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HomeCulture WarThe unkindest cut: A victim of historic hair discrimination speaks out

The unkindest cut: A victim of historic hair discrimination speaks out


I WONDER if there’s a statute of limitations on suing your old school? If there isn’t, I’m going to take my alma mater to court … for hair discrimination.  

More than 60 years after I fell victim to that pernicious practice, I want justice finally to be done and those responsible named and shamed. 

I’ve been prompted to act after reading that hair discrimination is now part of the lexicon of victim culture, and legal action could be taken against schools which object to youngsters having crazy hairstyles. 

It stems from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which says children should not be penalised or excluded if they turn up for class with Afro styles, as well as braids, cornrows and plaits. 

Imposing sanctions apparently ‘puts pupils sharing a protected characteristic (for example, race) at a disadvantage compared to pupils who don’t share that characteristic’. 

Jackie Killeen, the EHRC chief regulator, tells us: ‘Every child deserves to be celebrated for who they are and to thrive in school without having to worry about changing their appearance to suit a potentially discriminatory policy.’ 

Ah, there’s that word again – celebrated. These days, there are so many things we are ordered by the wokerati to celebrate that it’s a wonder we get anything else done.

All I can say is that if today’s poor dreadlocked little darlings think they’re oppressed, they should have been around in the 1950s and early 1960s.  

Back then, hair discrimination against boys was not only rigidly enforced in schools, but deeply embedded in the national psyche. Not that we called it hair discrimination. If I remember correctly, the technical term was something like Get Your Hair Cut, You Scruffy Little Bugger. 

The ubiquitous hairstyle for most boys and men was the short back and sides. It seems to have been a legacy of the two world wars, where soldiers had to have a close crop because of dirt and lice. For prime examples of the cut, take a look at the characters in the BBC’s excellent gangster drama Peaky Blinders most of whom were veterans of the trenches. 

Once soldiers were demobbed, the style persisted into civilian life. Certainly my father, who was in the Army during the Second World War, never wore his hair any other way. And, of course, the haircuts of the fathers were visited on the sons.  

I am still haunted by a scene I saw in a barber’s shop as a child, where a man had taken his young son for what was possibly his first ‘grown-up’ haircut. 

Barber (clippers poised over the trembling mite’s curly locks): ‘Down to the wood?’ 

Father (nodding approvingly and tapping his own temple): ‘Yes – down to the timber.’   

Of course, as they got older, some lads tried to buck the trend. Those who had left school might become Teddy Boy types or James Dean wannabes, trying to look rebellious with a heavily-Brylcreemed quaff or a slicked-back DA. Despite their efforts, the short back and sides remained far and away the top of the coif. 

What you rarely, if ever, saw on a boy or man was hair long enough to fall over the collar or towards the shoulders. In those days before political correctness, such a style would almost invariably have been derided as effeminate (to put it politely). 

But the advent of the Beatles from around 1962 brought what you might call the legitimising of long hair. Overnight, the short back and sides faced being combed out of history and every lad, apart from a few swotty types, wanted a moptop Beatle Cut. 

And that’s what led to my ordeal of hair discrimination.  

It happened early in 1963, when the group were taking the music world by storm and Please Please Me was heading up the charts. Over previous weeks and months, the atmosphere in school had grown increasingly tense as our fanatically anti-the-modern-world headmaster tried to stem the swelling tide of enthusiasm for the Fab Four. 

Several boys became victims of trouser discrimination, having taken in the bottoms of their kecks to a skintight 13in in imitation of their pop idols. Then one chilly winter’s morning, the hair discrimination witch-hunt began.  

We pupils were lined up shivering in the quadrangle and the grim-visaged headmaster appeared, slowly winding his way along our ranks.   

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him confronting two or three boys, who abruptly left the line and slunk away. Finally, he came to me. Saying nothing, he walked behind me and I felt his eyes boring into the back of my head. Then he came back round to confront me. 

‘Name?’ – ‘Getley, sir.’ 

‘Form?’ – ‘2A, sir.’ 

‘Well, Getley of 2A. Go home now and don’t come back to my school until you get rid of that!’ 

With those withering words, he wagged his finger at the back of my neck – his way of indicating that my hair was touching my collar. Breach of school regulations. Guilty. Case closed. 

I could do nothing but comply. That same afternoon, my suffering reached a dreadful peak as I visited the barber and reluctantly told him: ‘Down to the timber.’ 

I’ve lived with the trauma for 60 years. But I now realise that I was an early victim of hair discrimination. Making me get a short back and sides was a blatant breach of my protected characteristic as a Beatles fan.  

The perpetrator, alas, is now beyond the reach of earthly law and answering to a higher power for his sins. And indeed, nothing can make up for the agony I endured from his callous confrontation all those years ago.  

But if the court feels justice would be served by some restorative gesture of a financial character, I will accept it with gratitude and humility on behalf of all hair discrimination victims past and present.  

Please note, m’lud, that in recounting this painful episode, I have chosen not to have counselling, preferring to finally face head-on the extent of my suffering and its post-traumatic impact. 

I rest my case and look forward to a great wodge of compo a commensurate recompense. 

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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