Harry Barton Edwards

The Great Deville and the Electrocution Chair, 1920swas born on December 2nd 1885 at Brierley Hill, Birmingham, into an age of great magicians. His performing career overlapped those of John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917), David Wighton (1868-1941), who performed as David Devant, Sigmund Neuberger (1871-1911), who was the celebrated illusionist The Great Lafayette, William Elsworth Robinson (1861-1918), who died on stage performing his bullet-catching illusion as Chung Ling Soo, the 'Marvellous Chinese Conjurer' and Erich Weiss (1874-1926), who became world famous as Harry Houdini.
The Great Deville, escapologist, 1908
Harry Houdini, escapologist, 1909
He became Barton Turner at the age of 3, when his mother, a widow with three young sons, remarried. Henri Deville had a compact build and he was something of an athlete in his younger days, winning prizes for distance races – both attributes serving him well in his career as an escapologist. The postcard with the picture that became his trade mark [left & featured on the Front Page] shows him in 1908 in a typical escapologist's pose in the early part of a career that was interrupted twice by world wars. A picture of Harry Houdini, taken during his tour of England during the summer of 1909, is shown below Deville's for comparison purposes.

Barton Turner married Lucy Alice Parker (1895-1975) on March 10th 1915 at St. Paul's church in Manchester. Lucy was one of six sisters; she also had two brothers. The marriage produced two children: Harry (1920-2009) and Dorothy, who died at the young age of 14 early in 1936.

Manchester Regiment cap badge, World War IDeville registered for military service in the Great War in December 1915. He was called up in June 1916 and appointed to 25th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment as a reservist. Private 24683 received a number of postings to reserve battalions on the home front, he was appointed an acting corporal (unpaid) in May of 1917 and "promoted" to acting sergeant (unpaid) in December 1917.
   He was demobilized in April of 1919 and he billed himself as the Wizard Of The Army when performing in the music halls in the 1920s and 1930s. His act included both escapology and illusions. Going into the theatre seems to have been a family tradition; Deville's brother, Percy Turner (1884-1971), created a career for himself as a theatrical producer.

The Great Deville's Xmas Greetings notice, 1920s The trunk escape described in the Magic Wand review above seems rather tame compared to his escape from the Electrocution Chair in the Cage ALIVE With Electricity [see poster] and his escapes from a set of manacles similar to those shown on the Deville postcard whilst sealed in a tank full of water.

His stage illusions involved feats such as chopping his sister-in-law, Pat Parker, alias Mdlle. Victoire, into a dozen pieces in the presence of an on-stage committee of members of the audience.

Deville's jobs when not touring included working as an insurance agent. He sold equipment for escapes and illusions from the middle 1930s on. During the Second World War, he built aircraft for the Fairey Company in the Manchester area, but he returned to performing after the war, working at the now defunct Belle View Amusement Park in Manchester until the late 1950s. His act as an illusionist during this period included his Human Wireless Illusion.

Retinal detachments after cataract operations brought his performing career to a close, but Deville continued to sell handcuffs, chain sets, electrical illusions, books on magic and instructions for illusions until well into the 1960s. The Great Deville died at his home in Romiley in December 1970, four days after his eight-fifth birthday.

First Page
First Page
On Stage
On Stage
Bits and Pieces
Bits & Pieces
Bits and Pieces
Larger Pictures

Compiled for Romiley Arts Federation by HTSP Web Division, 10 SK6 4EG, Romiley, G.B.
© RAF, MM23. All primary copyrights acknowledged.