Stiff upper lips 1, Americans 0

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

How perfectly splendid – it appears that an RAF fighter pilot on secondment to an American squadron has been able to wave the Queen’s Regulations in the face of US officers who were trying to get him to shave off his handlebar moustache.

Flight Lieutenant Chris Ball is normally based in Scotland but is currently in Afghansitan on an exchange with a US Air Force unit – and he seems to have chosen to while away the hours not spent in the air by cultivating a truly impressive example of the traditional fliers’ facial decoration.

Photos on BBC Online show his transformation from the very picture of dour Sam Tyleresque modern professionalism to a grinning throwback to the chaps who scrambled from Duxford and Tangmere and Biggin Hill, and who grew moustaches to disguise the fact that they were so horribly, painfully young to be dying.

Is anyone really surprised that his temporary American superiors took offence? No reason has been given, of course – perhaps they feared terrorists were hiding in all that undergrowth, or maybe his commanding officer couldn’t get past the memory of Village People videos.

Whatever the reason, the decree came down from on high – the moustache must go. Goodbye Biggles, hello Top Gun.

Except Flt Lt Ball was having none of it. Perhaps inspired by the Ministry of Defence’s obvious approval of a Royal Marines moustache-growing competition in Afghanistan last Christmas, he reached for his rulebook and fought back.

And the USAF backed down, beaten off by a combination of Queen’s Regulation 209, which dictates that moustaches are fine so long as they confine themselves to the upper lip and no further, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries banning local commanders from instructing exchange officers to breach their own dress regulations.

A small victory in the fight-back against creeping cultural imperialism – but an important one.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.