Following the austerity of the war years, the 1950s saw a welcome return to glamour. And, for most women the quickest way to feel like a million dollars was a new hairdo. But, the local hairdressers - or salon, if you wanted to be posh - wasn't just about having your hair done.
For busy women, the couple of hours spent on the weekly shampoo and set was prime pampering time. With a cuppa and magazine in hand, you could catch up on the latest gossip while you sat under the dryer.
The weekly shampoo and set was a ritual for most women throughout the 1950s. For the rest of the week you rejuvenated the style at home, with a paraphernalia of pins, setting lotion, rollers and clouds of hairspray. As kids, we were used to seeing older women out and about with their hair in rollers, or pinned up under a hairnet. It never ceases to amaze me how they could set foot outside looking like Ena Sharples clones. But, unaccountably, no-one seemed to bat an eyelid!
Mind you, in those days, without modern dryers, diffusers, heated tongs, straighteners and the like, doing your hair took forever, or so it seemed to us kids. The age old excuse of not being able to go out because you were washing your hair was very real, especially if you had long tresses. We seemed to spend hours in front of the fire drying ours. When I got a new Pifco hand-held dryer one Christmas I was in heaven!
Another strange hair ritual was the application of dry shampoos should your tresses need a pick me up in between washes. These were quite popular during the 50s and 60s, I suppose because most homes lacked central heating and showers. I never got on with dry shampoos, and the odd time I tried one, I looked as if I had a bad case of dandruff. I much preferred the old home-made beauty treatments passed down by mom and her mom. Being brunettes, we always used vinegar and water as a final rinse to add extra lustre and sheen. Another trick was to smother your hair in beaten egg yolk or even mayonnaise. Surprisingly, they were both excellent conditioners.
Back then, hair fashions ranged from youthful ponytails, to the more mature and elegant French pleat. Better perms had become available, the new, softer waves favoured by two famous Elizabeths, our young Queen, and queen of Hollywood, Liz Taylor. Other 50s style icons were Leslie Caron, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, and women wanted to copy their very different looks. By the mid 50s, hairdressing was big business, with more than 30,000 salons springing up in Britain.
The massive increase was partly due to a new phenomenon, the arrival of the celebrity hairdresser. The first and most flamboyant of these was undoubtedly Pierre Raymondo Bessone, otherwise known as ''Mr. Teasy-Weasy'' Raymond. Born in Brixton in 1911, Raymond had learned his trade making false beards and moustaches in his father's barber's shop. Having honed his craft, he opened a salon in Mayfair and soon had a celebrity clientele. He was also the first hairdresser to showcase his talents on TV, wheeling out elaborate new styles on Saturday teatime telly. Millions of women were hooked by his outlandish outfits and false French accent. Overnight, he made British hairdressing glamorous and a trip to the salon an almost theatrical experience.
Raymond's salons were deliberately over the top, with gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers and even champagne fountains. And, he didn't simply cut hair, he ''created'' a look. Even his eccentric behaviour added to the experience, as he meditated before tackling clients' tresses. He was a larger then life character who kick started the cult of the celebrity hairdressers, and he certainly knew how to use publicity. In 1956, the press had a field day when Diana Dors had him flown to the USA for a shampoo and set costing £2,500. The sum would have bought you a modest house back then. It makes Cherie Blair's hair bill look small fry in comparison.
Raymond had salons in several major cities, including Brum. If you wanted an extra special hairdo, Raymond's in Birmingham was the place to go to, even if it took you months to save up. He also spawned the next generation of celebrity stylists, whose styles would revolutionise the way we did our hair. When Raymond's former assistant, Vidal Sassoon, set up his own salon, his new asymmetric bob would be the face of the 60s.