Becoming Benedict Cumberbatch

How did BAFTA get on transforming one of's writers into Christopher Tietjins from Parade's End?


Benedict Cumberbatch is sitting on the hair stylist’s dressing table. At least, a picture of him from Parade’s End is, his blue eyes gazing with lazy puzzlement as I shuffle into the chair.


When BAFTA said they wanted to dress someone as Cumberbatch’s character Christopher Tietjins from BBC’s period drama Parade’s End, it was universally acknowledged I would have the ‘stature’ to pull off this impersonation. At a measly 5ft 7 rather than a lean 6ft, I had a sneaking suspicion this was a joke at my expense.

Even so, I sent off my measurements to a complete stranger and turned up at the Corinthia Hotel in London to see what wizardry BAFTA could perform. Could they really turn me into Benedict Cumberbatch?


“What have you done to your face?” the hair stylist screams as I step in for my first session. This isn’t a good start, but I should clarify. Thanks to an unfortunate encounter between the pavement and my chin the night before I’ve been forced to wear a very unappealing white bandage on my face.

Benedict Cumberbatch wouldn’t inspire this reaction, I mutter sullenly. Having said that, the Sherlock star probably wouldn’t fall flat on his face either. Perhaps we could pretend I’ve just come back from the war? Or that Martin Freeman’s punched me again?

There’s no time to dye my hair the sandy blonde of Tietjens, and I lack the wispy flick of vulnerability to really set the look off anyway. The stylist plumps instead for a vicious side parting, scooping ladlefuls of gel into unruly hair until I feel unsafe sitting too close to the table lamp in case I’m deemed a fire hazard.

In the next room, a makeup girl begins smudging pale powder over my forehead. “With guys’ makeup, it’s more about what you leave out than what you put on,” she explains.

“Now,” she says with a flourish, “ it’s time to give you Benny C cheekbones!” I wince. Does this going to involve some medically dubious injection? I cast around looking for needles; thankfully, all that’s actually needed is a cream highlighter to help accentuate what meagre facial protrusions I possess.

When Radio Times first saw the new Sherlock the questions was whether or not Cumberbatch would make the cover, such was his, well, ‘distinctiveness’. With the new mask of expensive concoctions seeping into my pores, I try to find out just what it is about ‘Benny C’ that makes him an international sex symbol. “He does look like an otter when you first see him,” the makeup girl muses happily. “But there is something about him too. A presence. And oh, that voice!” None of which I’m likely to master in a morning.

Never before have I realised what an etiquette there is to buttons. The white shirt is easy, the grey waistcoat and suit less so. The two girls ordered to assist me tut and pick at the £350 three-piece suit until it’s configured correctly.

There’s no watch chain. How am I meant to be the last bastion of Edwardian dignity if I can’t consult a pocket watch? I feel more like an Eton schoolboy dressed up to visit his daddy’s Club. Everyone has tried their best, but I’m starting to think this sort of thing is wasted on me.

Nevertheless, I still stand awkwardly as the photographer takes my photo on the stairs, my hand held to my face in what ostensibly is a look of dapper mystery but is really a less than subtle ruse to hide the cut on my chin. How did I do?

AsI’m leaving, I overhear the costume girls talking about who they might meet on BAFTA night itself. It turns out I really have had the BAFTA treatment: all this will be set up again for any celebrities set to parade down the red carpet. Kind of like a last minute style St Bernard.

An image flashes through my mind of Benedict Cumberbatch sneaking in through the back door of the hotel in a grubby t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, before emerging as the stylish master of intrigue we’ve become used to. Perhaps we really all could be ‘Benny C’ after all? After all, what else could transform someone from an otter into a magnetic leading man other than sorcery? If only the smoke and mirrors had worked for me.

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The Arqiva British Academy Television Awards take place on Sunday 12 May. You can watch them on BBC1 and BBC1 HD.