A Best-Selling Game Pulls Brian Taylor Out of a Hole and Crowns Him King of Kensington

updated 05/30/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1983 01:00AM

Omar Sharif said it was the only game he'd consider giving up bridge for. Queen Elizabeth got hooked when she played it at the Duchess of Devonshire's country seat one weekend. To date it has sold three million copies in 18 countries, including a million in the U.S. since its introduction here last September.

The name of the game is Kensington. Play combines the moves of tick-tacktoe, the vindictiveness of backgammon and the complexity of chess. It's a game of strategy with simple rules. "It can be played by people from 7 to 107," gushes Elliot Comenitz, who discovered Kensington at the Nuremberg Toy Fair last year and whose firm, Samuel Ward Co., is licensed to manufacture it in the U.S.

At $10 per game, Kensington has made its two penniless inventors millionaires several times over. When they hit upon the idea in 1979, Britons Brian Taylor, 46, and Peter Forbes, 24, were both on the dole. Taylor was an artist struggling to support a wife and two children, while bachelor Forbes, an architecture school dropout, had once kept body and soul together by selling security peepholes in San Francisco. While idly scavenging the used-book stalls in London's Portobello Road one day, Forbes came across a book of Islamic designs. Taylor took one look at the intricate yet uncluttered hexagonals and, right on cue, exclaimed, "Wouldn't that make a marvelous game?"

Inspired, Taylor and Forbes spent from May till October hunched over a prototype of the game in Kensington Gardens, near Forbes' flat, shoulder to shoulder with old men playing chess. The game's title is their grateful nod to the place where it was born. But before their bonanza came rejection by every toy manufacturer they approached. Taylor and Forbes finally caught the attention of a firm of Cambridge travel agents, who saw Kensington as a promotional gimmick and agreed to invest $10,000. The result was Whale Toys, Ltd., owned by Taylor, Forbes and the travel agents until Forbes sold his share last year.

Flush with prosperity, Taylor has blossomed into a hail-fellow front man for Kensington. He still dresses the part of the painter, but mainly, one suspects, for effect. When he appeared on the Johnny Carson show wearing sandals and a sweater riddled with holes, Carson quipped: "Nice sweater. It'll be nicer when you finish it." Not bloody likely.

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