Whitehall's PC guardians take on evil of beardism
by Jon Ungoed-Thomas
February 18 2001
BEARD wearers of the world unite. The government is attempting to fight
"beardism" in the corridors of power, having recognised that facial hair
can be a barrier to success in Britain.
Those who sport beards complain that the same whiskers that 30 years ago
lent them style and mystery have more recently made them the object of
ridicule. Those who refuse to succumb to the razor now complain that they
are nothing short of an oppressed minority, are passed over for jobs and
promotions - and even harangued in the street.
Emboldened by campaigns against the evils of racism, sexism and homophobia,
the Home Office's equal opportunities guardians have told managers about
the need to avoid discrimination against the bearded. At a course for new
managers, staff were asked to consider "beardism" and to note their
reactions to facial hair.
Clean-shaven critics have attacked the move as political correctness gone
mad, but last week a Sunday Times experiment found prejudice against chin
hair is deep-rooted.
A reporter sporting a bushy, if false, beard visited shops, restaurants and
offices and was repeatedly told that his chances of getting a job were slim.
"You'll have to shave that off," said a staff member at the Ivy, one of
London's top restaurants.
"No, no, no," said Tom Hemington, at Kirk Originals, an optician in Covent
Garden. "At home I've got a sign saying 'No beards'. I wouldn't employ you."
The Savoy hotel said a shave would be necessary before taking up a job. "A
goatee may be all right for interview purposes, but they would ask you to
shave it off for a front-desk position," said a manager.
Pret A Manger, the sandwich shop chain, said it would consider bearded
jobhunters: "We just ask them to be neatly trimmed."
Beardism can apparently afflict even cabinet ministers. Frank Dobson, the
former health secretary, was advised to remove his for the London mayoral
election, which he lost to Ken Livingstone. "I told them to get stuffed
because I'm not in the image business," said Dobson.
Keith Flett, of the Beard Liberation Front, said: "Beards are part of the
tradition of the Labour movement, but I don't think new Labour likes them.
"People seem to think men with beards are dodgy or have something to hide.
I've been shouted at by youths and van drivers just for having a beard.
There is discrimination and we need to broaden the opportunities for people
The BLF was set up in 1995 to support beard lovers and last year staged a
"mass beard-waggling" in protest at "clean-shaven capitalism" and the huge
profits generated by those making shaving foam and brushes.
American beardists have already found themselves in court. In 1998 Brian
Kennedy, a firefighter, won the right to grow his red beard. He
successfully argued that a fire service beard ban violated human rights
laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of personal appearance.
No similar action has been launched in Britain, although the Human Rights
Act, introduced last year, could be used to pursue a case. Lawyers say
dismissed employees could claim that beard bans infringe rights to a
private life or freedom of expression.
Beardism is, however, entrenched in some of Britain's best-known
institutions. Keith Graves, a reporter with Sky Television, says he was
removed from a shortlist of potential BBC newsreaders after refusing to shave.
Safeway and Coutts have refused to employ bearded men, but the bank now
allows smartly clipped facial hair.Other organisations take a more relaxed
view. Under Henry VI's statutes, Eton College permits the captain of the
school to have a beard, a dog and a wife.
Not all bearded men are convinced there is prejudice. "It would be
extraordinary if there was discrimination, but I've never heard of it,"
said the Marquess of Bath.
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