Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 12:01 UK

Is wearing a 'Hitler moustache' a good idea?

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

A comedian has grown a toothbrush moustache in an attempt to break its association with Adolf Hitler. So how did people react and could it ever be fashionable?

Richard Herring
Herring says he could sense people judging him by his moustache

Moustaches come in all sorts of styles but the sight of a toothbrush moustache, with its narrow width and straight, untapered sides, is very rare.

Since World War II it has not been popular, but long before Hitler rose to power, the toothbrush was the signature look of Charlie Chaplin.

Chaplin even played on his likeness to the German leader by sending him up in The Great Dictator, although when filming stopped his false moustache would be packed away with his trademark walking stick and hat.

Now comedian Richard Herring is sporting a toothbrush moustache for his Edinburgh show, Hitler Moustache, in which he rails against voter apathy and the BNP.

He first grew it more than three months ago and the first few days were very unsettling for him.

I felt quite afraid and a bit upset
Richard Herring

"As people passed they would start laughing about five yards behind me. A group of lads called me 'Adolf'. I haven't had any sense of anger but I think some people were intimidated or scared."

The moustache made him so paranoid about what judgements people were making that he shaved it off after the first week.

"I thought that at any moment someone might smack me in the face. I was being judged by my appearance and being a white, middle-class man I've never looked to draw attention to myself before.

"I felt quite afraid and a bit upset. Then I wondered if I was upsetting anyone, and was it worth it if I had done."

FAMOUS TOOTHBRUSHES
Maurice Bronson
Robert Mugabe
Abdalá Bucaram, former Ecuador president
Grange Hill's Mr Bronson (pictured)
Oliver Hardy
Blakey, in On The Buses

His parents' impending golden wedding celebrations gave him another excuse to shave it off but he grew it back with added purpose, because the BNP European election gains had given his forthcoming Edinburgh show - and his facial hair - a political focus.

"After I grew it back again, I knew that if anyone challenged me, I had a reason to give them.

"I was trying to reclaim it as a political protest against the BNP. I'm using the Hitler moustache to oppose fascism.

"It feels like a victory for Hitler that, 70 years on, he still has a vestige of a victory that this is still his moustache and not, for instance, Charlie Chaplin's."

Gay skinhead

The toothbrush became popular in the 1920s, says Herring, as a response by working-class men to the more flamboyant, flowing Kaiser-style moustaches of the upper classes.

After his show, Herring supplies everyone in the audience with a fake toothbrush moustache, and he hopes to organise a day when, like a red nose for Comic Relief, everyone wears a narrow moustache to champion democracy and emphasise the important of voting.

"In order to change the meaning of a symbol, it requires a few people to go out and change opinions, in the way that gay men did with the skinhead.

Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler
Hitler trimmed his moustache in World War I so it could fit into a gas mask

"I'm not convinced it will work but people seem to be getting behind the idea. I'm not anticipating it becoming a fashionable thing again but it would be good if people could grow one without the fascist association."

Since World War II there have been some notable toothbrush moustaches.

The late actor Michael Sheard was one of its most prolific exponents. Not only did he bring it into the Grange Hill classroom as the authoritarian teacher Maurice Bronson from 1985 to 1989, he also played Hitler five times. There was also the former Ecuador president, Abdalá Bucaram.

'Very strange'

But style commentator Karen Kay says the chances of it ever becoming fashionable in the UK are very remote.

"It's so comical. The way it's neat and rectangular. Hair isn't meant to have square edges, it's natural and flowing.

"At least if you are going to have one, make it curly and flowing, but to have a rectangular block on your lip is very strange."

Perhaps a geeky comedian or singer could pull it off, she says, but no man should grow one to improve their attractiveness because the only man in history who has ever looked good with a moustache is Tom Selleck.


Below is a selection of your comments.

I was going through my grandfather's belongings after he passed away and found various articles in local newspapers dated during WW2 - One of the front pages grabbed my attention as it was portraits of soldiers missing at Dunkirk - all but a few had a toothbrush moustache - seems ironic that this moustache is iconic with a man hated so much yet the brave men fighting against him had the same style.
Rob Breaks, London

I went to Herring's show and wore the fake moustache after - it was terrifying getting stared at. I ended up giving directions in Edinburgh to an Eastern European. My wife afterwards said it was hilarious because with all my pointing she said I actually looked like I was giving the 'Seig Heil' when all I was doing was showing him where the castle was.
Nathan McIntosh, Rosyth, Fife

I have been sporting a Hitler moustache most of my adult life, the fact that I cant grow proper facial hair causes me much ridicule is particularly unpleasant especially when you take into account my Jewish background. Good on Richard. Bring this look back into fashion.
Guy Nevett, Guiseley

I understand the difficulty, which just makes my grandad's decision to wear the exact same 'tache as Hitler and Chaplin throughout his entire life (he died aged 89 in 1989) even more mystifying. Not only that but he was a short, slight man and bore a remarkable resemblance to Hitler. Did he not notice? Did no-one ever mention this to him? What was my grandmother thinking? He lived through both World Wars and even visited Germany in the 1930s as a schoolteacher and still thought a Hitler moustache was OK... don't get it.
Lesley , Hope Valley

Pro-democracy day? Wear your toothbrush moustache with pride? Excellent stuff - bring it on. I suggest 30 April - the day Hitler died. Maybe every time the BNP hold a gathering then instead of turning up with those pointlessly vicious "anti-fascist" counter meetings, have everybody in town wear a Hitler moustache and stare at them silently with a manic glare. The embarrassment would drive them mad and be the best possible weapon - social ridicule. Anyone who has read the chapter on beating the Ku Klux Klan in the fine book "Freakanomics" will understand what I mean.
Des, Surrey

I think it's an admirable thing to do - if the toothbrush moustache is forever associated with Hitler, and is frowned upon as a result, then the man still has an influence over that very specific part of life. By reclaiming the 'look', it becomes less a symbol of evil and more just a rubbish moustache. Hitler should be remembered for his heinous acts, not his facial hair.
Liam, Manchester

In a free and tolerant society, I would hope people will not be judged by how they style their hair, or how they choose to dress. To that end, I hope Mr Herring does not encounter any undue criticism or suspicion, and wish him success. Of course, copying the appearance of those whom you admire is a common behaviour, so I suspect many will come to the wrong conclusion about why he's sporting that moustache.
Graham Pound, Blackburn

You have missed probably the best toothbrush moustache of all from your list - Ron Mael of the band Sparks.
Chris Higginbottom, Belper, UK

The Hitler moustache should not be called the Hitler moustache anymore, but the Chaplin moustache - in recognition of Chaplin's anti-fascist satire in the Great Dictator.
Phil Brand, London

It is totally futile to try and disassociate the toothbrush from Hitler, it will always be as is evident in this article. Besides, why would you want to associate oneself with such a moustache anyway? It, in modern fashion, is quite frankly ridiculous and attempting to "claim back" such a piece of facial hair strikes me as petty, and more absurd than the moustache itself!
Stephen, Birmingham

Whilst I agree with your comment about perhaps only a singer or comedian can carry it off. I think Freddie Mercury should also be up there with Tom Selleck.
Jim Goodacre, Pontyridd, Wales

I applaud Richard Herring's efforts to end Hitler's association with the toothbrush moustache. I (along with many others) have long been fighting a similar fight, that of reclaiming the ancient symbol of peace and good fortune that was appropriated by the Nazis, the Swastika. We really should try to remember things for positive reasons rather than negative and I firmly believe that with enough exposure both the Swastika and the toothbrush moustache could be bought back into polite society.
Matt Martin, Glastonbury

My grandfather used to shave with a straight razor. Just watching him shave under his nose with a cut throat razor, where the angle of the blade is into the flesh, was a terrifying experience. He never wanted a 'tache but he would have grown a toothbrush just to spare his top lip. This, he told me so it must be true, is how the toothbrush 'tache came about. The only reason he did not leave that bit unshaven was because that is what Hitler did. He never did get the hang of safety razors and used the cut throat till he died (of heart failure rather than a cut throat which always looked likely).
Harry, Manchester, England

Why is it that a square tuft of hair above the upper lip is deemed unacceptable and unattractive, but a square tuft of hair under the lower lip is all the rage amongst "the young people"?
Rebecca Haywood, Hastings

Dennis The Menace's Dad in The Beano has one, at least he did when I read it from 1984-92.
Richard Davies, Stockport

Will Mr Herring now be calling his kids Adolf and Eva? Shouldn't we be similarly "reclaiming" these names?
Mike, London

While I laud Herring's attempt to reclaim the toothbrush moustache, I feel that the choice of title for his show - "Hitler Moustache" - is perhaps a little self-defeating.
Gerard O'Brien, Belfast

Hello!? Anybody seen those countless early Monty Python sketches, mostly Palin and Cleese, sporting the famous Hitler lip wear?
Cliff Taylor, London



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