ACT News


Hats off to beaut cars

By an eerie coincidence the news that last weekend one of Charlie Chaplin's bowler hats (with one of his canes) sold at auction for about $60,000 comes to us at the same time as the news that bowler hats will be the theme of the Terribly British Day vehicle display in Canberra on December 2.

You wait all year to hear just one item about bowler hats and then suddenly there is a superabundance of them.

The chairman of the Terribly British Day organising committee, Paul Sutton, says ''bowler hats are so terribly British that it makes good sense to feature them at the Terribly British Day vehicle display.''

He promises that at the event, held between 10am and 3pm, more than 350 British-made vehicles, from Austins to Zephyrs, will be on display at the Treasury car park on the south side of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. Every proud owner of a venerable, scrupulously polished juggernaut will be wearing a bowler hat. Women officiating at the occasion will also be wearing bowler hats.

Bowler hats are an utterly British (English, really) invention. Their short history (which sounds too good to be true and so we won't probe it lest we have to spoil some sweet folklore with some facts) is that the hats were invented in 1849 by the London hatters Thomas and William Bowler. The Bowler brothers were fulfilling an order placed by a landowning toff to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect his gamekeepers' heads from low-hanging branches while on horseback. Hitherto, our historical source says, the gamekeepers had worn top hats, which were easily knocked off and then either damaged or carried off by badgers and voles.

Where, this columnist probed, have the organisers of the Terribly British Day, found a supply of enough bowler hats? Surely Bowler Bros are not still in business?

One of the event's organisers, Graham Gittins, who had his bowler hat with him as he spoke to us, says that a consignment of dozens of them has been bought online from China. Gittins is almost certainly telling the truth but I have just been in China and didn't see a single man or woman on the streets of Shanghai wearing a bowler hat.

''And [the bowler hats of the consignment] they're one-size fits all,'' Gittins advises.

How the Bowler brothers, painstaking, specialist hatters, who handcrafted every bowler to fit the unique head of each gamekeeper (this English-born columnist is of gamekeeping stock and can confirm how unique our heads are), must turn in their graves to think of a one-size fits all, made-in-China bowler.