Guglielmo Marconi is a titan of our wireless age. He helped pioneer technology that completely reshaped society and redefined mass communication.

He also got metaphorically spanked in public by a 39-year-old magician who proved that Marconi was overstating the security of his radio transmissions. The place was the Royal Academy of Sciences in London and Marconi was about to demonstrate the great distance that his radio signals could travel. 300 miles, from Cornwall to London, to be exact.

But before he could squirt a single signal…

Someone… was beaming powerful wireless pulses into the theatre and they were strong enough to interfere with the projector’s electric arc discharge lamp. Mentally decoding the missive, [Fleming’s assistant Arthur] Blok realised it was spelling one facetious word, over and over: “Rats”. A glance at the output of the nearby Morse printer confirmed this. The incoming Morse then got more personal, mocking Marconi: “There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily,” it trilled. Further rude epithets – apposite lines from Shakespeare – followed.

That man was Nevil Maskelyne a magician and wireless pioneer in his own right who decided to prove the privacy limitations of radio by trolling Marconi… hard. Maskelyne went on to write several books including Our Magic: The Art in Magic, the Theory of Magic, the Practice of Magic (with David Devant) and On the Performance of Magic.