Could a poison tipped ring work?

The feasibility of weapons that you can wear...
20 September 2022


A bottle marked with a skull and crossbones, and the word poison, containing a dark purple liquid



In some spy films, people have been poisoned by a ring or a shoe with a hidden blade dipped in poison. How practical is it to incorporate such dangerous toxins into your clothes or jewellery?


Kathryn Harkup answered this question...

Kathryn - It's very simple. It's just like a button release: you get this very sharp stabby thing turn up at the end of your shoe. And then of course you lace it with something that will kill you allegedly in 12 seconds. I doubt there's a poison that will do that, but I'm afraid that the henchman who gets kicked with it is as good as dead because they're not helping him.

Chris - Something similar happened with risin in an umbrella though, didn't it?

Kathryn - Yes. There was a famous murder in London on Waterloo bridge that was allegedly a poison filled pellet that was fired into a man's thigh, Georgi Markov's thigh, an adapted umbrella. I'm not sure the umbrella bit is true, but he certainly was poisoned with ricin and it took him three horrible days to die. Not quite the 12 seconds that Spectre manages.

Chris - What came first, Ian Fleming doing this with the shoe or the umbrella?

Kathryn - No, Ian Fleming got there first. I don't know if anyone was picking up tips, literally. Though, there has always been the idea of poison tipped weapons. There is nothing new to that. There's arrows have been laced with all sorts of nasty since time immemorial just to kill off various animals for food. So I don't think Fleming can be held responsible in any way for informing on Georgi Markov's death.

Chris - One of the things you wrote in the book that I must admit I was amazed by was you were describing - I can't remember exactly which film it was - it's where James Bond is swimming underwater, using that amazing thing he plugs into his mouth. And you say in the book that one of the spy services rang up the producers to find out how they did it.

Kathryn - That's true. That is how the story goes. Apparently some secret service agency had been interested in developing something similar because it has obvious uses in the secret services. And so they were fascinated, like they'd cracked the problem that they'd been tackling. And so they got in touch with the producers and the producers had to confess that this device that you see on screen was actually two soda syphon capsules glued together, and the actors were holding their breath.

Chris - So it doesn't work after all.

Kathryn - Well, it does. Now, this is one of those weird things I do wonder if someone has watched a James Bond film and thought, you know what, that's what the world needs. You can now buy rebreathers. They don't quite work the way they're described in the films. They kind of filter oxygen from the surrounding water a bit like fish gills. And it will give you some oxygen whilst you are underwater. So I do wonder if Bond has inspired a rather cool gadget.

Chris - Are they not huge?

Kathryn - They are bigger than the soda syphon capsules, admittedly, but they're still quite small. It's not like swimming around with a huge tank on your back.

Chris - Thanks, Kathryn. I'm amazed.


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