The celebrity slaphead – who can deny the fascination that a gleaming pate holds? A glistening chrome dome can propel a hitherto run of the mill celebrity into another level of fame. Take Telly Savalas. For years just another hairy heavy in supporting roles, but as soon as he shaved that bonce – a singing, wisecracking and lollipop sucking megastar. Its a similar story for Yul Brynner – who remembers any of his hairy parts, eh? But as a slaphead – unforgettable! Of course, the slaphead look can be made even more striking by combining it with a goatee beard – as did former ‘Gillan’ bass player John Mcoy. This writer has fond memories of seeing McCoy and the rest of ‘Gillan’ perform ‘No Laughter in Heaven’ on Top of the Pops in the early 1980s. There’s no doubt that the combination of shiny bonce, goatee and shades made a lasting impression, and sparked a lifelong fascination with celebrity slapheads. Indeed, the 1980s quite possibly represented the high water mark for the popularity of celebrity baldness. Those were the days when, following Neil Kinnock’s example, the Labour Party’s front bench proudly sported the bald-look. How I cherish the memory of all those shiny heads dazzling the press at the 1988 Labour Conference. For a while it looked as if Kinnock might have spawned a whole slaphead dynasty when he was succeeded by John Smith. However, when Smith tragically died and was succeeded by the hirsute Tony Blair, it was clear that an era was over. Nonetheless, in their heyday the zany antics of those crazy celebrity slapheads entertained the world!
Who could forget the time in 1976 that Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas, at a loss as what costumes to wear to one of Michael Winner’s fancy dress parties, put their heads together and went as Raquel Welch’s cleavage? Their exploits were topped in the late 1980s and 1990s by famous Shakespearean Star Trek baldly Patrick Stewart. He once told fellow thespian chrome dome Steven Berkoff that he would like to play Berkoff’s head like a musical instrument! The ever innovative Berkoff took up the challenge and arranged a special one-off performance at the Strand Theatre in which Stewart performed a series of popular bongo hits on his head. This proved so popular with critics that the run was extended and, for six weeks, played to packed audiences! The show was also a sensation in the US, playing both the East and West Coasts. Stewart later adapted the show into a one man performance, in which he played a variety of music – including a steel drum medley – on his own head. This proved even more popular with young avant-garde audiences. Berkoff, not to be outdone, devised his own musical slaphead show, in which he played the 1812 overture on the heads of no less than six fellow baldies, including football commentator Brian Moore, swimmer Duncan Goodhew and famed WWF wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. This proved a smash hit at the Hollywood bowl and Berkoff soon took the production to London. There he went head-to-head with Stewart’s one man show. However, the two were reunited at a special Albert Hall performance of Berkoff’s piece when, in a sensational finale, Stewart joined him on stage. At first the two indulged in their equivalent of the ‘banjo feud’ in Deliverance, playing ‘Duelling Slapheads’ on the bonces of Moore and Austin respectively, before joining together for a searing duet!
So what of the world of the celebrity slaphead today? Well, they’re still out there. A potential new celebrity has emerged at Euro 2000 in the form of that scary Italian slaphead who refereed the England-Germany match – he bears a frightening resemblance to scary slaphead horror movie weirdo Michael Berryman, who appeared in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, amongst other trash classics. There have also been rumours from across the pond that some closet slapheads are considering coming out after threats from the ‘Bald Pride’ group to out them. It has been claimed that William Shatner recently tore off his rug in public and ran down a busy LA street flashing his bald scalp at passers-by. Back in the UK, many bald groups have hoped that former Tory leader William Hague might have been the man to rekindle the public’s enthusiasm for baldness. Indeed, there were stories that practical joker Hague once drew a line down his bald head and pretended it was his bum – just for a laugh! Apparently it gave his wife Ffion quite a fright in bed! However, despite further dalliances with baldness in the form of Micheal Howard and Ian Duncan-Smith, the Tories have returned hirsuteness with its current leader, David Cameron, dashing the hopes of baldies everywhere. With Labour and Lib Dems also featuring leaders with full heads of hair, there seems little prospect of an imminent revival for those crazy slapheads. But who knows, with confidence in mainstream politicians plummeting, the public could yet look to a bald Messiah for salvation – keep watching those hairlines!