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Saturday, 17th May 2008

hose expecting a critique on that dancing midget Jimmy Cagney (You are either a James Cagney fan or an Edward G man in my book.) are in for a disappointment. Actually you would be even more disappointed if you are a fan of the pigeon-chested one dimensional caricature he endlessly played on the silver-screen. I mean who cannot do a Jimmy Cagney impression and what do they do when they impersonate him. Yep, same as everyone else, puff out their chest, hold their hands in a peculiar manner and shrug their shoulders as they announce, 'You dirty rat.' and swagger about a bit. It is like the bloke is still alive.

Nope this is about a breed of person that has all but been eradicated, the Dandy.

To define a Dandy is pretty difficult really. Most likely it is someone that takes more than a particular care in their appearance. If all the magazine reports are to be believed a British dandy would be someone that combs his hair every so often.

the French Revolution which has to be considered something of a Dandy cull

Lucky for me then Players produced a set called Dandies. It was produced in two varieties both in 1932. A 50 card issue of normal sized cards and a large card issue of 25 cards (perhaps the Dandiest of the Dandies?)

Card 28 quotes Dickens, Bleak House, 'a false complexion, false teeth, false whiskers, and a wig. He was pinched in and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bear...' This is a good definition of a dandy as describing Gentleman Turveydrop.

Given the year of issue perhaps people needed reminding of the opulence which the Dandies stood for. Rather than trying to tear apart the fabric of society it seems that in times of depression people look for ever greater periods of escapism through whatever means. Just think of the depression era Hollywood output, not much sign of cyberpunk darkness during that particular period, people were living it, they didn't need to watch it.

Players also produced one of the great errors of all time in the 50 card set.

Card 43. This depicted a certain Benjamin Disraeli. Depicted as a twenty-two year old he is dressed in the manner of the early nineteenth century with cane and raised hat. Nothing wrong with this but lurking in the shadows is the clear shadow of Big Ben. A building which was not erected on the date the card is meant to depict.

The first effort at re-issue removed Big Ben but left a shadow which was not really satisfactory. Eventually a third issue eradicated the problem of Big Ben. Before you write in to tell me Big Ben is more properly the name of the bell, you all know what I mean.

Anyone interested in errors and varieties should go to this page as a start point.

As the adverts say not everything in black and white makes sense (well the adverts in the UK say that). History is not quite as dead as you would like to believe, usually written by the victors it does not necessarily fit the facts. There has recently been a spate of old photographs being re-touched to remove cigars and cigarettes. A rather miserable and narrow minded idea suited to a repressed code of morality even the Victorians failed to attain. Now computers are powerful enough and the media determined enough to make these ideas stick. There seems to be a desire to protect people from truth if it is likely to offend some pressure group or another. Wouldn't it be nice to have a 'keep the world real' pressure group. Anyway I digress, latest revisionist stuff suggests Narcissus was not quite the self-obsessed fellow portrayed. Heart-broken (and not too bright) he thought the face in the water was another human being and being so miserably lonely took solace in its company without realising it was himself. Kind of changes your view dramatically and that is why I.K Brunel should be allowed to smoke his cigar.

The first card of the series shows all that is bad in a Dandy, entitled A mythical dandy the subject matter is Narcissus. The reverse of the card explains his plight. Having rejected the love of Echo (who died brokenhearted as a result) Narcissus was punished by Nemesis, who caused him to fall in love with his own reflection. Such was the power of that love Narcissus sat by a pond transfixed by his own reflection until he pined away.

Subsequent cards do little to improve the view of Dandies. Card 4 bears the image of Julius Ceasar. Again this man, 'fastidious about his appearance' gives insights into the mind of a dandy. His extravagance was such that he could not bring himself to enter in the cost of his clothes and slaves into the record books. The card also notes that his was much troubled by his baldness. Not the first and not the last.

All this did not stop him being one of the greatest commanders in history who still has a place in military strategy today.

Being a dandy can obviously be a dangerous occupation then. The potential for being caught with last weeks fashion could be a fate worse than death for some of them. Unfortunately you really do have to be in the upper eschelons of the game to be a trend setter. Pity those fashion victims that went for what card 5 called 'The Norman Crop'.

Hair has always been an essential part of fashion (hence Julius Ceasar feeling aggrieved) and here is something I did not learn in history. The Normans had a strange fashion of shaving the back of the head almost level with the ears. This was quite a shock to the rather hairy Brits. But not half as shocking as Harold getting one in the eye I suspect. The Normans having conquered Britain decided this bizarre cropping was no longer necessary (probably rather cold). Just imagine being a Dandy with half your head shaved bald discovering long hair was the fashion. It hardly bears thinking about.

Card 6 turns its attention to the British Royal family. Not as in-bred as they are now (but not as bad as they were in Victorian England) they were still a strange bunch. Again history has let me down when I learnt about Richard II. The card mentions he was rather 'effeminate' which is something the cards keep pointing out. One coat he possessed was valued at £20,000. Again a fashion victim the toes of his shoes were so long they had to be attached to his knees with gold chains. Truly mind-bending.

Details from Card
The Norman Crop
The curious fashion of shaving the back of the head up to about level with the ears, was first seen in England in the 11th century. One can imagine the sensation this caused among the be-whiskered Saxons. King Harold's spies having seen the Normans all shaved and shorn, thought they were priests and could chant masses. After the Conquest, shaven heads were abandoned by the Normans in favour of long flowing locks as worn by the yellow-haired English - an illustration of the adaptability of this fierce warrior-race who, having founded Normandy and adopted the French language and manners, crossed the sea and conquered England.

By card ten things had truly got out of hand as we approach the English Civil War. At the time the French were wearing their hair long and in ringlets. This fashion was brought over the channel where it caused no small stir. In fact pamphlets and poems addressed the matter. Such titles as 'The Lothsomenesse of Long Haire' and 'The Unloveliness of Love-locks' gave you little doubt as to what you were about to read.

The Cavaliers took on the long-hair and the enemy were called Roundheads. Civil War as fashion war. The first victim of war is your hairdo.

Worse was to come the Cavalier Dandy emphasized the whiteness of his face by 'plastering his face with black patches, stars, half moons and other devices.' This make-up did have a purpose as health was not all that good back then and all manner of diseases were prevalent leaving scars about the face which generally needed filling in, unpleasant

Card 13 shows Duval, The Dandy Highwayman (remember Adam Ant anyone, something of a rock star dandy who would have looked sadly under-dressed in this company of cards it would seem). He was hung in 1670 and a stone in Covent Garden Church bears the following; 'Here lies Du Vall; Reader if male thou art, Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.'

Jumping to card 19 we have now got to the French Revolution which has to be considered something of a Dandy cull.

Entitled 'A dandy to the last.' It tells the tale of the Duke of Orleans refusing the removal of his boots before his execution on the basis they are likely to be easier to pull off after his death. At the base of the card the point is made that being a dandy does not mean you are in anyway a feeble man. it says, 'the bravest of men have often been the greatest dandies.'

To underline the point card 23, Beau Sabreur was described by Napoleon as the 'best cavalry leader in Europe.' He named himself King Jaochim Napoleon in 1808 in Naples. A brief but spectacular court which was brought to an end in 1815 with the return of King Ferdinand restored to power by Austria in 1815.

Card 24 depicts a dandy with rather more than his fair share of eccentricity it would seem. Of West Indian origin he paraded about the streets of Bath and London in a splendid carriage dressed in furs and evening costume sparkling with diamonds. His crest emblazoned on his shell-shaped carriage had the motto, 'Whilst I live I crow.' Now that has a certain style.

Players, Dandies. Charles Dickens.

Card 34 describes Lt-Col Kelly who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his 'dandification'. This man was described by Captain Gronow (card 32) was the vaniest and most eccentric man he had ever meet (quite a compliment from a dandy.) Kelly's particular affectation was his boots. Polished to such an extent it seems barely credible he would walk about in them. However he died in a fire which consumed his house as he had to return to rescue his favourite pair of boots. His death caused quite some competition amongst the dandies of the day as his valet was the one man that held the secret of the celebrated blacking. Imagine that, in high-demand for your boot-polishing skills. Those were the days.

Card 40 makes the point that Hyde park London was quite the place to be seen if you were a dandy in the nineteenth century. This card makes the point that around 1822 trousers had taken over knee-breeches and things had been taken to extreme by the dandies. About this time they were wearing cossack trousers. Baggy pantaloons (I have always had a weakness for the word pantaloon after I discovered one of Henry VIII inspectors remarked on the decandence of the monasteries on the basis of the slashes in a monks pantaloons and this was good enough reason to close them down.) By this stage the cravat, truly the clothing of a dandy, was worn in multiples and wound round the neck to the extent the man could no longer look down. Card 42 describes 'The Golden Ball' left £40,000 a year by an uncle he was celebrated for his invention of the black cravat. What greater service could a dandy do.

I mentioned at the top of this article, Charles Dickens writing about Gentleman Turveydrop. Perhaps he was writing from some inner knowledge as 'Boz' gets a mention on card 45.

Card 46 & 47 settles upon facial hair. They note the 18th century was a bad time for beards. In fact I have a faded memory of them being banned by royal order in France. If whiskers were found they were pulled out by pliers or some such device. Anyway whiskers were to make a come back and reached their extreme in the 1840's with the arrival of the 'Piccadilly Weepers'. Great long side whiskers which were more fashionable the longer they got.

As with so many things of fashion by the time you have perfected the attire the moment has changed and you have that devilish choice to make, do you remain true to your roots and be labelled a has-been or move on to ever more outlandish costume.

Dandies have pretty much died out now but happily the eccentricity which no doubt inspired them remains.