It was Henry V who passed the "Safe Conducts" Act, by which subjects going abroad could be issued with a letter carrying the King's approval. It was intended to ensure that they were allowed to travel freely when entering another country.
Last week, almost 600 years later, the Home Office announced: "In addition to developing new biometric passports, since 2004 we have been piloting the use of facial-recognition technology to detect fraudulent applications. Even at this early stage, facial biometrics are proving to be an effective tool." It might have given Henry V cause to smile - though not on his passport photo.
As of tomorrow, smiley passports are banned. As part of the United Kingdom Passport Authority's new rules, subjects of the King or Queen must look directly at the camera wearing "a neutral expression, with their mouths closed". They must wear no amusing headgear, not pull faces, and they must sit up straight. The news has been met with frowns.
But then, the passport photograph has never been a popular innovation. Far better before 1914, when passport photos did not exist. At the outbreak of the First World War, a number of states started issuing 6d passports as a means of distinguishing their citizens from foreign nationals. It was then that the passport photo was introduced, and to add further embarrassment, the paper document included a "personal" description of the relative size and aesthetic merit of the holder's features, and their complexion.
Last year, a record 6.1 million UK passports were issued by the passport service, none of them signed by the Queen. The fact is, no passport photo issued after this week will have the capacity to amuse those notoriously glum customs authorities.
The rules for photographic behaviour are as follows:
* Applicants must submit two identical photos, which have been taken in the last month.
* They should be printed on normal photographic paper and should be 45mm x 35mm in size. The applicant's face must cover 65-75 per cent of the photo.
* It should be taken against an off-white, cream or light grey, plain background.
* The photo must be of the applicant on their own, with no other people visible. It must show their full face, looking straight at the camera, with a neutral expression, with their mouth closed.
If you were allowed to, you'd have to laugh.Reuse content