In common I'm sure with many men, I sometimes fail to resist the temptation to shave my beard off in creative stages. While a principal motivating factor in my growing a beard is that shaving is a chore, I nonetheless consider that it may be worthwhile experimenting with various styles that one seldom sees in the streets of modern Britain. Perhaps one day I shall find an arrangement of facial hair that suits me perfectly. In the meantime, it is an excuse for a lark.
This first style is, I believe, called an "imperial". The beard is trimmed to a point, and the moustache is twirled extravagantly upwards. The cheeks are bare. Possibly I should have trimmed two patches just below each corner of my mouth for the full effect. The expression I am attempting here is supercilious and I leave you to judge whether I have succeeded. I once grew my hair very long, on a year I spent doing archaeological digs, and without any encouragement from me, it went into ringlets. With ringlets and this style of beard, I might get work as a Charles I impersonator.
Now this one is more like it. I have been trying for some years to find out what this style is called, and have drawn a blank. I wrote to the Handlebar Club, and the reply said that it was an imperial, but this is surely wrong. This is the style Sean Connery had in the great adventure film The Man Who Would Be King, and it is the one I wore (using false glued-on hair) for my play The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman. I therefore have often called it a Mandeville, although one strong contender for its name is the Franz-Josef after Franz Josef I of Austria. Over the years, people have suggested other terms, such as Piccadilly weepers.
This style is one that suggests magnificent heroism and stern virtue. That's the expression I am attempting on the left. It is also good for roaring, and perhaps shooting Zulus, which is the expression depicted on the right. I'm not sure I could hold either of these faces for long without laughing, however (except perhaps the latter when being attacked by Zulus).
The next three photographs were all taken within a few minutes of each other, just before shooting the final scene of The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman. For this, I had grown some whiskers for my main part, but for a different part, I had to shave them off. The shoot lasted a week, however, so for that time I was making my way about town with my whiskers for all to see. Though I’m sure that some people did notice them and formed an opinion, almost none voiced any such thing. On the last day, unfortunately, I had neglected to remember to bring to the studio all the appropriate equipment for the task. I had no clippers, nor any shaving foam – instead just a cheap French disposable razor and a second-rate pair of large scissors. Here we see me after I have removed the moustache, leaving me with a rather avuncular pair of mutton-chops. I can picture this head in white marble in the corridor of some long-established scientific institution. It’s living owner probably invented the first device for accurately measuring the depth of a man’s character.
Taking the bristle-removal a little further, I stopped at this stage, thinking that it reminded me of the X-Men hero ‘Wolverine’. Internet research has shown me that I wasn’t quite right about this. Nevertheless, here is the shot. The pose for the camera was an attempt at a faintly Wolveriny one, but I fear that I have missed the mark by some margin, and instead wandered into the territory of the current James Bond: Daniel Craig. The next Bond should wear corduroy.
A short while later, I had taken it down to this much – mere sideboards (‘sideburns’ are an Americanism, after the American Civil War general Ambrose Burnside). The two looks I perceive here are those of a sort of Georgian farmhand – perhaps a Gabriel Oak type – and that of a startled man who has just undergone a painful shaving experience. You can see clearly how my skin is rough and red. It hurt a surprising amount, and for quite a while. I suffer for my art. Now it’s your turn.
If you would like to suggest a style I could have a go at next time I take my beard off, do let me know. I have tried just a moustache, but my moustache is mostly blond and it looks plain daft on me. My beard seldom gets very long, but even so, I would like to be able to assemble a good list of words to define beard length accurately. So far, in ascending order of length, I have:
- Hollywood Villain
- Geography Teacher
- Charles Darwin
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