Vidal Sassoon, the celebrity hairdresser and one-time militant in the anti-fascist 43 Group, has died aged 84.
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 Iranian 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 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.
For information about the 43 Group I recommend reading Morris Beckman's excellent book, The 43 Group, to which Sassoon wrote the foreword. See also the following documentary on YouTube:
(Subsequently Sassoon and some 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…)