The Finest Beards in the Ladybird Archive

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Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, authors of the Ladybird Books For Grown-Ups joined us for an evening last week to discuss their intrepid exploration of the Ladybird archive and the many and splendid beards they found there.

Before we packed ourselves into the exhibition room for the talk, I was able to chat to a few of our visitors about their thoughts on beards and the current beard trend in particular.

One man I spoke to said he couldn’t understand how so many men were “getting away” with growing a beard these days. He was adamant he hadn’t met one single woman who liked men with beards and said that they were all disgusted by them. I was intrigued by this since he appeared to be sporting his own facial fluff so I asked him if he had let it grow just because he didn’t care, to which he exclaimed “oh this is just laziness, this isn’t a beard, this is stubble out of pure laziness”. So perhaps there is some merit in the oft-given theory that beard-growth simply happens due to the inconvenience of shaving.

Fresh from this conversation I was keen to find some female beard-endorsers to prove him wrong. Two women I spoke to said that they didn’t mind a beard but moustaches without beards made them feel weird. They did, however, provide another insight that I hadn’t heard before, as one of them had studied medieval history and knew about the humours. She told me that back then they believed that hairiness was caused by body heat and men grew beards because they were naturally hotter than women. This seems a bit counter-productive to me, surely body hair acts as a sort of natural fur coat so if you’re already quite warm, it is probably a bit inconvenient to also be hairy!

But anyway, on to the talk. Joel and Jason provided a tour of the beards they had found in the archive as well as stories and anecdotes they had come across along the way. They categorised the beards they had discovered into groups such as: “Baddies”, “Historical Beards”, “Beards of God”, and “Science and Exploration”.

They spent some time discussing the great Victorian beard trend, upon which our exhibition is based, and described how Charles Dickens had “one beard and at least three different hairstyles”

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Notable by his absence of beard in this period was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, “what was he playing at” to be beardless among his contemporaries? He was given his own hashtag to describe such a slip-up: #VictorianFail.

As well as humorous anecdotes, it was fantastic to hear about Jason and Joel’s research process and approach and also the feedback they had received since publishing the books.

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For instance, after ‘How it works: The Wife’ had come out, they received a message from a lady who told them she was in the wedding picture they had used and she wanted them to know that their caption hadn’t been too far from the truth – she had received a bike for her eighth birthday and the husband in the image was in fact no longer her husband. She also provided them with the original wedding photograph which revealed subtle changes made by the artist in order to depict a happier day. Joel reflected how, since many of the artists worked from photographs, there are countless real-life stories out there that accompany these images, and because the artwork is so good, you can see that the faces tell a story – there is a real depth to them.

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There was a lot of warmth in the room for the illustrations in the books. Throughout the talk, Jason and Joel were keen to express their affection for the artists who made them, explaining that, though their books used humour – the humour wasn’t pointed at the images, but came from the re-adaptation of the images to describe daily life in the present.

They ended the talk with their countdown of the “top ten beards in the ladybird archives”. Highlights included “the Jeremy Corbyn”:
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“The Bloody Hippy”:
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And number one, “The Fiery Comet”:
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