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Military victories, trade, missionary zeal, racial arrogance and a genius for bureaucracy all played well-documented roles in making the British Empire the largest the world has known.
Rather less well understood was the importance of the moustache.
A monumental new history, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon, promises to restore this neglected narrative to its rightful place in the national story.
Dr Brendon, a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, argues that colonial moustaches had a clear practical purpose: to demonstrate virility and intimidate the Empire’s subject peoples.
The waxing and waning of the British moustache precisely mirrored the fortunes of the Empire – blooming beneath the noses of the East India Company’s officers, finding full expression in Lord Kitchener’s bushy appendage and petering out with the Suez crisis in Anthony Eden’s apologetic whisps.