DID you know that the last bald prime minister we had was Sir Alec Douglas Home – and that was 50 years ago? Even then, in the fledgling days of television, this was seen as an image problem, with a producer telling him: “The trouble is that your head is shaped like a skull.”
Douglas-Home is reported to have replied that surely all heads were shaped like skulls. And skulls do have unfortunate connotations, as recalled by those famous lines from the poet TS Eliot, “Webster was much possessed by death/And saw the skull beneath the skin.”
So bald politicians don’t look good on the television and remind us of death, at least according to this unkind theory.
On a morning when we learn that a politician who famously owns the most mussed-up mop of hair has, unexpectedly, been appointed Foreign Secretary, it seems a timely diversion to consider male politicians and their hair. When it comes to Boris Johnson, his hair is almost as much of a character as he is (or pretends to be).
As a man who forgets his own baldness until a mirror or a camera offers a cruel reminder, this is a topic close to my heart. And my head. The other day, when writing about our daughter’s graduation day, I recalled my own distant ceremony, offering an image of a mortar board atop of long-gone curls. My cousin read this and sent me an old photograph of me with a thickly covered head, and I pass the picture on here. Other pictures arrived too (“How young everyone seems,” I messaged back. “Well, we were,” said my cousin, practical as ever).
David Cameron will be remembered for more important things, and I don’t wish to dwell on the departed prime minister again this morning, except to give an honourable footnote to his bald spot.
If you have never seen this, then that is because his hairdresser, Lino Carbosiero, spent a lot of effort disguising it; so much so that he was appointed an MBE in the New Year’s Honours two years ago. The Daily Telegraph reported at the time that a subtle “switch from a right to a left parting three years ago was enough to hide the damage”.
For some of us such salon subtleties are long out of reach: in order to shift your parting, you need to have one in the first place.
This topic is in the news this morning, but not because of Mr Cameron’s little secret (or other self-delusions sewn into his departure yesterday). No, this time it’s the French president who has had a mirror held up to the back of his head. Incidentally, I do wish barbers wouldn’t do that. I am sadly acquainted with the back of my head, and seek no further confirmation.
Francois Hollande, the embattled socialist incumbent, is reported by a French satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchaîné, to employ a barber on a salary of £99,000 a year.
According to the Telegraph, the revelations sparked jibes about “shampoo socialism”. This reminded me of a joke I once made about using a product called Wash And Go Bald; it also reminded me that my chances of a life in politics have been shot. Thankfully, a man can still sit at his laptop however thinly pastured his head may be.
In France this is all rather embarrassing for Mr Hollande, who came to power promising to be a “normal president”, unlike his showy conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was known for his extravagance and his model wife, Carla Bruni.
Instead it transpires that Mr Hollande hired his own presidential hairdresser, Olivier Benhamou, for the duration of his five-year term. His barber earns almost as much as a government minister, being paid £8,500 a month, while also receiving a housing allowance and family benefits.
Mr Hollande is known for the unnatural darkness of his thinning locks, which are coiffured with a care usually reserved for female premiers (think of Margaret Thatcher and her helmet head, every last hair sprayed into place to avoid U-turns in a breeze).
Perhaps the most noted Tory baldie of recent times is William Hague and I always think he looks rather distinguished, but there you go.
As for Boris and his untamed hair being appointed foreign secretary, my favourite response from around the world was a Tweet from the American political scientist Ian Bremmer: “Maybe the Brits are just having us on…”