CHAPTER 6:

RETURNING TO ROBERT FIELDING…..SEPT 1966

So, September 1966, I made that fateful phone call to Mr. Fielding which would have a bearing on the rest of my life. I remember standing in a phone box at the bottom of Edgware High Street, no mobiles then, & had a conversation that went something like:

“Mr. Fielding, remember me? It’s Alan. You saw one of the girls I work with yesterday & you suggested I call you to see if there was a job going”. There was a short pause & then the response: “I hear you just got married. Silly bugger! Anyway, come & see me next week & by the way, do you have any juniors that might want to come with you”? By this time, premium payments for apprenticeships had virtually ceased & then like now, there was always difficulties attracting the right kind of trainee who would work for peanuts whilst they were in training.

As it so happens, I had a youngster, Shirley, who was my junior at the salon in Edgware & she would have followed me to the ends of the earth. We had a brief chat, confirming that if I got the job, I’d take her with me. She was great at her work, & all the more so because having had polio as a child it left her with a slight limp which never affected her ability to do the work that was expected of her, but it was sometimes a bit of a physical struggle for her. The only reason I ‘m mentioning this is that some months later it came to bite her, & me, in the butt.

Anyway, the following Monday evening I went into the West End to do my trade test. The usual routine was that model nights at the Robert Fielding salon would always have 3 or 4 hairdressers lined up to demonstrate their skill & try to get a job; at the same time Robert Fielding was starting to expand & needed even more staff.

I marched in bold as brass & immediately saw some familiar faces, one of whom was the manager, Leon. He did a double-take when he saw me & said, as I recall, “What are you doing here”? I told him that I’d arranged to see Mr. Fielding who, of course, had failed to tell him I was coming before he went away on holiday.

Ok, so now the trade test, which usually consisted of doing a cut & set. Don’t forget, this is 1966 & use of a large round brush & a dryer was only just becoming the way forward. During my first stint at the salon I worked with a girl called Lesley who I remembered, from doing her hair previously, that she had the thickest, frizziest hair in the world. Thanks!

Again, it’s 1966 & hair products consisted of setting lotions (anyone remember Pantene?) & hair spray. Mousses & serums wouldn’t appear for at least another 10 years in the mid to late 70’s. So how do I impress my peers with this mass of frizz that Lesley had & was now my trade-test model.

Right! My equipment bag had some huge rollers, pin-curl clips & yes, you guessed it, a blow- dryer & a large bristle brush. I set Lesley’s hair, clipped down her fringe & about 45 minutes later extricated her from the hood drier. This was it! Was I as good as I thought I was? As I started to brush her hair out using the brush & blow-drier, her face was a picture. What are you doing, how did you learn to do it, will you show me how? Suddenly everybody was looking at what I was doing.

Can you believe it! I was working in the suburbs doing all sorts of inventive things (at the time) with hair, & here I was, coming back to the place where I originally trained, showing my elders & betters things they hadn’t seen before. Not only that, this was one of Central London’s leading salons in one of the most up-market streets in the world; & little old me, 21years old, just married & penniless, showing all these high profile, experienced hairdressers how to straighten curly hair. Unbelievable!

I had already named it “Tug & Burn Dry”. That’s exactly what it was. Nowadays we have all sorts of conditioning, cutting & styling aids, products for the client to take home & help keep the hair in good condition & looking good until they returned to the salon but then, nothing other than the over-the-counter shampoos you could buy in Boots.

I believe we were actually the first salon in London to actively market “take-home” products, namely something called Keralogy. Originally made in Germany for L’Oreal, around the beginning of the 70’s, this eventually became Kerastase, probably the best known hair product range in the world.

After my storming trade-test appearance I was offered a job to start immediately together with my junior. By this time, as I previously mentioned, the payment of premiums for training had gone out of fashion. Training was either as an apprentice, local college course or privately at such names as Alan International, the Morris School of Hairdressing, Watermans, & our own school in London’s Baker Street which we took over from another famous name at that time, Richard Henry. Sassoon & Toni & Guy came on the scene just slightly later as I recall.

So, September 1966 I started back at Robert Fielding of Regent Street & the next stage of my illustrious career began.

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