Frank Johnson

Of dyers, drapers, weavers and other trichological Fabrications

Of dyers, drapers, weavers and other trichological Fabrications

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One day last week, the only subject of conversation among those of us employed to observe proceedings from the House of Commons gallery was the blond hair of Mr Michael Fabricant, the Conservative member for Lichfield. It had become luxuriously longer than ever before, tumbling below his rear collar so that it was the most exciting that I had seen since the demise of Jayne Mansfield, or at least since Mr (now Lord) Heseltine procured the demise of Mrs Thatcher, herself no mean contender for these compliments.

Mr Simon Hoggart wrote about Mr Fabricant's hair in the Guardian. I, in the Daily Telegraph, did not mention it. What conclusion should be drawn from this, other than the obvious and to me painful one that if you really want to read about what people at Westminster are talking about, you should read Mr Hoggart rather than me? What I mean is: what conclusion should be drawn from the thing itself; Mr Fabricant's hair?

Mr Hoggart's many writings on the issue proceed from the assumption that the hair is a wig. As befits a journalist of a liberal disposition, he believes in, to modify Herbert Butterfield's influential book of the 1930s, The Wig Interpretation of History. Dr Johnson, when he reported on Commons debates, being a Tory, said that he took care to ensure that 'the Whig dogs did not have the best of it'. Mr Hoggart seems determined that what should not have the best of it are the dog wigs. That Mr Fabricant's hair is a dog of a wig is the basis of Mr Hoggart's view of the subject.

Not just Mr Hoggart's; at afternoon tea in the gallery canteen on the day in question, that Mr Fabricant's hair was a wig was, among my colleagues, a given. The only dispute was: a wig or a weave? Few doubted that some of the hair is Mr Fabricant's naturally. The issue was the balance between nature and art.

But in our discussion at least one of us had to stand up, like a few did in the early 18th century, for the anti-wig cause. Thus, ever the questioner of orthodoxy, defender of the oppressed and general revisionist, I tentatively suggested, 'Suppose it's just grown?'

'How d'you mean, grown? It can't grow.'

'Well, y'know. Michael's been too busy to go to the barber's lately, and it's rather got out of control.'

'You mean, a wig has somehow got out of control, and started growing?'

My position, then, was open to caricature, and indeed satire. The issue of Mr Fabricant's hair can only ever be resolved by independent inspection. That is something to which I urge him never to accede. Such inspection would be a violation of his sovereignty. His hair is not directed at British interests. Lichfield's electors took it into account at the last election, and returned him in a seat that his party was much expected to lose. I do not believe this was because Lichfield is a stronghold of wiggery.

But I had a broader reason for suppressing, when reporting to my readers, the news of the expansion below the rear collar of what I shall continue to refer to as Mr Fabricant's hair. Persecution of the wigs is a diversion from the real enemy in politics. The real enemy comprises, above all, the comb-overs or over-combers. That is, the men in our public life with bald patches who part their hair just below one ear and force it towards the scalp in a desperate effort to link its fortunes to the other side of the head. It is the 'come-over-and-join-us' movement that Mr Neil Kinnock, when Labour leader, once led. Historians will regard it as significant that, having campaigned as leader for British withdrawal from the European Union, he went over and joined the federalist cause. By the time he reached Brussels, he had ceased to disguise his baldness by the means to which I refer, and ceased to disguise it at all. Exactly! It suggests that his earlier position had just been, so to speak, a cover.

An equally notorious case is that of Mr Arthur Scargill in the revolutionary Britain of the 1970s and 1980s. He may have been more Trotskyist than Stalinist. But, as a good Marxist, one hirsute side of his head also sought a dialectic with the other side while clamping down a Stalinist occupation on the independent skin in-between. The occupation was enforced by a massive concentration of hairspray.

Mr Kinnock's and Mr Scargill's offence was infinitely greater than that of any wig politician. One was trying to persuade us to make him prime minister. The other was trying to persuade the workers to overthrow capitalism. Yet both were in effect saying that the masses who were essential to either cause were too unobservant or too stupid to notice that either of them was bald on top. As a result, Mrs Thatcher, Mr Major and capitalism survived against them.

There remains the question of those who dye. Their offence, too, is greater than that of the wigs. There is a kind of honesty about wig policy. It accepts that the game is up. But the dyers, like the 'come-overs', also insult us. They expect us to believe that politicians well into their fifties have little or no grey, and much black or brown. The editor of this magazine, and Conservative MP, has suggested in print that Mr Gordon Brown, who is at the time of life to which I refer, dyes his hair. Until proved or disapproved, this should be treated as vulgar Tory propaganda. But it would be a grave matter if Mr Brown, who expects us to take his word about the Five Tests, also expects us to believe that he is darker than he is. If it is true, the middle classes should be more grateful than ever to Mr Blair for keeping his party out of the hands of Labour dyehards.

Watching BBC television's Cambridge Spies, it became obvious that the betrayal of secrets to the Soviet Union could have been stopped in the mid-20th century had we bugged the benches in the central London parks. That is where, in this show, Philby and Blunt constantly meet their Russian embassy controller. Let us hope that Mr David Blunkett and MI5 are now doing something about these seats of treason; unless the programme-makers were rather unoriginal.