Vidal Sassoon: anti-fascist street fighter

May 9, 2012 at 10:05 pm (anti-fascism, anti-semitism, BBC, good people, Jim D, wireless, zionism)

Vidal Sassoon cuts the hair of sixties icon, designer Mary Quant

Above:Vidal Sassoon, cutting Mary Quant’s hair, fought pitched battles with fascists (the Telegraph)
Above: the “43 Group
Sassoon, dubbed the “anti-fascist warrior hairdresser” by the Telegraph joined the East End-based 43 Group as a 17-year-old trainee hairdresser.
The 43 Group was formed by Jewish ex-servicemen in the wake of World War II who returned home to the UK to see Nazis in Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) organising openly, and resolved to continue their fight against fascism.The organisation fought pitched battles, often armed with knives and razor blades, with the BUF and eventually smashed them off London’s streets. Sassoon’s weapon of choice? Fittingly, a pair of scissors.In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle he recounted his involvement in the group: 
“It was a rather strange situation because the war was over. Before the war there was quite a strong fascist party led by Oswald Mosley and he and his cohorts were put in detention (jail) during the war by Churchill. After the war they came out and immediately started up again with their anti-Semitism and running through the streets and having meetings, it was quite ridiculous. Many truly brave Jewish ex-servicemen started the “43 Group” because there were 43 people at the first meeting they had. These were tough men who had been through the war. Of course volunteers were needed, I was 16 or 17 at the time, most of my friends joined the 43 Group and there were quite a few hundred of us. Truly the fascists were smashed in the streets and yes if you were scared at times [it was] because it was scary. But after we saw the pictures that came out and the whole story of the Holocaust, there was actually no way we could allow fascists to run through the streets. I was arrested one night and put in jail, the following day the judge told me ‘to be a good boy’ and let me go. That was our life in those days, we decided that we were absolutely not going to allow what happened pre-war when Jews were just beat up indiscriminately in the streets. It worked beautifully because of mainly the tough Jewish characters that were in the British armed forces during the war, they were the people that did it. But also there were quite a few gentiles who had seen the camps, the horror of Europe and fought with us.”

In a recent BBC documentary he told how he once turned up to work with a black eye after a night of fighting.

“I’ll never forget one morning I walked in and I had a hell of a bruise – it had been a difficult night the night before – and a client said to me, ‘Good God, Vidal, what happened to your face?’ And I said, ‘Oh, nothing, madam, I just fell over a hairpin’.”

Later in life, Sassoon helped revolutionise hairdressing in the 1960s as his geometric, sharp hairstyles overtook the high maintenance, heavily hair-sprayed styles of the 50s.

(Later Sassoon and others in the 43 Group fought for the creation of Israel, which of course I and many other anarchists/communists would have serious issues with, but nobody’s perfect… For information about the 43 Group I recommend reading Morris Beckman’s excellent book, The 43 Group, to which Sassoon wrote the foreword)

(From, not me – JD)


From 9 October 2011: well worth a listen (he had good taste in music as well).

Kirsty Young’s castaway is the veteran hairdresser Vidal Sassoon.

He developed the architecturally precise bobs and cropped styles that were a defining look of the 1960s. Mary Quant, Mia Farrow and Twiggy were among the glamorous clients who came to his salons in London and Beverly Hills.

His scissors and ambition lifted him out of the grinding poverty of his childhood – he spent six years in an orphanage because his mother could not afford to keep him at home. Now aged 83, he says:” I’ve had the best adventure you could possible have, for a kid that started from nowhere.”

Record: Mahler’s 8th Symphony Book: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky Luxury: A dozen bottles of Vidal Sassoon hair shampoo

Producer: Isabel Sargent.

Music played

  1. Dinah WashingtonDinah Washington— What a Difference a Day Makes

    Composer: Adams/Grever

    Label:  EMI

  2. Billy Eckstine— Everything I have is yours

    Composer: Lane/Adamson

    Billy Eckstine Greatest Hits, Polydor

  3. Anton BrucknerAnton Bruckner— Part of the first movement from the 9th symphony

    Artist: The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis


  4. Charles AznavourCharles Aznavour— What Makes a  Man

    Composer: Aznavour/Aznavour/Craig

    The Best of Charles Aznavour, Premier

  5. Giacomo PucciniGiacomo Puccini— Un bel di – One beautiful day – from  Madame Butterfly

    Artist: Kiri Te Kanawa

    Arias by Puccini, ERATO

  6. Bryan FerryBryan Ferry— The Way You Look Tonight

    Composer: Fields and Kern

    As Time Goes By, Virgin

  7. Gustav MahlerGustav Mahler— Part of Symphony No.8

    Artist: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra  – with Jon Villars, The City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus. With the London Symphony Chorus & the Toronto Children’s Chorus all conducted by Sir Simon Rattle

    Symphony No.8/Gustav Mahler, EMI

  8. The Count Basie Orchestra— April in Paris

    Composer: Vernon Duke

    Count Basie and His Orchestra April in Paris, Verve


  1. Rosie said,

    I heard Vidal Sassoon on Desert Island Discs telling those stories of being a street fighter against the post war Fash – it sounded so incongruous. Good for him.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    “he had good taste in music as well”… with the possible exception of Bryan Ferry.

    But that’s a trivial matter compared with his admirable anti-fascist record. RIP Vidal.

    • Roger said,

      But at least its Bryan Ferry singing a great Jerome Kern standard and not – well anything else by solo Ferry.

      Can’t imagine why anyone would choose Mahler’s ludicrously overblown 8th over any of the other symphonies though – it is an extraordinary piece to hear live due to the sheer volume produced by the massively reinforced orchestra and three full choirs (or whatever it is that the score demands) but no recording I’ve ever heard can do that experience justice.

      Otherwise great guy, great taste.

  3. Vidal Sassoon, Friseur und militanter Antifaschist (1928-2012) « Entdinglichung said,

    […] 43 Group an, welche effektiv die sich wieder aus ihren Lchern wagenden britischen Faschos zurückschlug, zu Morris Beckmans 1992 (in deutscher Übersetzung 1995 beim Harald Kater Verlag) publiziertem […]

    • Roger said,

      ‘Friseur und militanter Antifaschist’ – German is such a wonderful language.

      • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

        I agree. Visits to Berlin are always a joy. wot a city. Marvellous people. Great great city

  4. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

  5. Jim Denham said,

    Now here’s a really good version of The Way You Look Tonight:

    • Roger said,

      Like so many early versions of these jazz standards now seems way too jaunty and upbeat – Ella really did change the whole way we listen to Kern, Porter et al.

  6. Rosie said,

    I held my own private tribute to Vidal S tonight by getting a short, straight haircut. Sadly, the very young hairdresser didn’t seem to have heard of him.

  7. Roger said,

    Having listened to the show he does excuse picking the worst cover of the Way You Looked Tonight ever recorded by blaming it on his wife.

  8. modernity's ghost said,

    Good obituary, but I will make you a bet.

    Very, very few organisations, modern “anti-imperialists”, etc who have issues with Israel will publish any decent obituary to Sassoon as an active anti-fascist, and if they did they probably ruin it by some snide comments about Israel, etc

    My bet is, he won’t get the coverage for his antifascist activities that he deserves from a modern British Left.

    Sassoon’s desire not to see Jews killed in 1948 will probably invalidate him amongst modern “anti-imperialists” and kindred souls.

    But we’ll see. I ain’t holding my breath.

  9. Vidal Sasson’s desert island discs « Bob's Beats said,

    […] comrade Jim Denham points us to the excellent musical  choices of the late Vidal Sassoon, style icon and, more importantly, […]

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