the lead car in which he was seated together with presenter Jane Barnett. It was an impressive performance.


21st August 1986 Yorkshire Post


Escapologist David De-val is throwing out a challenge at the Gala Day in Crow Nest Park, Dewsbury on Saturday.

He is inviting people to take along their own locks to make sure he is securely shackled before attempting an unusual escape routine as one of several attractions at the gala, being staged by Kirklees leisure services.

Chained around the neck, wrist, arms and legs and holding a live stun grenade, David will be locked in to the boot of a car and while it’s being driven around the arena he will attempt to free himself and fling out the grenade before it explodes.

He does point out that there is no risk to the audience as the grenade does not fragment but simply explodes with a very loud bang.

Providing he survives the escape he will for an encore play “Russian Roulette” with five hangman’s nooses.

Members Area

-------- UPDATES --------

15th November 2016

Website will be up and down over the next few days due to maintainance

27th September 2015

New photo of Euston Ted bear.

added to Career Items,

Also new Item added magic Table Cloth

Click here

6th June 2015


UPDATE: Rare vault escape and full Collecting Now TV show appearance added

UPDATE: another just added the rare Rochdale prison escape attempt.

New updated video clip of the great Revolution roller coaster escape!

AND Hotline tv show with David showing restraints and some magic.

See videos section.

1st June 2015

FULL TV clip of David Roller Coster escape comming this weekend.

inc the actual live challange to do it on TV from the BBC Show,

30th March 2015

News and Magazine articles about Rippon & York cell escapes

click here

14th March 2015

Update to Davids book about the Charles Smith Lock.

click here

bottom of page