Subscribe

(Credit: YouTube)

Music

When David Bowie founded the 'society for the prevention of cruelty to long-haired men'

@SamWKemp

Oh, you’re in for a treat. We’ve trawled through the archives to bring you one of the most surreal, hilarious, and surprising David Bowie interviews ever to be captured on film. 

Back in 1964, the BBC – presumably because there had been no natural disasters, wars, or fatal accidents that day – decided to interview a 17-year-old David Jones (Bowie) as part of the BBC Tonight programme, who came to the broadcasting services’ attention after founding ‘The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men.’

The interview was conducted by Television presenter Cliff Michelmore and features a visibly enraged Bowie discussing the persecution of long-haired gentleman all across the post-Beatles nation, “protesting” the treatment that he and his floppy-haired compadres have suffered on England’s streets ever since those era-defining bowl-cuts exploded onto Television screens just a year or so earlier. 

“Well, here we are,” Michelmore begins, before asking Bowie “who exactly is it who’s being cruel to you?” with all the stony-faced scrutiny of a moustachioed Victorian patriarch. “Well I think we’re all fairly tolerant, but for the last two years, we’ve had comments like ‘Darlin’ and ‘can I carry your handbag?’ thrown at us. I think it just has to stop now,” Bowie responded.

The interview with David and his comrades in arms generated a huge amount of publicity for their cause, later securing Jones an interview with the London Evening News. It was in the follow-up conversation that he again explained the purpose of the society: “It’s really for the protection of pop musicians and those who wear their hair long,” the founder and president said. “Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell. It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls. Everybody makes jokes about you on a bus, and if you go past navvies digging in the road, it’s murder!”

During the BBC Tonight interview, Jones was joined by the woolly-haired members of his early band, the Manish Boys, one of whom explained that one of the society’s ambitions was to “march in protest. Sort of like, ban the bomb all over again, you know.” Amongst the hirsute gang was also Bowie’s then-manager, Les Conn, who was managing a young Marc Bolan at the time. Surprisingly though, Bolan and his “corkscrew hair” didn’t join Jones and the rest of the gang during this particular Television appearance.

The society was set up after The Manish Boys were due to appear on another BBC show Gadzooks! It’s All Happening, where they were set to perform their single ‘I Pity The Fool’. Before the show, and much to Jones’ astonishment, the show’s producer Barry Langford walked over to the band and asked them to cut their hair before going live.

After refusing outright, they were allowed to keep their locks under the condition that, if they received any complaints from audience members, the band’s fee would be given to charity. No complaints were received, but Jones and Conn were still enraged. They decided that something had to change, and quickly went about organising a protest outside the BBC, where fans held pro-long hair placards aloft, thus forming The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men! 

Check out the full BBC Tonight interview below.