Update – Five Years On

Dear All

Having abandoned this little project upon completion about five years ago but not having the heart to shut it down, it is with inestimable pleasure that I note it’s still getting respectable hits every day. What can I say? Thank you all for your continued support.

Well, I’m still around, obviously, and despite what some consultants might tell you about Alopecia Universalis, my hair never did grow back. Anywhere. And all I really want to say about that is that I’m OK with it. In fact, when I come across a photograph of myself in the before-time, with my nondescript, mousey hair, I have to admit that I look a lot better now. I’ve forgotten the last time I caught site of my reflection in a mirror and saw a stranger. It’s just me. My kid doesn’t even remember me with hair… I mention this in case anyone out there has found their way to this blog because of ongoing hair loss, for whatever reason, or bloody lightening alopecia (mine all fell out in under three weeks). I know how stressful this can be, and all the anxiety about looking so different. I just hope you’ll trust and believe me when I tell you that you get used to it, while no one else around you bats an eyelid. I used to be self-conscious about having no eyebrows or lashes, but unless I mentioned it, no one had even noticed.

Back when it happened, though, I was freaking out, like you do. And I had excellent support from friends and family as well; I was very lucky. Without going into gory details, I was already fighting depression, low self-image and body dysmorphia when alopecia got me, and had been dealing with this lot for most of my life. You can imagine what an appearance-altering condition did to me. At the time, what kept me going was what always keeps me going: I had a family to get up and look after, and I had to keep working. It was pretty hellish, but I did it. I’m sure you can relate. Whoever you are, whatever you do, and whatever your age or gender, losing your hair is no bloody joke! My point is that it gets better. There are worst things than this, and in time they get better too. They have too. The alternative is to give up, and what a waste that would be. Life is always precious. You figure that out more the older you get, I can tell you.

So, what have I been up to since then? I’m happy to report I’ve got my mental health under control, with the help of an excellent GP, my lovely wife, Gracie, and a brilliant therapist called Sonja, along with the right balance of meds. No longer plagued by depression and social anxiety, I’ve got back into my first love of motorcycling again in a big way, after years of just using a bike for work and running errands. Now they’re fun again. I’ve written and published three books – a novel, a history and a biography – and am under contract for a fourth. I’m also now regularly selling articles on literature, film and history, and making it as a professional writer and editor. (When my hair fell out I’d just gone through academic redundancy and didn’t know what the hell I was doing.) I’ve also gotten into tattoos and started colouring myself in for a bit of visual excitement. And without any hair growing through, those colours surely do pop. My son is nearly ten now, and we’re thinking about having another kid. OK, the pandemic is a drag, but we’re all doing alright. At least all these lockdowns are giving me more time to write, rebuild old motorbikes and do a bit of blogging again.

Anyway, this blog was a significant part of my recovery. Stage one was finding Alopecia UK, particularly their Facebook group. I’d urge you to do the same, because early on it’s important to realise you’re not alone, and to get proper information about your condition as well as good old fashioned moral support. My experience was that the medical profession wasn’t much help. I got offered some horrendous treatments as well. I’ll warn you though, guys, expect to hear a lot of women discussing wigs and cosmetics. It’s a lot easier for us. We can just go full Jason Statham!

I’m not so involved with Alopecia UK now. I’ve just gotten on with my life. (I don’t really think of myself as ‘having’ alopecia now. This is just my face. I could do with losing a bit of weight, but I don’t really think about hair.) But I’ll be eternally grateful to them and I’ve made some good friends through the group. The next stage of recovery, or acceptance… moving on, whatever, was this project, which started out as a bit of fun on social media, a challenge to myself to find a bald icon every day. This was quite well received at the time, so I turned it into a blog. Looking back, I wish I’d tried raising a bit of money for charity, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing, innit? I found that exploring all these different (bald) looks, all people that I regarded as pretty stunning, was hugely helpful in accepting my own transition from hairy biker to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. And I figure if this exercise made me feel better, maybe it would help others as well, especially kids. I can only hope it has, and I do still sometimes get lovely feedback from readers, so I guess in some small way, it did.

Because of my interests, my choices were always going to tend towards actors and iconic characters, as well as musicians, artists and writers. I’m well aware that the world of sport was under-represented, for which I apologise. I’m of a certain generation too, so a bit old fashioned; I’m also acutely aware that there wasn’t nearly enough age, gender and ethnic diversity. And I’ve often kicked myself for forgetting someone obvious – Jason Statham, for example. So, with all that in mind, I though I might as well fire this thing up again. Not every day mind – more of an as and when I have time – but if it in any way raises someone’s self-esteem a touch, or just a smile, then it’ll be worth it. We are a cool bunch, us hairless heroes, craggy, exotic and full of character. Let’s keep celebrating that!

Warmest Regards


Day 100, No. 100. Shakespeare

The Chandos portraitHAIRCUT 100: Day 100, No. 100. At last, I reach the end of my spiritual journey. I hope you note that even in these times of political upheaval, global uncertainty and sheer existential terror – not to mention bereavement, self-employment, three other blogs, a book contract and a five-year-old – I have never missed a day! I started this blog on August 11 this year. At an average of 500 words per post, that’s approximately 50,000 words written in three months. Wow. Go me. I wish the latest novel was coming together so quickly.

To recap, this has been a celebration of awesome baldness in all its forms, in honour of those of us who, for whatever reason, are a bit thin on top. For my dear friend Colin, who passed away on Day 68, it was chemotherapy what done it; for me, bloody alopecia areata universalis. Sometimes it’s part of the aging process, sometimes it’s just bad luck. I appreciate it can be a style thing or a statement, but, by and large, most of us don’t choose to go skinhead. I was a long-hair. This was never my natural look, so I needed something to guide me through the transition; compiling a cavalcade of Kojaked cultural icons was deeply therapeutic. To paraphrase the Bard, ‘Oh bald new world, that has such people in’t!’ If you are going through hair loss, or, especially, if you have a kid dealing with it, I would urge you to do the same. It really does help raise self-esteem again, and it’s actually rather fun.

Looking back at my list, it certainly betrays my age as much as my interests. I’m acutely aware of many more contemporary examples, particularly in sport and music, I might have used, but then I’ve gotta be me – make your own darn list! I am old and geeky, I did warn you, hence all those references to classic horror and sci-fi. But one way or the other, I did the ton and as a rocker of the old school that is always what it’s about…

Anyway (drum roll), here is the final entry in the original ‘Haircut 100.’ Now, this ain’t The Prisoner, so it isn’t going to turn out to be me. As well as being geeky, I am also a literary man, so, in the 400th year since his death, it is in every way appropriate to conclude this project with William Shakespeare (1564–1616): Bard of Avon, poet, playwright, and actor, and very probably the greatest writer in the English language. The son of a provincial glovemaker and a farmer’s daughter, Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two epic poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and have been performed, studied and re-interpreted consistently across the world and across the centuries, being staged more than the work of any other playwright in history. As Ben Johnson wrote in the prefatory poem to the First Folio edition of his collected plays (1623), Shakespeare was ‘not of an age, but for all time.’

Shakespeare’s early works were comedies and histories, and having mastered these genres he turned his attention to tragedy, producing such incredible plays as Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth. Well, you know who he was… Debate continues over the authorship of Shakespeare’s work, but these are essentially popular and academic conspiracy theories with very little supporting evidence. It is as if we cannot somehow accept this level of genius in a single human being who produced all these wonderful words with, as I believe Peter Ackroyd once pointed out, nothing more than a sharpened feather. If you think about it, no-one questions the ownership of the work of prolific talents like Mozart, Dickens, Picasso or David Bowie. Occasionally, once or twice in a generation, some people are simply that brilliant.

Shakespeare was recently celebrated on the BBC by the redoubtable Philomena Cunk, who noted that school must’ve been very different for him, on account of not having to study Shakespeare. ‘If Shakespeare had written Taken,’ she argued, ‘it’d be four hours long and be mainly Liam Neeson fretting and pacing and talking to bones. That’s the basic difference between Hamlet and Taken: Liam Neeson makes up his mind.’ He did, however, she concedes, give the world Romeo and Juliet, ‘easily the finest romance of the pre-Dirty Dancing era.’

So there you have it. They say Shakespeare pretty much had a word for everything, and that includes hair loss, which is covered in The Comedy of Errors (written between 1592 and 1594), Act II, Scene 2. Enjoy:

ANTIPHOLUS: Why is Time such a niggard of hair, being, as it is, so plentiful an excrement?

DROMIO: Because it is a blessing that time bestows on beasts; and what he has scanted men in hair, he hath given them in wit.

ANTIPHOLUS: Why, but there’s many a man hath more hair than wit.

DROMIO: Not a man of those but he hath the wit to lose his hair.

Thank you for reading!


(Exits, pursued by a wig)

Day 99, No. 99. Telly Savalas

KojakHAIRCUT 100: Day 99, No. 99. Aristotelis ‘Telly’ Savalas: actor and singer; as Lt. Theo Kojak, the patron saint of baldness. Obviously, I’ve been saving this one for a place of honour. Savalas was a first generation Greek-American, born in Garden City, New York in 1922; his mother was an artist originally from Sparta and his dad owned a Greek restaurant. He was the second of five children, and when he started school he spoke no English. He attended Columbia University and graduated with a degree in Psychology. He served in the US Army during World War II, going on to work for the State Department, hosting Your Voice of America on ABC News.

He remained with ABC through the fifties, producing TV sports programmes before getting into acting in 1958, first appearing in Armstrong Circle Theatre, a CBS drama showcase, and going on to guest star in single episodes of over fifty classic shows in the sixties, including The Untouchables, Combat!, The Fugitive, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the The Twilight Zone story ‘Living Doll’; he was also a regular cast member in 77 Sunset Strip. Burt Lancaster was impressed by Savalas’ portrayal of gangster Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in the TV show The Witness, and cast him in The Young Savages in 1961, giving him his film break. He went on to act opposite Lancaster in three more movies, including The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Savalas tended to get cast as either cops or bad guys, including the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Other iconic roles from that period include Archer Maggott in The Dirty Dozen (1967) and ‘Big Joe’ in Kelley’s Heroes (1970). Savalas shaved his head to play Pontius Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), retaining the look thereafter.

But it is as the gravel-voiced, lollipop dangling New York detective Theo Kojak that Savalas will always be remembered. The series began on CBS in 1973 (I remember watching the pilot with my parents as a kid, utterly transfixed), and ran for five seasons until 1978. His younger brother, George, was a regular cast member, playing the affable Detective Stavros. Seven TV movies were made after cancellation, the last, Kojak: Flowers for Matty, in 1990. Kojak’s trademark lollipop was a prop suggested by co-star Kevin Dobson (‘Lt. Crocker’), and indicated both character and actor’s desire to quit smoking. Savalas won an Emmy and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of Kojak, and a revival seems imminent, with Universal recently announcing plans for a film with Vin Diesel taking the lead, which I think we can agree is the perfect choice.

In addition to acting, Savalas also bizarrely had a pop music career in the 70s, after his is spoken word version of Bread’s song ‘If’ reached the top of the charts in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Weird, but then he did have a fantastic voice… Another Savalas curio well worth seeking out is his appearance on the Australian paranormal witness show The Extraordinary in 1993. In a short but atmospheric interview, he relates an experience he had while still working for the State Department, when he was given a lift to a gas station by a friendly but slightly odd man driving a Caddy who, if the name and number he gave having loaned Savalas a buck for fuel was real, had been dead for two years.

Telly was diagnosed with the same type of cancer that killed his father in 1989, but he continued to work pretty much to the end. He died the day after his 72nd birthday in 1994. He is buried in the famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park; Frank Sinatra attended the funeral. ‘Who loves ya, baby?’

Please click here for Day 100

Day 98, No. 98. Eddie

Adrian EdmonsonHAIRCUT 100: Day 98, No. 98. I’m bringing it all back home now, as we move inextricably to the end of this epic project. So, in a bit of a change of pace from my previous run of sci-fi icons, I give you Adrian Charles ‘Ade’ Edmondson, National Treasure: comedian, actor, writer, director, musician, Yorkshireman and winner of Celebrity MasterChef 2013; AKA Sir Adrian Dangerous, Eddie Monsoon, Vyvyan Basterd, Edward Catflap, Vim Fuego, and Edward Elizabeth Hitler. This man is very close to my heart, and has been making life a bit less horrible since the post-punk alternative comedy boom of the early-80s, which was a rotten time to be young in the UK otherwise.

Edmondson studied drama at the University of Manchester, where he met best friend and long-time collaborator Rik Mayall. As ‘20th Century Coyote’ they became stars at The Comedy Store in Soho, later moving to Peter Richardson’s Comic Strip club with other Comedy Store regulars ‘The Outer Limits’ (Richardson and Nigel Planer), MC  Alexei Sayle, and French and Saunders. The popular club caught the eye of programmers at the newly formed Channel 4, and the troupe was commissioned to produce six self-contained half-hour films entitled The Comic Strip Presents… the first of which, ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset,’ was broadcast on the opening night of Channel 4 on November 2, 1982. (I remember it well. I was eighteen, with mates, and way out of my head. But I digress.) Other memorable Comic Strip shows being ‘Slags,’ a parody of Bladerunner and West Side Story, and the ‘Bad News’ saga, following an awful Heavy Metal band that are slaughtered by an angry mob after a (real) performance at the Castle Donnington ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival. (Look up ‘Warriors of Genghis Khan.’) Pretty much concurrently, the BBC signed Edmondson, Mayall, Richardson, Planer and Sayle to star in The Young Ones, an anarchic sitcom about four students in a house-share written by Ben Elton, Lise Mayer, Mayall and Sayle (Richardson later dropped out and was replaced by Christopher Ryan). Along with The Comic Strip Presents… this show represented a paradigmatic shift in television comedy, and its influence can still be felt to this day. And the rest, as they say, is history…

Edmondson and Mayall continued to work together up until Mayall’s untimely death in 2014 aged 56. Their creative zenith was probably Bottom, which married the violent slapstick of ‘alternative comedy’ with a much older tradition of the comedy double act, reminding us that Samuel Beckett was inspired to write Waiting for Godot by Laurel and Hardy. (Mayall and Edmondson in fact played Vladimir and Estragon in a West End production of Waiting for Godot at the Queen’s Theatre in 1991.) Bottom ran for three series on the BBC from 1991 to 1995, moving from screen to stage in a series of tours culminating in ‘Weapons Grade Y-Fronts’ in 2003; and back again with the surreal movie Guesthouse Paradiso (1999) – which includes an early performance by Simon Pegg – and perhaps the wisest words you will ever hear: ‘Well you see, Richie, it’s like this: You’re born, you keep your head down, and then you die. If you’re lucky.’

Edmonson was one of Mayall’s pallbearers, offering a moving tribute that encapsulated their wonderful and incredibly productive friendship: ‘There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard.’

Edmonson’s acting credits are too long to list, and he remains a familiar face on British television, nowadays often presenting, in affectionate travel documentaries like The Dales, Ade in Britain and Ade at Sea for ITV. For the last ten years, he’s focused more on music with his band The Bad Shepherds, also contributing to Pour l’Amour Des Chiens (2007), the first new studio album from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in 35 years with the surviving original line-up and other ‘New Millennium Bonzos’ Stephen Fry and Phill Jupitus. He has been married to fellow Comic Strip comedienne Jennifer Saunders since 1985 and the couple have three daughters and three grandkids. Saunders’ character Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous takes her name from Ade’s alter-ego, Eddie Monsoon, a foul-mouthed, alcoholic and self-destructive South African comic, whose unpublished autobiography concluded ‘Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Give me a drink, you bastards.’ What a guy.

NB: This post is dedicated to my bestest buds Matt and Ray at Geekshelf: ‘Rightey dokey matey bloke flap old salty seadog amigo skip-jack jockstrap piano tuner, let’s see you balls this one up!’

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Day 97, No. 97. Riddick

Vin DieselHAIRCUT 100: Day 97, No. 97. Vin Diesel, actor, producer, director and screenwriter. To petrolheads everywhere, he is closely identified with the role of Dominic Toretto, engineer, ex-con and street racer in The Fast and the Furious series, which he absolutely owns, but here we celebrate him principally as Richard B. Riddick: Furyan warrior, mercenary, fugitive, ‘shiner,’ and one-time Grand Marshal of the Necromongers, because he’s just so fucking cool. Riddick exploded onto the screen in the relatively low-budget cult sleeper Pitch Black in 2000, a sci-fi/horror movie co-written and directed by David Twohy. Riddick is introduced as the highly dangerous captive of a drug-addled bounty hunter, en route to prison on an unremarkable transport ship. His eyes have been ‘shined,’ surgically altered so he can see in the dark, resulting in a sensitivity to daylight that requires him to wear welding googles, creating his signature steampunk look. In a fantastic exercise in character development, the enigmatic Riddick moves from villain to hero after the ship crash lands on a desert planet populated by vicious, raptor-like creatures that emerge during an eclipse.

This was followed by the more ambitious The Chroniclers of Riddick in 2004, and epic hero’s journey in which a personal quest for vengeance leads Riddick to overthrow the brutal religious crusade of the Necromongers, becoming the Order’s Grand Marshal. In Riddick (2013), the character is once more stripped down to his essence, fighting for survival on a desert planet against vicious alien creatures and two rival groups of mercenary bounty hunters. (There’s also an animated movie – Dark Fury – and a couple of video games.) In the original draft of the Pitch Black script by Jim and Ken Wheat, the character was a woman called Taras Krieg.

The distinctively-voiced Diesel is a fascinating actor, with much more to him than your average mainstream action hero. He has described himself as ‘of ambiguous ethnicity.’ His step-father was an acting instructor and theatre manager, and Diesel (born Mark Sinclair) started his stage career aged seven. After an uncredited part in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (1990), Diesel made the short film Multi-Facial in 1995. The film is a semi-autobiographical exploration of Diesel’s frustration at the difficulties faced by mixed-race actors seeking parts in Hollywood. He was inspired by the book Feature Films at Used Car Prices by Rick Schmidt, and wrote, directed, starred in and scored the movie on a budget of $3000. On the strength of a positive showing at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan, the film was accepted for the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Diesel went on to make the feature-length Strays in 1997, again writing, producing, directing and taking the leading role, as a small-time New York hustler searching for meaning in his life. On seeing Strays, Steven Spielberg, who had already been impressed by Multi-Facial, wrote the part of Private Adrian Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan specifically for Diesel, providing the actor with a powerful, break-out role.

Diesel has three kids, but prefers to keep his family out of the public eye stating that ‘I’m not gonna put it out there on a magazine cover like some other actors. I come from the Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino code of silence.’ Class. And as for Riddick, well he’s still doing his thing. In an alternative ending to Riddick, the character is shown on the ‘threshold to the Underverse,’ intermating that he’s going in, while Diesel confirmed earlier this year that he and David Twohy were developing a fourth movie entitled The Chronicles of Riddick: Furia. ‘You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?’

Please click here for Day 98