STARTING MY APPRENTICESHIP AT ROBERT FIELDING OF REGENT STREET
…..AUGUST 22ND 1960
My first day at work. How exciting. All dressed up in my best clothes; white shirt, grey trousers, tie, jacket, I looked like I was twenty five years old, not fifteen & trying not to wet myself because I was so nervous.
I got on a train at about 7am, arrived at the salon at around 8 am & after being ignored by the staff arriving for work for about half an hour, I was eventually spoken to by a really gorgeous girl who treated me with impeccable manners, showing me around & introducing me to everyone. That is, until she found out that I was the new apprentice, not a new stylist. For weeks after she gave me hell, but as time moved on we became, literally, the best of friends for more than 50 years until she unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago.
My actual training began on that first morning when Mr. Fielding, this amazingly energetic ball of fire, ran into the salon at around 8-45am, no good morning, nothing, just chucked a towel at me & said “clean the window”! Was he joking? No he bloody-well wasn’t. Great start to my hairdressing career!
I learned my first real lesson that day, one I’ve never forgotten. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. He must have seen my face drop, because he grabbed hold of the towel, climbed into the window & proceeded to clean it. My first thought was that we employed cleaners to do that sort of thing. How wrong I was. Still the same now, isn’t it?
Apart from cleaning, apparently my other job was to help a bloke called George, who was the “porter”. His job was to keep this unbelievably busy salon tidy, keep the towels coming & fill containers with the most disgusting lemon cream shampoo. I truly believe this shampoo was actually paint-stripper! All the apprentices’ hands used to bleed by the end of the day, & we weren’t allowed to wear gloves unless we were removing colour.
I must also tell you that the only other male apprentice, Michael, & myself, had to wear a blue nylon jacket over our street clothes. Obviously we weren’t expected to wear the pink overalls that the girls wore, but, oh boy, were those nylon jackets hot & did they make you sweat! So that night I went home & said to my Mum that it’s been suggested that I should buy something called “deodorant”.
The next day I walked into the salon with a halo of Old Spice enveloping me. I should also make the point that by now my father was suspicious that his only son was becoming a bit strange because he smelt “perfumed”.
How times have changed because on the subject of personal hygiene, I still remember all those really wealthy & posh clients that I used to help with their clothes, taking their coats, offering them their salon gowns, & the smell of BO when they lifted their arms. Disgusting!
There were approximately 20 apprentices, one of whom, Brenda Mail, went on to become the General Manager of Toni & Guy & another, Maureen, who became my first real girlfriend. That didn’t last long because firstly she was two or three years older than me, secondly, she was due to leave shortly after I started & most importantly because I got fed up with her after a few weeks.
There were 20 or more stylists, 3 colourists, 2 manicurists, 3 receptionists as well as Mr. Fielding & the salon manager, Leon, who some twenty years later became my business partner. The apprentices were treated like slaves & were expected to be at the beck & call of the seniors. We were shampooing all day, passing pins, sweeping up & generally keeping the salon just about under control. That hasn’t changed much over the years either, has it? We were all crammed into around 2000 square feet of space in one of the prime locations in London doing more than 700 clients a week.
It occurred to me that I should mention one or two famous people I shampooed. My claim to shampooing fame includes Dusty Springfield, Zsa Zsa Gabor & loads of others who I can’t remember. The one other person I recall was what was loosely termed then as “a lady of the night”. We had a huge clientele of some of the most “exclusive” ladies, but one sticks in my mind in particular. She always carried a white French Poodle with her & had the dog’s fur rinsed to whatever shade we bleached her blonde hair. What an exciting place to work when you’re a fifteen year old. Brilliant!
With all this staff, you’d think I could get my hair cut in the salon. No way. We didn’t do men’s hair! Can you believe it? I’d grown my hair into what was referred to as a “Beatle Cut”, you know, fringe, long over the ears & back, way past the collar. My boss didn’t like it of course, so one afternoon he sent me home to get a haircut. Unfortunately it was a Wednesday & all the local shops were closed. The following morning I phoned the salon to say I’d be late so that I could get a haircut before I came in. Mr. Fielding went ape-shit! He told me to stop taking the mickey & get to work NOW.
When I got into work he went mad again because I had what you’d call nowadays a grade 1 all over. Was I taking the mickey? Definitely! Anyway, around 1962/3 men’s hair did get longer & eventually salons became “Unisex.” More of that later.