Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: The Mastermind chair

Forty-three years ago, the Radio Times alerted us to the first screening of a "new and exciting brain game" called Mastermind.
As that first episode from Liverpool University was broadcast, it became clear that the star of the show was neither the winning contestant (or in Mastermind-speak, Contender) nor Magnus Magnusson, the original quizmaster (or Interrogator) but rather the black leather chair the Contenders were required to sit in.
The 'Soft Pad Lounge Chair' was designed in 1969 by Charles and Ray Eames as a more plushly upholstered version of their 1958 Aluminium Group. Two chairs were purchased for use in the initial 25-year run of the show, transported across the country by lorry. Said chairs are, according to one website that one sincerely hopes is trustworthy, specially modified with detachable arms "in case a Contender is too large to fit between them".
Such was the impact of the chair on popular culture that in 2009 it gained the indescribable honour of being voted the second-most iconic chair of the 20th century in a survey for House Beautiful magazine, losing out to the Model 3107 chair designed by Arne Jacobsen, astride which Christine Keeler famously sat.
In 1979, a chair was held to ransom by students of the University of Ulster, who demanded £50 for their Cambodia Relief Fund.They sheepishly returned it without any money changing hands.
The chair, described by former Celebrity Mastermind contestant Stuart Maconie as "elegant, refined, terrifying", possessed enough menace for Magnusson to refuse invitations to sit in it, but when the original run ended in 1997, he was given one as a souvenir.

Rhodri Marsden via