Alice Naylor, AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Researcher at the University of Portsmouth and Science Museum Group reports on two live events that evoked the history of a Kenwood demonstration, supported by the DHS Outreach and Events Grant.
"You don't sell anybody anything… by demonstrating you showed them something they wanted to buy" (Kenneth Wood, co-founder, Kenwood Manufacturing Company, unpublished autobiography, 1964, Science Museum Holdings).
My AHRC funded project focuses on the design, mediation, and consumption of Kenwood appliances from 1947-1985. As a CDP student with the University of Portsmouth and the Science Museum, I have been examining the Museum's Kenwood Holdings which includes trade publicity, photographs, media coverage and company records from 1947-1968.
A key strand of my research is interrogating the company’s performative selling strategies where demonstrators trained by Kenwood sold kitchen appliances in department stores and electricity showrooms. Understanding how these sales techniques are a relevant but underwritten area in the histories of mediation offers an alternative way of researching the company’s contribution to the history of kitchen appliances and the cultural and social impact of consumer durables in post-war Britain.
The Museum's archives contain a script composed by Kenwood for their demonstrator teams in 1948. Trained demonstrators sold the company's kitchen appliances to audiences in the manner of 'theatre' where a scripted, semi-choreographed performance was played out to audiences in department stores. It lays out exact details of how a demonstrator should operate the machine in front of her audience. The materiality of the Chef is central to its appeal and demonstrators were trained to harmonise their movements alongside that of the machine: the click of the 'on' switch, the hum of the motor and satisfying whirr when the machine was activated were integral to bringing it to life.
My outreach funding from the Design History Society enabled me to develop two live events that evoked the history of a Kenwood demonstration in collaboration with drama students from the University of Portsmouth. Part knowledge exchange and data gathering exercise by means of oral history testimonies and ethnographic fieldwork, the events were a means of showcasing the Museum's Kenwood archives and inviting audiences to engage with the idea of material culture.
The Kenwood script was our template for re-enacting demonstrator performances. The lead actor of our show was a vintage Chef A701. Designed by Sir Kenneth Grange in 1960 this elegant and fashionable food mixer was one of the kitchen appliances that defined the Kenwood brand throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Performances took place in the vintage kitchen at the Spring Arts & Heritage Centre in Havant, Hampshire. Audience participation was integral to the shows and the interactions between demonstrator, spectators and the Chef made a powerful case for the effectiveness of selling as performance.
This live action research has enabled me to interrogate the potency of Kenwood's innovative selling strategies, the opportunity to reflect on the meanings, attachments and value placed on kitchen appliances and the emotional resonances that they evoke. It has introduced new audiences to the important role that design history plays in exploring the culture of everyday life.
I wanted to thank the Design History Society for their generous funding for my 'Putting on a Show with the Kenwood Chef' events on 11th and 18th November 2022. It was a great success by any measure. We had a fantastic response to the live performances and excellent media coverage with a long-form interview on BBC Radio 3 who featured it on their 2022's Free Thinking Festival broadcast and live interviews with BBC Radio Solent and Express FM Portsmouth to illuminate the histories of Kenwood's demonstrators. BBC South filmed our workshops on 11th November and the broadcast on Thursday 17th November resulted in excellent visitor numbers the following day.
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