Beefcake: A Very British Sex Symbol


Over Christmas a BBC documentary by Tony Livesey celebrated the no-nonsense, hard-living, hard-drinking British action man, asking what was his appeal, what were his values and how he would fare today. An un-PC, tongue-in-cheek look at class, gender and popular culture.

In a world before moisturizing, waxing, sarongs and six-pack stomachs from gymnasium gold cards men were men. They had plausible bodies and chest-hair and could drink anyone under the table. Or over the table come to that. A world where the drink was hard and the emotions were contained. The land of Real Men. They loved nothing more than a good scrap but could still cop off with your bird and make it back to the pub for last orders. These men could demolish a bottle of scotch far too quickly for their own good and wouldn't know what a coconut facial scrub was if it hit them in the face. They were the television action-men of yesteryear before the fake-tan metrosexuals consigned them to history.

The legends of old-school British masculinity according to the show ran a line from Albert Finney' hard-drinking rebel Arther Seaton in the classic Saturday Night, Sunday Morning through Michael Caine's smooth but hard as nails gangster in Get Carter to John Thaw and Dennis Waterman jumping out of Ford Capri's and punching out criminals in the 1970's police drama The Sweeney. Naturally Bodie and Doyle in The Professionals featured too. No one slid across a bonnet quite like Bodie and Doyle. The unreconstructed alpha male. Lewis Collins hit the heavy-bag at the start of The Professionals and was immediately Britain's premier action-man.

Livesey wanted to be just like these men growing up. He wanted to be James Bond too, or more specifically Sean Connery's James Bond. Connery made it into this man's man list because while chic and suave his Bond was plausible of body and could fight his way out of trouble. He had chest-hair for heavens sake. Roger Moore was fun in a tongue in cheek aristocratic way but Connery was a man's man. He may have been James Bond, he may have been dashing and handsome, but there was something unreconstructed about him.

The machismo of Regan, Bodie, Doyle and co went out of fashion and along came the mirror men who looked like they lived in the gym. David Beckham and his ilk displaced these lovable brontosauri. But, as the documentary suggested, the real man might be making a comeback. Piece of evidence number one for this conclusion was Philip Glenister's very funny turn as the hard-drinking politically-incorrect DCI Gene Hunt in the time-travel police series 'Life On Mars'. Then Britt Eklund turned up talking about James Bond. You always know a programme is going to go a bit pear-shaped when Britt Eklund turns up talking about James Bond.

Timothy Dalton got his traditional Bond retrospective kicking. He was the PC Bond in the dull Eighties and generally shite apparently. Then piece of evidence number two for the return of the unreconstructed real man was unveiled: Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale. "J'ai une grenouille dans mon bidet!" as they say in France. How in the name of Sean Pertwee did the Craigster qualify under the criteria painstakingly established by the documentary?

Daniel Craig, a man without a single hair on his chest. A man who frequently seems to be wearing more foundation than Tony Blair at question time. A man who looks like he lives in a gym. The archetypal fashion victim. The most complex threat to continuity in Casino Royale was not posed by any James Bond timeline but rather Craig's fake-tan which seemed to change in every scene. Yes, Daniel Craig is a throwback to the unreconstructed real-men of yesteryear. I may end up like Herbert Lom at the end of Return Of The Pink Panther if this goes on much longer.

"Le réalité et toi, vous ne vous entendez pas, n'est-ce pas?"  

- Luke Quantrill


c 2006 Alternative 007