“WATCHED by huge street crowds outside Stockport Royal one afternoon last week, escapologist James Crossini, attempting to improve on one of Houdini’s famous specialities, nearly lost his life in a blazing petrol-soaked straitjacket from which he could not escape,” reported The Stage on May 17, 1956, in an article discovered by Billy Mollon of Durham.

“Probably he owes his life to prompt action by Rondart who showered him in sand and water and eventually extinguished the flames.”

Rondart – real name Ronald Tomlinson, from West Auckland - was the world’s only professional dart spitter and, as every Memories reader knows, toured the world for 40 years earning his living on varie-ty stages.

James Crossini is just as fascinating. His real name was Jimmy Cross and he came from Middlesbrough. He was a world-leading escapologist, the natural successor to Houdini. In 1970, he appeared on an ITV show called Ev, as it was hosted by Kenny Everett, alongside The Bee Gees, The Tremoloes and Thunderclap Newman.

During the 1950s, Crossini and Rondart toured together – and the dartsman apparently saved the escapologist’s life in Stockport.

“The trouble occurred when a downdraught of air blew the flames on to Mr Crossini’s face,” said The Stage. “He was hanging by his heels and his hair caught fire.”

The article concluded: “Crossini appeared in bandages in subsequent performances.”

There was obviously high drama and great danger on the high wire outside the Royal, and the great Crossini did need his wife, Lee, to treat burns on his face.

But it is hard not to think that this blaze of publicity will have done wonders for ticket sales.

L Can you tell us anymore about the great Crossini from the Boro?

DONALD MARSHALL in Darlington emails to say how he appeared on stage with Rondart towards the end of his dart-spitting career in Stuttgart, Germany, in about 1986.

“I was invited on stage to have a blow, and out of three darts, I hit the board once – but with the flight end of the dart.

“The body of Rondart’s darts was made of cork and he could hit anything that was put on the dart board, including splitting a cigarette. He could put three darts, one after another into a playing card from a distance of 6ft.

“He came down to meet me and my family after the show. He was a great character and his assistant was charming.”

That assistant would be Cristina, Rondart’s second wife who hailed from Colombia in South America. She retired with Rondart to Witton Park in the late 1990s, where he died in 2005. Cristina, we believe, still lives in Colombia.