'Dr Walford Bodie M.D' was one of the most famous and controversial performers of the British music hall.
Born in Aberdeen in 1869, he became a master showman. He excelled in magic, ventriloquism, hypnotism and remarkable experiments with electricity.
Styling himself as 'the British Edison' and assisted by 'la Belle Electra', he passed 30,000 volts through his body for the climax of his act, illuminating sixteen incandescent bulbs and two arc lamps held in his bare hands.
At Sing Sing prison in 1890, William Kemmler became the first victim of the electric chair. Sensing public outrage at this method of execution, Bodie immediately built a replica and used it to shock and terrify his audience with mock electrocutions.
He would speak out against the American system of capital punishment, pleading for the humanity of the English gallows. In 1920 he obtained and displayed the original electric chair from Sing Sing, a present from his friend Harry Houdini.
Aswell as being a great showman, Bodie was a con man. His 'bloodless surgery' demonstrations utilised hypnotism and electricity ('Bodic Force') to 'cure' the afflicted and the lame. He even formed the 'Bodie Electric Drug Company', retailing 'Electric Life Pills' and 'Electric Linament'. These antics, along with his use of the letters M.D (which he claimed stood for 'Merry Devil') got him into trouble.
1909 was a bad year for Bodie.
He was particularly unpopular with medical students, and during a performance at the Glasgow Coliseum they pelted him with 'ochre, peasemeal, eggs and decayed herrings' before storming the stage. The police could not contain the mob, and he had to leave the theatre with a 'coat of many colours' and the chant 'Bodie, Bodie, Quack, Quack, Quack' ringing in his ears.
He was also the subject of litigation, losing a very high profile trial (he was sued by a former assistant for misrepresentation).
As damaging as these events were (soon after the better music halls and leading theatrical managers no longer offered engagements) they kept his name in the papers and he continued to perform.
He outlived two of his children. His 18 year old daughter Jeannie died in 1909 and his eldest son Albert, a talented illusionist, died in 1915, aged 26.
His wife of more than forty years, 'Princess Rubie', died in 1931. Not long after, in his sixties, he married Florie Robertshaw, a 22 year old dancer.
Walford Bodie died, aged 70, in 1939, at the end of a season at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, an old weary trouper.
bibliography:
Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women - Ricky Jay
The Great Illusionists - Edwin A Dawes