All this hoo-ha about Frank Dobson’s beard makes me think of my cousin Laurence, who lives in Perthshire and who almost certainly is not watching “Monarch of the Glen” on the grounds that it is rather mundane compared to his own life. For some years now Laurence has let his hair grow wild, and has ended up looking as you might if you had gone on the march with Bonnie Prince Charlie and left your razor behind - shaggy, tribal and undeniably impressive.
“I must be one of the few people who can clearly remember what you really look like,” I said to him one day.
“On the contrary,” he said. “THIS is how I really look. To have a beard is natural. To shave, as you do, is completely against nature. As far as I can remember, you have always shaved, so I have no idea what you really look like.”
It’s true. Maybe Dobson is right to stick to his beard. If he shaved it off, we would get have to get used to a different Frank Dobson, just as, when Billy Connolly finally emerged from behind all those whiskers, we had to get used to a Billy Connolly who looked startlingly different from the bearded one, even if he was clearly the same person.
Or was he? There is a character in an Aldous Huxley novel who wears a false beard to a party and finds that it so bolsters his self-confidence and enhances his success with girls that he keeps to the false beard ever afterwards; he feels like a different person and therefore IS a different person. It would be interesting to find out from Billy Connolly if he underwent any character change after the operation to remove his beard, or if people felt differently about him.
Indeed, it would be just as interesting to find out from Ken Livingstone what changes there were after he removed his moustache. I had forgotten until I saw some vintage footage the other day that Ken used to sport a little ‘tache, which gave him a slightly spivvy look. Maybe that is why he shaved it off. Maybe some advisers whipped out some shaving foam one day and said: “Nobody is ever going to trust you looking like that, so we’re going to shave it off for you...”
But least Ken and Frank both know what it’s like to have facial growth, and I would feel more confident about taking up a position on the matter if I myself had ever been bearded or moustachioed.
For the same reason, I have never criticised Eddie Izzard for cross-dressing. I haven’t really tried it myself, so I don’t feel I should comment, though I do sometimes ring the changes on pyjamas by climbing into a nightshirt, which is the nearest a man can get to putting on a sort of dress and still being thought normal.
The other night, in fact, I had lost something small on the bedroom floor and was crawling along looking for it, when I made the interesting discovery that if you go crawling in a nightshirt, you actually move up inside it. This is because you’re not kneeling on the floor; you’re kneeling on the inside of the shirt, so of course you also crawl along the inside of the shirt, and if you don’t stop in time, you hit yourself under the chin with your knees and perhaps even get stuck inside your nightshirt in a high embarrassing posture. Which I did. When my wife helped to release me, from my own nightwear, I said, to justify myself, that this was something that never happened to a woman. On the contrary, she said, it happened to women every time they wore a long dress and had to go down on their hands and knees.
“Women know all about the risk,” she said. “Only men are unaware.”
“And you, now. Why don’t you tell your fellow men about it so they know as well?”
“I believe I will.”
And so I have.
A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington, I thought this piece was going to be all about beards and Frank Dobson?
Miles Kington writes: No, that was just to put you off-guard. It was really about the health hazards of crawling in nightshirts, which is one of the major causes of accidents in the home.
A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington, Thank you.
Not at all.
The Independent Tuesday May 14 2000