The play's the thing ...

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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.