The Golden Hare - a close encounter, courtesy of Kit Williams

Tony8 By Tony8, 17th Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

A personal account of my frustratingly close encounter with artist Kit Williams's golden hare, together with the story of its unearthing and his subsequent activities.

A Close Encounter courtesy of Kit Williams

It held all the mystery I needed, back in those hazy days of 1979; the riddle of the golden hare; watching the casket, consigned to the ground, by torchlight, in my grandparents house, courtesy of their twenty four inch colour set. The bearded man
leaning over it was the jewel encrusted hare’s creator, Kit Williams and he was, it later transpired, ably assisted by none other than the original mister starter for ten, 'University Challenge' presenter, Bamber Gascoigne; there to witness proceedings.
Some, of course, delight in ghost stories, or tales of flying saucers (there was no
shortage of those at the time) but, for me this was heady stuff; an eighteen carat,
earthly mystery; something I could imagine holding in my hand, hiding under the bed,
or using to incite envy, if not among my friends, then, surely, my enemies.
Often, I’d stroll the nearby park, as a binocular bearing fourteen year old birdwatcher,
while my thoughts wandered to buried treasure. If only, I thought, I could crack the code, by finding the connections, within the lavish imagery of each page; if only!
Trying to spot the locations, outright, seemed the clear path. The combinations of
letters, bordering each picture, were far too much for my small brain. The house, behind the swimming girl reminded me of Blickling Hall, in Norfolk; then again, maybe not. Each beautiful page was richly beguiling and of course Williams was working his spell, bolstering my interest in art and his own work, in particular. How many times, I wonder, did I wander upon the hill, between Ampthill’s twin crosses, unaware of what lay in the ground beneath and yet, it could so easily have been placed there for me.
Of course, I need not have kicked myself; had I held a hunch I’d have been at a loss;
probably neither knowing where to dig, nor sharing the eventual finder’s haste, in contacting Mr Williams, for assistance and yet, somehow, there was still the sense of
a golden opportunity missed; a pang, even. Still, one should celebrate the achievement; the sheer accomplishment of the code breaker, known to the media as Ken Thomas. How many nights of study and brain wracking deduction must the prize
have demanded? Well, evidently, as the Sunday Times reported, six years later,
surprisingly few. Thomas (real name Dugald Thompson), it was said, had learned of
the hare’s location from a former girlfriend of Williams, by way of his business partner, John Guard; this on the understanding that it would be sold and the proceeds used to promote animal rights.
Others, though, did come tantalising close, even unknowingly unearthing the casket and burying it again, for Thompson to find. Thus, grave disappointment visited Mike
Barker and John Rousseau; two puzzle busting teachers who may even have stood a
chance with the mind-boggling riddles on the, then, prime time ITV game show, ‘3..2..1’ (as, perhaps, might Albert Einstein)
Some solace may have been gained from the subsequent poor sales of a computer game, entitled Hareraiser, which, in turn, offered Williams’ treasure as a prize (the clues were said to be meaningless, leaving the hare unfound) and ultimate failure of Thompson’s company, Haresoft. Yet, when auctioned at Sotheby’s, in 1988, it raised
the ear pricking sum of £31,900, trumping Williams’ own highest bid, by more than
eighty percent and went overseas, to fields unknown. A full eleven years would then
pass, before the meeting of artist and creation, with the rabbit finally produced from
the hat (so to speak) on Radio 4. When interviewed, by presenter John O’Farrell,
Williams expressed a desire to see the hare again; this prompting a call from the
granddaughter of its owner and so the reunion was forged, with the meeting captured
by BBC television. There seems little connection, as his fingers hoist the quarry from
its red box, even though, when confirming its authenticity he does allude that “a mother always recognises her own babies”; but when he succumbs to temptation and gives it a prolonged shake, there’s the moment. As the bells he playfully attached, jingle, we could be watching the wonder of a small school boy, thrillingly handed percussion duty, for the very first time and who would deny him his pleasure?
“I was almost nothing” he says, “going nowhere and I made the hare, thinking ‘this is
something really special’ and it turned out that way! It’s very emotional really.”

But what of Williams, beyond the bounds of the hare? Well, many will recall his second, equally lavish, book, bedecked with bee images. Readers were invited to discover a hidden title (revealed to be Bee on the Comb) and express it, without resorting to the written word (upon which, the winner received a sumptuous inlaid box, depicted on the book’s cover) and then there was Out of One Eye. Self -mockingly titled (his own eyes, as many will know, point in opposite directions), this features work from his early years and has also received much acclaim. Should we purchase copies at Milton Keynes’ famous shopping centre, we may also encounter the frog bearing Bubble Clock, giving its enchanting performance, upon each hour, or, in Cheltenham, the Wishing Fish, with it’s giant duck, laying a constant stream of golden eggs. Around the clock face itself, mice appear, only to be predated by a voracious snake, while, beneath that, the giant eponymous fish sings 'I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles' (though Williams should shoulder no responsibility for the less appealing Billy Bigmouth Bass toy).

In addition to reuniting artist and hare, the BBC documentary, broadcast in 2009, also
revealed, along with dazzling sophistication in his recent paintings, a man of great charm and in this largely secular age, another fugitive from organised religion.
He, clearly, disliked his Catholic upbringing; did not want to attend the confessional and had also to contend with artistic rejection, by his mother (sadly, she considered his work, with its nudity, “mucky” and refused to display it, in the home). Yet, he knows his own mind and emphatically declares his atheism, while recent paintings reflect his concerns with the church. With my own feet set firmly on the ground, it seems to me the noblest of ventures.

Many, of course, must have wandered over enriched terrain, at Ampthill, but did each
harbour dreams of the hare? Did it drift into their thoughts, night and day, as it did my own? The only relevant certainty, in my mind, is that (together, of course, with Mr Barker), it would have been joyous to see a work, by Williams, in the hands of a Rousseau.

Again, the great man has vanished from the limelight, but given the chance, I would venture an additional question: With the legend of the hare still burning; with its beauty, intrigue and downright skulduggery and while we await our next assignment; how much longer, would he say, should we expect to wait, for the movie?


Art, Buried, Close, Encounter, Find, Finding, Golden, Hare, Miss, Near, Reunion, Scandal, Treasure

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author avatar Tony8
Experienced writer, specialising in the arts, politics and natural history. Well travelled, with a particular interest in UK geography. Also a keen photographer.

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