The last haircut I had was in the summer of 1978, done by one of my colleagues at the barbershop in Worcester. I liked it. It was trimmed fairly short on the top, but long on the back and sides. My hair was always long and curly; back then, having long hair was quite an advantage because it was fashionable. People would come into the salon and feel encouraged to see a young barber with a trendy style.
Then a month or two later, I got very sick. I caught german measles (rubella) and almost died. I ended up packed in an ice bed in an isolation ward in the local hospital. And when I came home, my hair went pretty thin.
From then on, I never felt the need to have it cut again. My hair was much thinner and would break off after it got to a certain length. I have been compared to a spaniel: if you own a long-haired dog, you don’t always have to trim their hair because it can break off naturally. I guess my hair reached that stage as well. As it grew, it didn’t cause me problems and it didn’t get in the way. So for the next 43 years, I couldn’t be bothered to have it cut.
I’m quite happy with it the way it is. A lot of people, women especially, seem to like it. I often get waitresses wanting to touch it, because it’s so curly and soft. This annoys my wife, but I don’t mind that too much. She’s not that impressed with my hair, but she’s never given me too much grief about it. My mother hated it.
I wouldn’t have thought my story was that surprising. I think most barbers are not that bothered about their hair – at least, not the old guys like me. But when I recently announced my retirement after 51 years, the story of my hair got picked up, first in the local paper. I even went on BBC Radio 5 live to talk about it.
My hairstyle was called a mullet, but it is not a mullet, because it has length on the sides. If I had to give it a name I would call it “long”. All the attention was a surprise, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m not that bothered about my hair. If I had been, I might have done more about it over the years. Recently people have been thinking about my hair a lot more than I ever have.
Some have called me the UK’s longest-serving barber, but I’m sure there’s somebody older who has done the job for longer. I’d say I’m one of the oldest barbers in Worcestershire.
It was a bit of an accident that I became a barber. I was quite ill in my last year of school in Birmingham, and I had six months off. Before I returned, I had to see the headteacher – which meant I had to get a haircut. My usual place in the city was closed, so I had to go with my mother to her hairdresser. While I was waiting for her to get her hair cut, I messed about, washing the girls’ hair. I thought, “This doesn’t seem a bad way to earn a living.” And that’s how I got into it.
I have been cutting hair at Skan’s in Worcester for 50 years. The barbershop was set up in 1848, and when I arrived there in the 70s, it was run by the founder’s youngest son. When I got the job I said to him I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay, and he replied: “They die in my shop.” I thought about those words this year when I decided to retire; it was about time. Mr Skan himself died a long time ago (not in the shop, incidentally) and the place closed after I stopped working.
We’ve had a good community of customers over the years, though the younger generation prefer trendier places these days. We’ve also had a few celebrity customers. Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, used to have his hair cut here as a teenager, because his boarding school was nearby, and Neil Fox, the radio DJ, also came here. He was keen on his flat top.
I’ve had my fair share of health problems, and things seem to change after I get ill – from deciding to become a barber, to never cutting my hair again, even to growing a beard and a moustache a few years ago after a stomach operation. I shaved those off last year after a child thought I was Father Christmas.
I don’t think I’m going to change much in retirement, and I certainly don’t plan on getting a haircut. It’ll probably fall out in the next few years anyway.