An expert on early modern medical history at the University of Exeter is a guest star on the latest edition of the popular podcast by Sir Tony Robinson.

Dr Alun Withey, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and History, appeared on this week’s Tony Robinson’s Cunningcast talking about one of his specialist subjects, facial hair.

Dr Withey discussed his research into changing understandings of the nature of facial hair, and the practices associated with managing it, alongside fellow guest Robin James, a renowned influencer and the owner of a men’s grooming and shaving company.

No stranger to discussing his work in the national media and other public arenas, Dr Withey has become one of the country’s leading experts on the topic since the completion of his major research project ‘Do Beards Matter?: Facial Hair, Health and Hygiene in Britain, 1700-1918’, funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Wellcome Trust. He followed this with an acclaimed book, Concerning Beards: Facial Hair, Health and Practice in Britain, 1650-1900, published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

“I think that bringing our research to a wider public audience is a fantastic thing for academics,” Dr Withey says. “For historians in particular, there is genuine public fascination with the past and it’s a privilege to be able to share the surprising stories and colourful characters who turn up in our work. In this podcast we talked about my work on the history of facial hair, often perceived as something of a quirky topic.

“Amidst the many fun elements including weird beard styles, dodgy barbers and painful shaves, podcasts and other media are a great way to show audiences beyond academia why research matters, and what are the deeper meanings or importance of these stories? Something as apparently mundane as facial hair, for example, actually tells us a lot about histories of masculinity and ideals of the body and appearance across time. It was great to meet Sir Tony, who has a genuine love for history, and fun to record.”

The podcast can be accessed via Apple podcasts, YouTube, Amazon Music and other streaming platforms.