the bald truth

<em>New Statesman Scotland</em>

News of the astronomical sum recently paid for Marilyn Monroe's impossible dress was everywhere accompanied by a photograph of her unique delivery of a heavy-breathing version of "Happy Birthday, Mr President".

On the same page in one newspaper was a story that a new hair-restoring drug, branded "Propecia", had received its British licence after successful clinical trials.

The connection between these two items does not at first seem immediate - but in time it could turn out to be more revealing than Marilyn's frock.

Leaving aside the extraordinary fact that despite such a public display of musical love-making between a beautiful and voluptuous movie star and the president of the USA no newspaper ever asserted that they were having an affair, the significance of that occasion in the general aura that surrounded the Kennedy White House was immense.

It meant that a bald man could never again be president. Dwight D Eisenhower was definitely the last of the slap-heads. By good fortune Lyndon Johnson had just enough, Richard Nixon a bit more, Jimmy Carter and George Bush plenty and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each have enough for themselves and a collie dog.

Much more than a firm jawline, a piercing gaze and no paunch, hair has become absolutely essential for those who want to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Kennedy made the connection, so to speak, between the needs and cultural habits of Washington and Hollywood; a connection that has grown ever stronger in nearly 40 years. And which has, as it always seems to do, had its effect on British politics.

Where the Tories went disastrously off-course with William Hague was not because he is wee or weedy, or has trouble with his vowels, or lacks brains and determination. The man is bald. He will never be elected prime minister. Never. And Propecia will not help. Once bald has been officially and repeatedly welded as an epithet to his name, there is nothing Hague can do to reverse the process. The appearance of new growth on top will only invite more ridicule, make no difference to his prospects - and might even be damaging to his libido. Propecia contains a drug called finasteride, whose side effects in two per cent of cases, include impotence and a loss of sex drive. This is something that a man who has already been called "Wee Willie" should take into account.

Acute observers have reported developing difficulties at the other end of the Mace with the Blair hairline. Scalp sightings might encourage the Prime Minister to step out of the wind this winter while doing television interviews. But Blair can afford to brazen it out as his locks go into full retreat. He was elected with hair and, in the voters' mind's eye, he will always have it. Even if he doesn't.

Sean Connery proves the point. Held up as an encouragement to sad baldies as the world's sexiest man, Connery is in fact nothing of the kind. Like Blair he became famous with hair still attached and would never have got the part without it (James Bald 007 - never in a million years). And when in his later years Connery has landed leading roles, the producers' first action is to slap a rug on his dome. Connery has never ceased to be a good-looking man and this knee-jerk cultural habit is a shame and a sham, but a bald fact.

And things are actually getting worse for William Hague. Perhaps because of the pronounced presence of their crania, many baldies cling desperately to the myth that they have very large intellects. Many looked forward to a compelling combination of that and the other oft-quoted virtue of bald men when the film Shakespeare in Love was released last year. Fortified by the familiar engraving of the Bald Bard of Avon, they relished the prospect of their non-hirsute hero dashing off masterpieces in between hopping into bed with dozens of actresses. When Joseph Fiennes turned up with quill, folios and a shock of black hair as well as a beard, the world seemed an unfair place.

The political lessons of all this are plain. In the Labour cabinet there are no bald men, none in the Welsh and at Holyrood only Sam Galbraith and Ross Finnie carry the banner. These baleful statistics will discourage a very large percentage of the male population from ever becoming involved in politics. Clearly the British electorate will be deprived of as wide a choice as possible. Hague is unlikely to reverse the trend. What is to be done?

Perhaps another set of recent headlines offers hope. In the USA a new website offers eggs taken from fashion models that can be used by the buyers for in-vitro fertilisation. It may be only a matter of time before those donors with no family history of male pattern baldness begin to offer their wares. Fathers ambitious for their unborn sons might just be swayed by the faint memory of Marilyn Monroe in that frock, with that voice.

Meanwhile, back to the present and to Holyrood. What does all this mean for the succession to Donald Dewar (who's so tall, no one is sure about the state of his pate)?

The smart money has to be on Wendy Alexander.

Alistair Moffat

This article first appeared in the 08 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - To uplift the souls of the people