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Leading article: Face the future

A SMALL pioneer force of men are using laser technology to abolish shaving for ever. Is the end of the beard nigh? History suggests otherwise.

Some of the proudest episodes of our island story have been accompanied by facial fecundity - think of the Elizabethans (smart, pointy) and the Victorians (lush, extensive). But the 20th Century has seen an onslaught of anti-beard technology (the safety and electric razors). But the decline of facial hair has been halting, and never complete. By the First World War the "full set" had given way to the moustache (Kitchener and Haig). The 1920s saw the beard confined to a few intellectuals (the likes of D.H. Lawrence). The Second World War saw a further decline, with the exception of the RAF's heroic handlebars. The post-war period saw the credibility of the moustache undermined when it was adopted by the "spiv". The 1950s were a low bristle mark until the Angry Young Men adopted neat beards to go with their duffle coats and pipes.

By the time the musical Hair! appeared in 1968 face fuzz had entered an avant-garde phase that saw the triumph of neo-Gothic sideburns (Noddy Holder and Dr Rhodes Boyson) and luxuriant moustaches (Jason King or Private Eye's Dave Spart). The 1980s saw things trimmed back (though not for gays) but recent years have seen a surge in popularity of the goatee. Beards are facial fashion. Like all fashion they live in cycles. One day these laser-trimmed guinea-pigs may regret losing their follicles.