Toastmaster

Toastmaster is a general term, prevalent in the United States in the middle 20th century, referring to a person in charge of the proceedings of a public speaking event. The toastmaster is typically charged with organization of the event, arranging the order of speakers, introducing one or more of the speakers, and keeping the event on schedule. Such meetings typically include civic events, service organization meetings, and banquets of various purpose. In many meetings, a toastmaster typically addresses the audience from behind a dais or from a podium. At stage entertainment events, especially ones broadcast on live television, the toastmaster often takes the form of a master of ceremonies, introducing the entertainment acts. The term has fallen out of use to a large degree. The most famous person associated with this role was George Jessel, known in his lifetime as "Toastmaster General of the United States" (as a parody of Postmaster General of the United States).

In many service organizations and businesses, the role of toastmaster was a permanently assigned role, but often rotating among members. Toastmasters were largely expected to keep the event from becoming boring, and a cottage industry arose in the middle century to cater to the desire of businessmen and other leaders to overcome the fear of public speaking. Would-be toastmasters were typically counseled to use light humor, and to have anecdotes and epigrams handily memorized. Toastmasters International is an organization dedicated to helping people in public speaking and in fulfilling the role of toastmaster.

Such was the importance of a toastmaster remaining sober in order to conduct events, he may have had a special cup, called the toastmaster's glass which, although of the same size and shape as others at the event, in fact was of much lower capacity due to an almost solid interior. Several such glasses are now displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

In England, the history of the Toastmaster is shrouded in mystery, as little documentation has survived. The first recorded instance of a toast being offered occurred in A.D. 450 at a great feast given by the British King Vortigern to his Saxon allies. Rowena, the beautiful daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist, held up a large goblet filled with a spiced drink and drank to the king, saying, "Louerd King, waes hael!"-"Lord King, be of health!"-to which he replied, "Drink, hael." There has been a Keeper of Wine, or Arbiter Bibendi, since medieval times, who directed the flow and service of drinks. To add flavour to poor quality wine he would add spices to heated bread (toast). The pledges of our forefathers were Bumpers or Huzzahs and the words used were Hebrew words like lechayim (to life).

In a time when poison was a murder weapon of choice, the toast was designed to put guests at ease by pouring all the drinks from the same communal container, and clinking glasses to spill the contents from one glass to another. This would assure everyone that the wine wasn't poisoned, and the clinking of glasses is reminiscent of bells and drives away the devil.

Before the age of printing, guests at banquets had no idea who was at High Table. The Master of the Toast would stand behind each person at that table and proclaim loudly their name. Subsequently 'promoted' to be a kind of Chairman, with the host of the event, he would be engaged for his wit, humour, originality and general personality. It was required that for every Toast, the drinker should drain the glass empty and hold it upside down to prove it. The Toastmaster was able to remain sober by using a Toastmaster's Glass - a small, eggcup size vessel made of thick glass with a small bowl. It had a thick stem and flat, solid bottom, which the Toastmaster used to bang on the table.

An article by Isaac Bickerstaffe in Tatler magazine in1709 referred to two young revellers in the Pump Room at Bath. A 'lady of the town' was bathing, covered in little more than confusion. One of the young men scooped some water from the bath into his glass, at the bottom of which was a small piece of toast or crouton (later known as a sop) from the Master of the Toast at the banquet he was attending. He said, 'Nay, though I like not the beverage (the water from the bath) I will TAKE THE TOAST to this lady', and he proceed to drink - water, toast and all. This is the first time the word Toast was used in pledging a health.

An early, if not the earliest book entirely devoted to toasts is J. Roach's The Royal Toastmaster, published in London in 1791. "Its use," he says of the toast, "is well known to all ranks, as a stimulative to hilarity, and an incentive to innocent mirth, to loyal truth, to pure morality and to mutual affection." Another early collection of toasts was The Toastmaster's Guide by T. Hughes, which was published in London in 1806. In Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens writes in 1837 about a “Toastmaster with stentorian lungs.” If there was a Golden Age for toasting it came between about 1880 to 1920 when toast books and pamphlets appeared, and prominent authors wrote and contributed their own for anthologies. Newspapers ran columns of them and The National Magazine had its own Toast Editor, whose duties included judging the winners of a monthly toasting competition. The first Toastmaster to wear a red tail-coat was William Knightsmith who had become annoyed by regularly being called a waiter. He worked in London from around 1895 until his death in February 1932. His portrait, owned by the National Association of Toastmasters, is on loan to the Mayfair Millennium Hotel. He was also the Olympic Games announcer at the 1908 Games in London.

Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the Toastmaster has forgone the 'chairmanship' of banqueting duties and had tended to become simply an announcer required to make formal pronouncements and statements. After the war in the late 1940s and early '50s, the banqueting world became revitalised and functions proliferated. About twelve Toastmasters who had worked before the war continued where they had left off but could not cope with the increased workload. Many men, now out of uniform, were finding that they had new talents as Toastmasters and Masters of Ceremonies and rapidly built good reputations. In 1955 eight Toastmasters and M.C.s met at the invitation of Maurice Lewin to form the Association of Toastmasters and Masters of Ceremonies (A.T.M.C.)

The numbers grew and the volume of work increased with it. In the early 1970s and early '80s, the necessity to be Masters of Ceremonies became less important, as the type of dance altered considerably. With the advent of Twist, Rock and Roll and other modern dances, newer bands were frequently less capable of playing the older style of dance. In 1973 the name of the A.T.M.C. changed to The National Association of Toastmasters and the work as a Dance M.C. reduced. Toastmasters are now regularly seen at weddings, dinners, Masonic Ladies Festivals and other gatherings where a degree of organisation is called for and a touch of class, with a little humour, is needed. There are now functions all over the world that call for a British Toastmaster and require more hospitality entrepreneurial skills from the practitioners of our profession than they ever have done.

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