BRIANWAVE COLUMN No 22: January 1996

Fast Forward

Brian J Ford

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I was lunching in Lincoln’s Inn with our surviving founder Lance Ware, the way you do, when Mensa came up for discussion. Lance recalls that the original name was going to be Mens (Latin for ‘brain’). But, says Lance: "This was just after the Second World War, and there were many new glamour magazines appearing on the book-stands. The proposed title could have been mistaken for one of those." So they declined the noun and came up with Mensa. It has the additional meaning ‘table’, giving the impression of peers meeting to talk.

A young Victor Serebriakoff joined in 1949 when the membership stood at 240. One of Victor’s main plans was to increase that as fast as he could. A recruitment campaign followed, and the membership topped 1,000 in 1960. We reached 10,000 in 1983, and by 1992 had 32,768 members. (True to Mensa’s style, the enrollment of the 40,000th member had been officially celebrated the previous year!). As we go to press, the paid-up membership is 37,548.

We now need to find ways in which eminent Mensans can share their abilities with others. I was able to persuade committee to agree to our Events programme and it is an honour to chair the panel of patrons who support it. My other favourites include the new Enabling Courses, the first of which I presented in London a few months ago, and our one-day events for children. The inaugural day was held at Cambridge. I asked how many children had come a long way - and 120 hands went up. ‘Right, put them down,’ I said, ‘And now raise your hand if you live in Cambridge or quite near.’ There were just six. Children from Scotland and Cornwall came for a chance to revel in their minds. We will certainly have more of this.

What about the future? Mensa can now move to an era of being more open about the way it works. We can be clear about our finances, keep tabs on our testing, and give more to the members. I’d like the magazine to change, too. There is a danger of it looking like a newssheet for the people in power, and I would like to see free expression of dissent. It’s said that professional complainers might take over - but wise and judicious editing is the answer to that. The airing of new views is exciting, and an intelligent community like ours could benefit greatly.

Mensa can grow in influence in an age when educational standards are waning. People are hungry for insight, and yearning to use their minds. That’s one of the reasons why trivial games are selling so freely, and quizzes are popular in pubs. People are pursuing tests, when educational examinations are wanting. I think Mensa could be a channel for much of this new mental exuberance. We should use the next fifty years to build on the achievements of our first half-century.

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