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12 May 2012

In memoriam: Vidal Sassoon

Some clients, Vidal felt, ought to keep their skulls covered.
Here is he is taking a close look at the upper reaches of
another dear friend, Mary Quant OBE,
who is now 78 and naturally bald

The death of my old friend Vidal Sassoon in Los Angeles this week, at the tender age of 83, reminds me of the days back in so-called Swinging London when we used to swap orphanage stories while he worked on my hair, giving it that revolutionary “bald” look which has since become both his and my trademark. (See About Me, opposite)
     Vidal told me he had been sent to a Jewish orphanage in Petticoat Lane. It occupied a large Victorian house and contained the first bath he ever saw. There he read books avidly and took elocution lessons.
     In my case, my loving parents sent me to a multi-denominational orphanage housed in a complex of pre-Victorian buildings just over the Thames from Windsor. There we used to spend our summer afternoons splashing up and down the river, occasionally getting a less sophisticated form of bath in the muddy, polluted water while trying to step into our sculls after getting blind drunk on Courage Best Bitter at the little pub reserved exclusively for orphanage boys.
     “It takes skill to scull when out of your skull,” I said.
     Vidal laughed kindly.
     In those days, we had a lot to talk about as he danced around my skull waving his scissors and comb. But that was all before we fell out over Bryan Ferry, the simpering crooner in Roxy Music—remember them? It was not the music that drove us apart, but the spelling of Mr Ferry’s Christian name. Brian should be Brian, in my view. At my orphanage, I said, we used to shove the heads of boys called “Bryan” down the lavatory and then flush it. Today that would be called “hazing” or “water bogging” and would attract a seven year sentence for first offenders (unless you are American, of course, and your victim a Muslim, in which case it is called serving your country).
     But in those happy days, when the expression of personal opinions had not yet been criminalized in Britain, I suffered nothing more for my prejudice than the loss of a beautiful friendship. Sadly, it was not long after I said the unkind words that Vidal moved to Los Angeles, where he lived ever after—though not always happily, as he confessed recently on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs.
     Now he has moved on to great big orphanage in the sky, and I will never have the opportunity of making up for my rudeness about Bryan Ferry, whose song, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, has recently been banned in Scotland since it is thought to encourage a habit that is bad for health, generally polluting and a major contributor to global warming.
     So, just to spite the hypocrites, fascists and trouble-makers in the Scottish Parliament, I am going to raise a glass of Bruichladdich and listen to the old fraud singing his wonderful song while I say a silent farewell to dear old Vidal, whose choice of book, incidentally, when offered a spell on that desert island with Kirsty Young, was The Brothers Karamazov. (What did they read in that orphanage?)
     Cheers, old boy! It’s been a lotta fun being bald!

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