May 10, 2012

AN UNLIKELY STREETFIGHTER: Famous hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, who died yesterday, spent his youth fighting fascists in Britain and for Israel’s independence.

In 1947, the fascists again began menacing London, this time under the tutelage of Jeffrey Hamm, head of an organization of thugs calling themselves the “Association of British Ex-Servicemen.” For Sassoon, this was not a fate to be accepted lying down.

As a response to Hamm’s provocations, a gathering of young Jews known as the 43 Group—named for the number of people in the room at their founding—announced that the fight back had begun. Among them was the slender, if wiry, Sassoon. As Hamm’s followers gathered on street corners bellowing that “not enough Jews were burned at Belsen,” Sassoon and his comrades, armed with knives, coshes, and knuckledusters, set about breaking up fascist meetings. In another interview, Sassoon remembered turning up for work one morning with a black eye. “I just tripped on a hairpin,” he explained to the worried customer who had just settled into a barber’s chair for a haircut.