Thursday, 10 May 2012

Goodbye Vidal Sassoon


It was very sad to hear the news of the death of Vidal Sassoon as his departure marks the loss of one of the UK's true fighters again fascism. Most people only know of Sassoon as a high stylist - and of course he is rightly regarded in this respect - but for many on the left his true legacy is his active role as a member of the infamous 43 group of Jewish ex-servicemen and women who took the fight to Moseley's Blackshirts (and other far-right groups) in the immediate aftermath of the second world war.

I hadn't heard of this aspect of Sassoon's life until, as a student at Ruskin College, I read Maurice Beckman's famous analysis of the birth and activity of the 43 Group (

Sassoon never hid his roots as an anti-fascist street fighter and in the period when he took up scissors rather than rocks invested time and money into tackling racism and anti-semitism. To get a flavour of why he joined the 43 Group and its relevance to the fight against racism here is an extract from an interview he gave to the Jewish Chronicle a few years ago.

The 43 Group: Their legacy remains
“It was a rather strange situation because the war was over. Before the war there was quite a strong fascist party led by Oswald Mosley and he and his cohorts were put in detention (jail) during the war by Churchill. After the war they came out and immediately started up again with their anti-Semitism and running through the streets and having meetings, it was quite ridiculous. Many truly brave Jewish ex-servicemen started the “43 Group” because there were 43 people at the first meeting they had. These were tough men who had been through the war. Of course volunteers were needed, I was 16 or 17 at the time, most of my friends joined the 43 Group and there were quite a few hundred of us. Truly the fascists were smashed in the streets and yes if you were scared at times [it was] because it was scary. But after we saw the pictures that came out and the whole story of the Holocaust, there was actually no way we could allow fascists to run through the streets. I was arrested one night and put in jail, the following day the judge told me ‘to be a good boy’ and let me go. That was our life in those days, we decided that we were absolutely not going to allow what happened pre-war when Jews were just beat up indiscriminately in the streets. It worked beautifully because of mainly the tough Jewish characters that were in the British armed forces during the war, they were the people that did it. But also there were quite a few gentiles who had seen the camps, the horror of Europe and fought with us.”

Sadly Sassoon lived long enough to witness the rise of new, virulent forms of far-right activity in the UK, but what he, and other members of the 43 group bequeath us is the spirit to continue the fight.
Goodbye Vidal Sassoon.
In Solidarity

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