Iolanthe and Moustaches

George Grossmith remembers…

When “Iolanthe” was produced, Gilbert decided that the peers should all have the upper lip shaven, and wear “mutton-chop” whiskers, and a little tuft under the lower lip. They were also to wear wigs bald at the top of the head. The effect was ultimately most successful; but there was a semblance of a “strike” beforehand, owing to the objection of some of the gentlemen to shave off the moustache. These were called, for the purpose of giving their reasons for objecting to comply with the order. Some of the excuses were most amusing. One said he was a town traveller; and if he took off his moustache, he would look so young that shop owners would not listen to him. Another said he was a “spirit leveller,” and it was most unusual (I am not sure he did not say unprecedented) for a “spirit leveller” not to have a moustache. The excuse for another gentlemen was, that he was paying his addresses to a young lady who was not much impressed with his personal appearance; and if he took off his moustache, his hopes would be completely blighted. In the end, however, they all consented to obliterate the ornament, with the exception of one, who absolutely declined. In his case the moustache stayed on, but he did not.


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