Jewish Journal

Vidal Sassoon—hero of the Jewish people

by Dennis Wilen

April 14, 2008 | 10:05 pm

I was backstage at the Philadelphia-based Mike Douglas show twice.

The first time had to be like 1970 or so when I was the local stringer for Rolling Stone, and John and Yoko were co-hosting with Mike.  I met them backstage (with Phil Spector) and then watched the show in the Green Room with Yippie Jerry Rubin where we enjoyed a skinny ‘New York’ joint.

A few years later I was back as the Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man for Tanya Tucker with a new country-rock crossover album (TNT), and Tanya was booked on Douglas along with Vidal Sassoon.  He was polite when I told him I liked his stuff.  A stupid thing to say, but I really did like that shampoo in the brown plastic bottle that smelled sort of almondy.

I knew he was Jewish, of course —Sassoon, Sasson, Sosson, etc. is a very common Sephardi surname—but it didn’t figure in our 15-second encounter.

I hadn’t thought about Vidal Sassoon much since then, until I ran across this article from the Daily Mail that described his tough Jewish boy street-fighting days in post-WWII Britain:

Hairdresser Vidal Sassoon might seem at first to be more at home with a comb and brush than a cosh and knuckleduster, but a radio programme this Saturday will reveal that when he saw his beloved Jewish community in the East End under threat from post-war Fascists, he wielded more than a hair dryer.

As a member of the tough and brave The 43 Group of Jewish former servicemen, Sassoon took the struggle against Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts on to the streets of East London.

When you consider the ferocity of the clashes between the Fascists and The 43 Group in the late Forties - Sassoon likens them to “pitched battles” - it was a miracle no one was killed.


I’d quote the whole article, but that would be wrong, so here is another choice section:

Jewish former servicemen decided to sort out the matter themselves - to take the fight to the streets and defeat the Fascists there.

“After Auschwitz, there were no laws,” says Sassoon of Jewish tactics.

The 43 Group - so-called because of the number of ex-servicemen who turned up to the founding meeting at the Jewish centre Maccabi House in South Hampstead in the spring of 1946 - regularly broke the law in their struggle, and their veterans are proud to have done so.

Their philosophy, instilled into them after six years in the Services, was simple: attack all Fascists.

Armed with clubs, razors, bricks, knuckledusters, broken bottles, knives and everything except guns and bombs, The 43 Group tracked down Fascist meetings to quash them.

Battles were fought in Walthamstow, West Green, Victoria Park, Shoreditch, Hackney, Whitestone Park, Kilburn, Maida Vale, Tottenham and once as far as Brighton, where the Fascists marched only 20 yards before being set upon by a well-organised The 43 Group ambush led by Commander Barry Langford, thanks to a spy in the Mosleyite camp.

“We’re not here to kill,” a former The 43 Group veteran recalls, being told on that occasion: “We’re here to maim.”

Once, when Vidal Sassoon returned to his employers, Alfred Cohen’s hairdressers in Whitechapel, with a black eye the morning after a fight, he explained to a concerned client: “I just tripped on a hairpin.”

The biggest and most regular clashes came in Ridley Road - nicknamed Yiddley Road by the Fascists - in Dalston where the Metropolitan Police had to try to keep the peace during 1947-48.

Sasson recalls the fighting as “horrendous”, but: “You had to be involved, you had to be.”

Later, teenage WWII vet Vidal fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

How cool.  I think I might seek out that familiar old brown bottle again.

—Dennis Wilen, The Web Guy

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