IT WAS as if someone had drenched the Baftas in Miracle-Gro. No matter which way the camera panned during last Sunday's star-spangled awards ceremony, there was a bloke with a beard.
Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Tim Burton, George Clooney (right), Stephen Fry, Hugh Jackman, Sam Mendes, Joaquin Phoenix - the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden resembled the Lost City of the Incas, slowly disappearing under celebrity undergrowth.
Full sets mostly, some more manicured than others. Bardem's was a bit scrappy while Phoenix resembled someone who swigs meths from a bag. Clooney looked all right, but then he always does.
It would be silly to say the beard is back because it has never gone away, but it is certainly in vogue in Hollywood. Men tend to grow them because of laziness, vanity or in compensation for a lack of hair up top. In most cases this is a mistake, but the male of the species keeps trying, subliminally pining for the era of flint knives and "you look after the berries while I club something to death" gender clarity.
"There are a lot of things in fashion land that are pointing people towards beards," says style commentator Peter York. "Many of my friends have them now, and even twirly moustaches. It feeds through to the stylists, who tell these dorks what to do."
Beardy-itis could be seen as an antidote to male prettiness. Lawns have been sprouting on famous facades for about six years, culminating in the conversion of Brad Pitt from Greek god to man pushing broken trolley down the road.
That particular style choice - a grey goatee - put about 20 years on Pitt and was apparently in reaction to stress. It illustrated one of the dangers inherent in beard-growing: unexpected grey hair. Within a few weeks it can transform a reasonably healthy looking man in his early 40s into a kind of Old Testament prophet. Unexpected grey beard hair is trumped only by unexpected ginger hair, which is really not worth thinking about.