Toastmaster is a general term referring to a person in charge of the proceedings of a public speaking event, but where did this originate from?
Toasting the Greeks
There a number of theories as to where the tradition of ‘toasting’ originated from. Some believe this was from the Greeks. At ancient Greek banquets, the host would toast to the health of the guests to assure them that the wine they were about to drink was safe as in those days spiking wine with poison was a common way to dispose of an enemy. It therefore became a symbol of friendship for the host to pour wine.
The First Toastmaster
James Toole, father of actor John Lawrence Toole was possibly the first professional Toastmaster during the 1840s in London. There are allusions to him in the press of the day. His obituary noted his ‘stentorian voice, and the ability with which he kept very large companies in order.’
History tells us that there were two main characters who were heavily influential in the development of Toastmasters as we know them today. Richard Nash otherwise known as ‘Beau’ was a celebrated dandy and leader of fashion in 18th-century Britain.
His position was unofficial, but nevertheless he had extensive influence in the city of Bath until early 1761. He would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select ‘Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling by restraining compulsive gamblers or warning players against cardsharps.
He was notable for encouraging a new informality in manners, breaking down the rigid barriers which had previously divided the nobility from the middle-class patrons of Bath, and even from the gentry.
He was appointed Master Of Ceremonies, a title which he held for over 50 years. Beau insisted that any Master of Ceremonies should look splendid and be a match for any of the guests. They should also, however, stand out.
The origin of the distinctive redcoat worn by the Toastmaster is generally accepted as being introduced by William Knightsmith in 1894. Whilst always well-dressed, he was sick of blending in and one night expressed concern to his wife. She suggested that he wears a red coat to stand out. On the occasion of which William wore his red coat for the first time, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) admired it and commented favourably on it.
Soon after, the ‘hunting pink’ tailcoat became the adopted form of dress for Toastmasters. The name is derived from Mr Pink, the tailor who designed them. The ‘hunting pink’ tailcoat however is not worn in the City of London as the law stated that the hunt was not allowed to pass through the City. Instead you will often see them wearing a sash of red and white under their black tailcoat.