Pre-fame David Bowie takes a stand to fight injustice on first-ever TV appearance
Before David Bowie became the face of creative integrity and evolution, before he gave the world a myriad of rock and roll icons to adore all from his own back pocket, and even before he changed his name to David Bowie, he was still making waves.
In 1964 he made his first appearance on television, then known as Davy Jones, and on it, he championed his cause as the spokesperson for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. Bowie, or Jones, was taking a stand against injustice.
The interview may well go down as one of the first-ever occurrences of that local news stalwart — a fluff piece. But while the content is neither here nor there in terms of informative direction, it does give us the first glimpses of a young Bowie finding his natural home under the glare of the spotlight. He seems to like it.
The interview in question is a clip from BBC’s Tonight show and sees Bowie with some of his fellow “long-hairs” (a quite ridiculous reduction of a person to one decorative factor, presented by the good people of the BBC) protesting the treatment that they were being subjected to in the streets of Britain for simply having long hair.
Flanked by the members of his then band The Mannish Boys, Bowie and his friends had founded the society after the band’s then-manager Les Conn had secured The Mannish Boys a TV spot and were asked to cut their hair by the BBC. Conn, understanding the current climate of pop culture, saw his opportunity and gathered fans outside the studios to create some publicity and offer up some perfect PR.
Cliff Michemore, the interviewer in question, has a snort of derision at almost every turn, but nevertheless Bowie handles himself with intelligence, eloquence, and confidence beyond his years. Providing wonderful quotes such as “It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls”. As well as providing some actual context to anti-social behaviour he faced: “I think we’re all fairly tolerant but for the last two years, we’ve had comments like ‘Darling!’ and ‘Can I carry your handbag?’ thrown at us, and I think it just has to stop now.”
It appears that this air of authority was not missed by the wider public either, as soon the London Evening News was knocking on his proverbial door for a quote from the leader of the long hairs. Bowie again displays the kind of guile that would see him manipulate media outlets for years to come.
“It’s really for the protection of pop musicians and those who wear their hair long,’ explained the founder and president, David Jones, of Plaistow Grove, Bromley. ‘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’,” explains Bowie in the clipping. “David is in the process of enrolling members. ‘Everybody makes jokes about you on a bus, and if you go past navvies digging in the road, it’s murder!”
It feels mighty strange to us now, to see this kind of mindless interview being conducted with a straight face. The world of gender and identity has so vastly moved away from this archaic stance that rewatching the footage can feel like watching a theatrical rendition of narrow-mindedness, but, alas, it’s genuine no matter how much we try and unpick it.
The truth of the matter is, that while young Davy Jones may not have been taken seriously in this instance. His long hair may still have been mocked for quite some years, in fact. He was willing to put himself in the spotlight to try and subvert and change the ancient viewpoint for the betterment of culture and art.
It would be something that Bowie would strive to do again and again throughout his career—forever putting his neck out ahead of everybody else. Whether it would be through the androgyny of his costume, his flirtation with the theatrical, his evolution of rock and roll, his deep-set belief in the power of change would never waiver.
So, it is right that here we see a 17-year-old Davy Jones speaking out for what he believes in, but, in truth, we’re seeing the birth of the spirit of David Bowie.