Thanks to Martin Neal from Lincoln who has sent me an unlikely story about a friend of his grandfather’s called John Hayes, who did some rudimentary PR more than fifty years ago. To promote the 1951 European tour of the Hungarian fencing master Etterem, the former trainer of the Hungarian National Fencing Team, Hayes created an advance unit to spread word of his prowess.
Etterem’s promotional device was to slice apples on the throat of his partner, provoking the claim that it was “The world’s most dangerous variety trick”.
This fame resulted in Etterem going on tour with a hybrid show made up of
sword skills and hypnotism. Fatefully in Finland, Etterem had an unfortunate tiff with his gay lover. The heated and passionate row culminated with Etterem taking his sabre and slaying his sidekick.
The curious incident took place during Virpominen, a Finnish festival celebrating Palm Sunday. Finns are known to lightly lash their friends and relatives with willow twigs during Virpominen while reciting verses of hymns to ensure good health.
After his arrest Etterem pleaded that the crime was a drunken accident. His
elaborate defense was that in his confusion he had picked up the sword instead of the willow stick and, far from ensuring his lover’s good health, had fatally wounded him.
Failing to impress the judge with this tall story, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Helsinki jail. But his spell in choky did not last long.
During a show staged for fellow inmates, he managed a mass hypnotism of the
warders. Legend has it that he simply walked out of the prison and defected to the Soviet Union where he worked for the KGB, developing new methods of interrogation using his hypnotic powers.
Allegedly, and quite possibly apocryphally, Paul McKenna acquired a set of
the Etterem files from a former Soviet spy.
I hope to do more research on this story and investigate if Hayes’ public relations career career ended in Finland.