Putting a New Face on the Fiver, the Queen Takes a Royal Pounding

updated 06/25/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/25/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Queen Elizabeth II was presented with the Bank of England's newly issued £5 note this month, the monarch put on her best face. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the royal portrait on the silver-streaked, turquoise currency. Staring grimly from the crisp bill is an Elizabeth the Dour—with double chin, fleshy cheeks, baggy eyes and bulbous nose. "It makes me look so old." the 64-year-old Queen reportedly murmured to the Bank's artist, Roger Withington, when presented with the portrait on which the fiver is based, then added gamely, "but I suppose I am old."

Age, though, is not the issue for many Englishmen, appalled to find the regal visage reduced in their wallets to poker-faced priggcry approaching a Monty Python parody. And they have no one to blame but the Queen herself, who, five years and more than a few wrinkles ago, chose the Withington photo on which the portrait was based. The Bank of England rejected the first two engraving attempts before settling on a third, which the Queen reluctantly approved last year. "The Queen, I find, is very difficult," said Alan Dow, engraver of the new note, in a recent BBC documentary, Making an Honest Fiver. "Unless she is actually smiling or laughing, there's the danger of a portrait looking pleasant one minute and not as pleasant on another occasion."

While the new bill prompted The Guardian to suggest ungallantly that perhaps the Queen had lost a bout with heavyweight Mike Tyson, the earlier version was admittedly out of date (though it features Elizabeth at a youthful 39, she was 45 by the time the note was issued in 1971). Already committed to designing a high-tech forgery-resistant fiver, national moneymakers simply took the opportunity to redesign the royal face. As Robin Leigh-Pemberton, the governor of the Bank of England, delicately put it, "We needed to recognize the passage of time in terms of the Queen's portrait."

Not everyone agrees. "The current note errs on the side of a photographic image," says Raphael Maklouf, the sculptor who aged the Queen more gracefully when he updated her image on the coin of the realm in 1985. "Whatever is done, it's got to be a symbol, and to be a symbol, you have to get the best possible view of that person. It should be ageless."

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