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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Winning by a whisker
Michael Moore and Robin Cook
Sporting facial hair has its benefits
It may have cost him his Cabinet position, but Robin Cook's anti-war stance has won him an unexpected accolade - the Beard of Spring Award.

The ginger-chinned ex-Commons leader shares the title with US satirist Michael Moore.

The pair won the top award after a poll of "hundreds of members" of the Beard Liberation Front (BLF) - an informal network of beard wearers.

BLF organiser Keith Flett says he believes the two men were singled out for speaking against the Iraq conflict - while sporting facial hair.

When he was in the Cabinet, his beard started disappearing - I don't know if it was some weird beard disease
Keith Flett
Mr Cook was given special credit for the "renewed stature" of his beard since he resigned from the Cabinet in protest at the war.

"It's basically about people who have had high-profile beards during the season and Robin Cook and Michael Moore have had pretty high profiles during the war," Mr Flett told BBC News Online.

"There was quite heavy support for other MPs who have beards, ranging from Jeremy Corbyn on the left, to John Randall in the Tory party, who resigned as a shadow whip over the war, which is very unusual.

"But the special thing about Robin Cook is his beard hasn't fallen out.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook had a more bushy beard in 1989
"When he was in the cabinet, his beard started disappearing. I don't know if it was some weird beard disease or Blair was pulling bits of it out when he wasn't looking.

"We feel that with his resignation, his beard has grown in stature. We think it is returning to what it was in the 1970s.

"We think resigning has done his beard a world of good and hopefully it will return to full strength soon.

"I think he will be pretty happy about the award."

'No comment'

But Mr Cook, who has been a thorn in the government's side with his running commentary on the war, was remaining quiet about his new award.

A spokeswoman at his Livingston constituency refused to comment on the title, insisting: "Mr Cook is not accepting requests for interviews at the moment."

Michael Moore
Moore's beard is 'in production'
Mr Flett, who has a flowing grey-tinged beard - which he describes as a cross between Karl Marx and Jerry Garcia - said he believes Oscar winning Michael Moore was probably chosen as joint winner because his beard is "in production".

"When he was over here just before Christmas he said David Blunkett, a former winner, had stolen his beard," Mr Flett quipped.

Other competitors for the coveted award were: Bill Bryson, George Michael, Frank Dobson, Jimmy Hill and Ian Jack.

George Galloway, the moustache wearing Labour anti-war rebel, and comedian Paul Merton, seen sporting a bushy beard at the recent Bafta Awards ceremony, were picked out for special awards.

Mr Flett said Mr Galloway would have "added gravitas" if he grew himself a beard.

Career progression

He added: "We were impressed by Paul Merton because he wore a beard to a particularly shiny occasion where many people were follicley challenged."

BLF's past winners include Education Secretary Charles Clarke, former health secretary Frank Dobson and Toby Harris, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

"The whole point is people should be able to do and appear as they want," said Mr Flett. "We want to end the war on facial hair."

Paul Merton
Paul Merton beat Angus Deayton to a Bafta award on Sunday
But by the fact that Mr Blunkett is the lone beardy in Tony Blair's cabinet, it seems the war is far from over.

For most politicians, it would seem the pursuit of career has to come at the cost of being shorn.

Geoff Hoon and Alistair Darling's rise to the top coincided with their adoption of the razored look.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher announced she "wouldn't tolerate any minister of mine wearing a beard", male Tory politicians with an ounce of ambition have been slaves to the daily shave.

But that advice is not heeded by all.

When Labour Party strategists advised Frank Dobson to shave off his beard if he wanted to win the 2000 London mayoral election, he told them to "get stuffed". He lost to the newly clean shaven Ken Livingstone.


Spot the beard

(Get the answers by placing your cursor over the picture. Alternatively, answers in full are at the bottom of the page.)

1. Which one is Ali G?

A. Michael (Beppe) Greco, B. Sasha (Ali G) Baron Cohen, C. Craig David

2. Which one is George Bernard Shaw?

A. George Bernard Shaw, B. Charles Darwin, C. Buster (Uncle Albert) Merryfield

3. Which one is Brian Blessed?

A. Brian Blessed, B. BBC recreation of what Jesus might have looked like, C. Star Wars' Chewbacca

4. Which one was a government minister?

A. Sir Richard Branson, B. Brad Pitt, C. Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook MP

Answers

1. A. Michael (EastEnder's Beppe) Greco, B. Sasha (Ali G) Baron Cohen, C. Craig David

2. A. George Bernard Shaw, B. Charles Darwin, C. Buster (Only Fools and Horses' Uncle Albert) Merryfield

3. A. Brian Blessed, B. A BBC recreation of what Jesus might have looked like, C. Star Wars' Chewbacca

4. A. Sir Richard Branson, B. Brad Pitt, C. Ex-leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook MP




VOTE RESULTS
Who's got the best beard?
Robin Cook
 69.83% 
Michael Moore
 30.17% 
2267 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

SEE ALSO:
Beards against the war
15 Apr 03  |  The State Were In
Moore fires Oscar anti-war salvo
24 Mar 03  |  Entertainment
'Fleas in beard' juror removed
02 Apr 03  |  England
Bare-faced cheeks
13 Mar 00  |  UK News
Are you a beardist?
18 Nov 02  |  UK News



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