The play's the thing ...

Share
Related Topics
The only film star I ever really wanted to look like was Jean- Paul Belmondo. I went through a phase of trying to walk like Brando and sneer like Paul Newman (or was it the other way round?) but the only film out of which I came determined to change my whole appearance was A Bout de Souffle, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, in which Belmondo plays a glamorous small-time crook who wanted to look like Humphrey Bogart.

I thought he was wonderful. That was how I wanted to look. If I had seriously gone about achieving this similarity, I would have had to have had my nose broken, because Belmondo was an ex-boxer. I ducked this extreme measure and decided to go for the haircut instead.

Even this was hard, because the Scottish seminary in Perthshire to which I had been sent by a well-intentioned father had no facilities for artistic haircuts. All the haircutting was done by a Mr Baxter who, judging from his technique, had come straight to coiffure from a life in forestry. He suffered badly from asthma, and when he stood behind you and tried to chop down your hair and clear your scalp of undergrowth, the mighty roaring of his breath rose and fell on your neck, like the wheezing of the wind in a half-felled forest.

He was not the sort of man you could reasonably expect to have heard of any Frenchman at all, but luckily I was picked as a lowly member of one of the school's rugby teams and found myself playing in an away match against Aberdeen Grammar School. The only thing I can remember about the game itself is being tackled ferociously by a huge Aberdeen forward, and feeling aggrieved about this as the ball was 20 yards away at the time, but afterwards we were told we could have an hour or two free in Aberdeen and I legged it straight to the nearest salon de coiffure, a fairly rough workingman's place where they hadn't heard of Jean-Paul Belmondo either.

"I could have a fair stab at an Elvis Presley style," offered the man.

As a fervent jazz snob, I was horrified by this idea, and suggested that he started clipping and I would guide his improvisations on my scalp. This duly took place and I emerged with what looked to me a bit like a nouvelle vague haircut. It didn't look like that to anyone else in the school. The lucky majority who had not been sent to suffer rugby in Aberdeen had been forced to enjoy the Laurence Olivier film of Hamlet instead, and everyone was convinced that my new haircut was a tribute to the one sported by Olivier in the film. What a humiliation. To set out to look like Jean-Paul and end up being mistaken for Larry. It was so bad that I almost went to Mr Baxter and asked him to turn me into Yul Brynner.

Richard Gere must have undergone the same sort of experience, as he went beyond the haircut imitation and actually remade the whole Belmondo film in American as Breathless.

I have never been tempted to see a Richard Gere film, so I don't know what it was like, or what his haircut in the film was like, but I do know that my Aberdeen experience cured me of trying to look like a hero.

The only other time after that when I ever swore to copy a hero was the occasion, 20 or more years ago, when I went to the last night of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound and came out so stunned by his wizardry that I swore, not to look like Stoppard, but one day to write a play like him. This was difficult, as Tom Stoppard was already doing Stoppard plays pretty well, but it did occur to me that the one subject he would never write about was himself, and that a Stoppardian play about Tom Stoppard called something like Waiting For Stoppard ...

Well, it's finally happened. I have actually got round to writing a play called Waiting for Stoppard and it opens at the Bristol New Vic tonight for one week only, and it will be the one time in my life I go into a theatre wishing I had written like Tom Stoppard ...

Reader: Hold on, hold on. Was all that guff about the haircut and Aberdeen just an excuse for getting in a plug for this play of yours?

Me: Yes, I am afraid it was.

Reader: Well, just this once then.

Me: Thanks.

Reader: But don't do it again.

Me: I may not get the chance again.

Oddly enough, the play has been rehearsing in a place in Bristol called the Dance Centre, where the caf is run by a Frenchman who has plastered the place with a wonderful collection of French film posters. The biggest of them shows Jean-Paul Belmondo in his film Le Professionel. I must say, he looks pretty good. I wonder if it's too late for another bash at that haircut.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album