Writer and broadcaster

Grin and bare it, The New Statesman

There used to be a time when we had the looks we were born with. This changed with the invention of something called plastic surgery and the helpful manuals that go with it, viz: HeatNowHello!OK! etc, all of which show what can be done and has been done, and to whom. But there was one little part of our appearance that was for ever England: teeth. No matter how big or important people got, and, in fact, no matter how much other primping and cutting they succumbed to, if you were British, your teeth remained resolutely your own. I rather liked this. It showed a certain confidence: “Yes, the ‘stick-on’ bits may change, but at the core I’m still me.”

This started to change in the mid-Nineties. I expected it of celebs, but now everyone is having their teeth done. I’m not talking about orthodontistry, where you wear a brace to get your own teeth into as good a state as possible. This is entirely understandable. But when people start having perfectly good but not perfect-looking gnashers filed away, covered with rubbish veneers, or smashed out and replaced by titanium pins, into which pretend teeth are then screwed – well, it seems so ungrateful. A receptionist at a place I sometimes go to recently spent £16,000 having hers done – just the top ones so far, as that’s all she can afford. I had to steady myself on the counter when she showed them to me, they were so bright, so white, so horribly unreal. She no longer looked like herself. Teeth are such a fundamental part of your look. God, I thought, if I’d spent £16,000 making myself look like that, I’d be head first in a pit of depression. It’s like the worst haircut ever, except it’s permanent.

This is one reason that I have a soft spot for Kate Moss. Despite her money and fame, she has refused to get her teeth done and has a little snaggle-tooth. The best place to look for snaggledom, however, is British telly. I’m sorry to mention Corrie twice in less than a month, but it does have the very best portfolio of real teeth. Check out Fred Elliot, the pub landlord who, in places, has two teeth, one in front of the other, or Steve McDonald, whose teeth look like a bunch of gravestones over a groundswell. The best belong to someone called Fiz; her teeth are castellated: tooth, space, tooth, space. They are glorious and we should celebrate them, not this one-tooth-fits-all look. You should, anyway, never trust anyone whose teeth are too perfect. I always wonder what else they have to hide.

If Spike Milligan were still alive today, he could not have written his little ditty:

English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth! HEROES’ Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

Instead it’d go something like this:

English Teeth, English Teeth!
All the bloody same.
The End.

First published in The New Statesman.