Passion and love or rage and danger, the colour red conjures up strong emotions and yet it is described as the warmest and most dynamic of pigments, so how did the colour become associated with the English Toastmaster?
Well, it all began with two sharply dressed men, born a century apart. In 1704 Richard Nash, became Master of Ceremonies in the city of Bath. This was a position of influence. Nash became ‘head of entertainment’ for those seeking introductions, acceptance and admission to all the exclusive events that Bath had to offer, much of which Nash was responsible for. In their day, assembly rooms were elegant public venues for socialising and dancing, where the fashionable people would flock to see and be seen.
Nash, the grand facilitator, would ensure their introduction and admission; overseeing the rules of etiquette and enforcing the correct attire and behaviour. He assumed many roles: organiser, matchmaker, diplomat and was a celebrated fashion icon of his time. Always finely dressed, Nash was easily identified by his distinctive clothing and black wig. Often seen sporting a large white fur hat contrasting with a stylish black frock coat, black breeches, black stockings and black heeled shoes adorned with elaborate silver buckles. He always carried a black cane, not to aid his walking but to summon attention by banging it on the floor, it being the forerunner to the gavel and block.
Nash was considered one of the most influential figures in English society, and as a Master of Ceremonies he set a precedent for impeccable style and manners; even after his death 1762, many of his standards continue to this day.
It was William Knightsmith, official Toastmaster to King Edward VII, who injected colour into the livery of the Toastmaster. Like Nash, Knightsmith wore all black and had a penchant for fine clothes. However, at functions he was frequently mistaken for one of the guests or a waiter. Wanting to stand out from the crowd he complained bitterly to his wife, who suggested he should consider wearing a huntsman's jacket, referred to as ‘hunting pinks’ by the hunting fraternity.
A word about the actual colour ‘huntsman’s pink’, it is not in the slightest pink but red of the truest scarlet. It is thought that the name derived from Mr. Pink, a London tailor who acquired a huge quantity of scarlet material, heavily discounted directly from the US Army.
So, back on track…it is 1894 and Knightsmith, at his next event held at the Freemasons Tavern, (now renamed the Connaught Rooms) in the West End of London, wore with some trepidation his new scarlet tailcoat. Regrettably he was mocked mercilessly but he persevered and undeterred attended a function in the presence of The Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VII). Like the proverbial sore thumb, Knightsmith stood out from the bustle of guests and waiters. Unmissable, the Prince applauded his bright red livery, and overnight the ridiculing ceased. Word spread of royal approval, and Toastmasters across the nation embraced the colour.
Finally, a twist on the Toastmasters redcoat and that of the traditional attire worn by the equestrian hunt. Because ancient law prohibits hunting in the Royal Parks by anyone but royalty, a hunt is strictly forbidden from entering the City of London. A Toastmaster, in fear of being mistaken and arrested, would avoid wearing a jacket in ‘huntsman’s pink’ at a City function. Instead a black jacket is worn, adorned with a red and white sash fittingly depicting colours of the City of London.