Man seen hanging from the top of the Blackpool Tower. Karl Bartoni, a most remarkable death-defying British escapologist.
Born in Blackpool (U.K.), Karl Bartoni was truly interested in magic as far back as he can remember. From the age of seven he started visiting a small magic shop in late 1956 run by the retired famous, Murray-The Australian Escapologist, Magician and Illusionist. By the age of 10, he was a regular weekly visitor to 'Murray's Magic Mart' and it was perhaps then that Murray realised that Karl really did take magic seriously. From then onwards Murray mentored Karl in many aspects of Magic but not in escapology at that time, however he did thrill him with stories of his many exploits in that realm. Who was Murray, you may ask? Click on the picture below to visit an article about him.
At the age of 12 (1961), circumstances led Karl to another interest alongside magic, in his life, namely horse riding, which in a strange way, would take him on the path to being Blackpool's resident Escapologist in future years. In 1963, Karl was invited to see practice sessions and help exercise horses appearing in acts at the Blackpool Tower Circus (under the supervision of the presenter, Sacha Houke). Also that year, Karl acquired his own horse along with all the responsibilities of keeping a horse but he still managed to fit his love of magic into his daily schedule.
No longer needing permission to go down to the circus stables, Karl became a regular figure 'behind the scenes' at the circus and began to make friendships with the Ringmaster, some of the acts, animal grooms and Ringboys, the 'circus bug' had begun to bite him. [Ringboy is the term used for the men who set up the props in the ring for each of the the artists]
When he left his schooling in 1964, Karl had more time available for all his interests and spent a lot more time at the circus and mid-season he was offered a job there as a ring boy. One of the acts appearing that season was one with Polar Bears and Karl was offered the chance of looking after them [a groom] when they moved to Glasgow's Kelvin Hall Circus for their Christmas Circus Show season. There he made more friends who enjoyed Karl's impromptu performances of magic during their 'free time'.
He returned to work at the Blackpool Tower Circus in 1965 and continued there until 1971, during which time he climbed the ladder to become head Ring Boy, appearing in some acts such as in Hoppe's Un-Rideable Mule act, a leading stooge in the acts of the famous clown Charlie Cairoli, a rider in a horse act and also in a knockabout horse act (the Svensons). He had also established firm friends with the men who worked as the Blackpool Tower riggers, plumbers, joiners, metal workers and wood workers as well as the dancers (Circusettes) in the circus shows and the musical director (Tommy Jones).
Lets backtrack though to 1968, which is when, with the assistance of Murray, Karl had built himself an Old Time Music Hall (Vaudeville) themed magic act. He got a little work during the winter periods but not as much as he would have liked to go professional.
He was still struggling to get established with the act in 1970 and it was then that Murray told him that to get known he should do an escape stunt. And so, Karl's career really started in 1970 when he embarked on a hazardous career called Escapology. Then at the age of 21, he undertook his first ‘escape stunt’ and nearly came to grief. The stunt was to escape from several restraints including a packing crate which was dumped into Blackpool’s Stanley Park Lake, no easy task for Karl, a non-swimmer.
Since that time, whilst appearing at various venues (including on and even overboard the QE 2 ), he has succeeded from escaping from many dangerous situations. He has been buried alive, suspended from burning ropes, escaped from strait-jackets, handcuffs , ropes, chains, coffins and other painful restraints. It has been a perilous lifestyle in which, often in admiration of Houdini, he has repeatedly had undertakers fingering their tapes.
Throughout the 1980's, Karl specialized in presenting outdoor promotional stunts for Fairs and some entertainment giants as well Ist Leisure, Long Life Beer and Canadian Club Whisky and was acclaimed by two P.R. companies as Europes most publicised escapologist of the 80's as a result of some of his most notable stunts.
Over the years, Karl had devised a 'signature' escape which consisted of him having a girl hang from and below him, whilst he attempted to escape from bonds whilst hanging upside down suspended from a crane and burning rope. This was made possible by him designing a special body-harness which could be worn under the clothes. Having the extra weight of a girl pulling on him made any escape difficult and painful which was readily appreciated by an audience. They clearly understood that, should the rope break, her innocent life would end too! In the early days, this signature escape had the girl assistant just sitting on a swing suspended from Karl but it evolved in 1983 to having a permanent assistant (Liz McDougal) who would hang by her ankles also trying to escape from a strait-jacket. Sometimes she was replaced by Jim McMurray, another of Karl's assistants.
One of these notable escape stunts involved Karl making death-defying history by escaping from bonds whilst hanging by his ankles hanging from the top of the Blackpool Tower (1983). A feat of skill and daring which no one previously had been allowed to attempt including Houdini who applied for permission when he appeared in Blackpool during 1905. Karl did three escape performances that day. The first from 100ft of rope and 100ft of sash cord. The second was his signature escape with Jim McMurray and lastly, a repeat of the second escape but with Liz McDougal.
Another of Karl's most dangerous stunts was in 1985 when, in the Hippodrome Circus (Great Yarmouth, England), he was bound in a strait-jacket and laid on the ground inside a cage of five growling male African Lions. A year later, one of these 'tame' lions turned on the trainer and left him seriously injured.
One stunt performance (in 1986) proved to be more hair-raising in more than one way. As part of an official opening, crowds of people saw Karl end up hanging by his ankles from a burning rope 90 feet in the air, trying to free himself from a strait-jacket whilst having a circus artist (Marcia Spence) hang from and below him by her hair! As ever, this stunt, like all his other performances, was menaced by the threat that always lurked in the shadows, that chance that he would kill himself and possibly a helpless girl too!
Perhaps Karl will always be remembered for his wedding. Recollecting that Houdini once stood up in front of the American Congress and declared his love for his wife, Bess, Karl wanted to do something similar for his bride to be, Wendy. So in May 1985, with a vicar, choir and church organ firmly ensconced on the top of the Blackpool Tower, Karl and Wendy were lowered from it's top in a flower bedecked open cage and married standing on a plank in mid-air 450 feet above the heads of a watching crowd of 20,000 people. The whole ceremony was broadcast along Blackpool's Promenade so the crowd could everything. Wendy wore white with a face to match, for a wedding which captured headlines all over the world. Taken from a Cartmell Public Relations Company article.
Karl says, "I gave up escapology in 1986 because of a heart problem and moved into the realms of Mentalism. In the late 80's I encountered the bizarre magic and effects by Mary Tomich of The Thaumysta Magic Co. and that set me going on a different presentation track. My life took a whole different direction once I entered the realms of bizarre magic thanks to Mary, the writings of Eugene Burger, the friendship of Charles W.Cameron and Brother Shadow. I became dedicated to promoting Bizarre and Storytelling Magick and it's performers."
In 1998, Karl was responsible for organizing the Blackpool Convocation, a small convention for Bizarrists in his hometown of Blackpool. Among those who attended was Mary Tomich from the States and Charles W. Cameron from Edinburgh. It was a small but intimate convention enjoyed by all and plans were made to hold another the following year. Also, The Magick Club (now defunct) was started. In October 1998, Karl and Charles Cameron arranged to have a small 'Gathering' in Edinburgh. This was attended by many including Carl Herron and Mary Tomich from the States. It was decided to make this 'Edinburgh Gathering' an annual event.
In 1999, Karl again organized The Blackpool Convocation which was a much bigger than the previous one. There were lectures and performances by many including David Lees (Scotland), Hugo Vesper (Sweden), Carl Herron and Eugene Burger (the States). Mary Tomich was there along with Charles Cameron and many watched as Charles did his last ever public performance at the opening ceremony. This event turned out to be the biggest ever Bizarre convention held in Britain but it was decided that it was to be the last one and instead move to Edinburgh and be called The Edinburgh Gathering, organized by Karl, Margaret Clark and hosted by Charles Cameron & Alexandra Wallace every October.
In 2001, as a result of the death of Charles Cameron earlier in the year, the event was renamed The Charles W. Cameron Memorial Gathering ( to see details click HERE ). It was held every October until the last one in 2008. Even though Karl did not attend the last one, he still organised it along with Margaret Clark, Ian Milton and Alex Wallace.
In 2003, Karl along with Alexandra Wallace, spent months fund raising and organising/arranging for a plaque to be made and erected in Edinburgh to the memory of Charles W. Cameron ( to see details click HERE )
Complying with a last wish made by Charles W. Cameron, in 2005 Karl revived the secretive order of the Immortals which became The Eternal Order Of The Immortals- 2005.
Owing to inflated ego's & dirty politics instigated against Karl in 2008, as well as the hi-jacking of the Immortals by others for personal gain, Karl turned his back on the Bizarre community in Britain and so ended the Edinburgh Gatherings and the real concept of The Eternal Order Of The Immortals- 2005.
Karl is listed in Bart Whalley's book, Who's
Who in Magic.
During the 2005 Charles W. Cameron Memorial Gathering in Edinburgh, Joe Cabral, the Grand Magus of the ICBM (Inner Circle of Bizarre Magik), invested Karl with a 9th. Degree Membership (the highest level possible) in the Inner Circle of Bizarre Magic. He was the first to be made a member outside the U.S.A, in this elite and unique 'Circle'.
More details and a photo gallery will be added soon, keep visiting this page.
To download and read 'Karl Bartoni - A Most Remarkable Life in Magic' [a photo illustrated article which appeared in M.U.M. Magazine, December 2005] click HERE
Back to the list of B's.
Back to the INDEX.
Home Main Page