Piddington, Sydney (1918–1991) and Lesley
(1925– )
A husband-wife team who gave one of the most famous stage
telepathy acts of modern times. Sydney Piddington was born
in Australia in 1918. During World War II he served in an artillery
regiment in Singapore. After the fall of Singapore he was
imprisoned for four years in the dreaded Changi Camp, immortalized
by fellow prisoners Russell Braddon, author of The
Naked Island (1952), and artist Ronald Searle, who drew illustrations
of his life in the camp.
As a relief from harsh treatment, forced labor, malnutrition,
and disease, the camp prisoners staged theatrical entertainments.
An article by Dr. J. B. Rhine on parapsychology in a
stray copy of Digest magazine stimulated Piddington and Braddon
to experiment with telepathy, and they devised an act
which became a notable feature of the prison camp entertainments.
After his release from the camp, Piddington returned
to Australia where he met and married radio-actress Lesley
Pope in 1946. The couple worked up a telepathy act based on
Sydney’s experience in Changi jail, and the Piddingtons became
a successful show on 2UE in Sydney and 3K2 in Melbourne,
followed by live stage shows.
In 1949 the couple went to England, where they appeared
over eight weeks on BBC radio programs, which were a sensational
success. The Piddingtons became a household name almost
overnight. In one remarkable program, twenty million listeners
waited with bated breath while Lesley Piddington,
sequestered in the Tower of London, correctly stated the difficult
test sentence ‘‘Be abandoned as the electricians said that
they would have no current’’ relayed by Sydney telepathically
from a BBC studio in Piccadilly, several miles away. The line
had been chosen independently of the Piddingtons, and it was
only revealed to Sydney when he was asked to concentrate
upon it in the studio.
Throughout the BBC shows, the tests were rigorously controlled,
and if there was a code (as so many theorists suggested)
it would have to have been independent of aural and visual signals
and able to operate at a distance. The possibility of concealed
electronic devices (in a period long before micro transistor
techniques) was also ruled out by searching the
Piddingtons. One by one each ingenious ‘‘explanation’’ of
trickery was eliminated under conditions that precluded codes
and confederates. Everyone had his pet theories about how it
might be done, and part of the success of the shows was the
challenge issued to the public by the Piddingtons ‘‘You are the
judge.’’ Some psychical researchers (including Dr. S. G. Soal)
objected to the shows, presumably on the ground that telepathy
should be restricted to laboratory investigation. However, the
Piddingtons made telepathy a topic of conversation throughout
Britain, and years later there has been no revelation of
trickery. Skeptics have not offered a viable explanation, other
than a staged hoax by the BBC that could account for the Piddington’s
performance.
Russell Brandon later wrote a book about his former campmate
and his wife and the Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research provided lengthy discussion of their work (vol. 35,
pp. 83–85, 116–19, 187, 244–45, 316–18; vol. 42, p. 250).
Sources
Braddon, Russell. The Piddingtons. London T. Werner Laurie,
1950.