The Cutting Edge: defining an era with the Beatles’ barnets

Leslie Cavendish

Leslie Cavendish - Credit: Archant

Leslie Cavendish was just a teenager when he was put in charge of the four most famous manes in the world. 50 years on, his memories have become a book

Leslie Cavendish cutting George Harrison's hair

Leslie Cavendish cutting George Harrison's hair - Credit: Archant

Paul McCartney wanted to go on holiday with his then-girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, but it was 1966 and Beatlemania was at its peak, and he knew the media would never let them be.

“So I said, as a joke: ‘Why don’t you go in disguise?’ mimicking snipping scissors around his head. He looked at me and said, ‘Go on, then.’ My nerves took over – he was serious!” Leslie Cavendish laughs. “So I cut his hair really short and he and Jane ended up being able to go on a safari to Kenya, unrecognised. Next thing I know, the papers are calling me ‘the barber that made Paul a skinhead!’”

Of all the stories from his time as the Beatles’ hairdresser which Cavendish tells in The Cutting Edge, this may well be the one he’s proudest of – although the book is so choc-full of tales involving the biggest personalities of the 1960s that it’s hard to know for sure.

The premise of The Cutting Edge is this: how did Leslie Cavendish, a working class Jewish boy from Burnt Oak, Barnet, get to rub shoulders with everyone from Brian Epstein to Peter O’Toole, Christine Keeler and Mia Farrow?

Leslie Cavendish with the guitar John Lennon played on the recording of Paperback Writer

Leslie Cavendish with the guitar John Lennon played on the recording of Paperback Writer - Credit: Archant

Apart from football and music, by his own admission, as a teenager, Cavendish only had one other “honest-to-goodness vocation”: girls. Upon observing his mother’s hairdresser, surrounded by a dozen women, he “secretly began to imagine a new future for myself… Girls! Glamour! What more could I want?”

He was admitted to work with the legendary Vidal Sassoon, where Jane Asher was a regular. She once asked him to come cut her Beatle boyfriend’s hair at their home; Cavendish, a die-hard Beatles fan, was both terrified and exhilarated – and the rest is, quite literally, history.

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“I have an excellent memory,” says Cavendish. “But it’s quite easy because lots of the things I remember were in the papers.” As a good acquaintance of McCartney’s (they used to smoke weed together after each haircut), Cavendish was invited to come on board of the Magic Mystery Tour bus in 1967, and he was at Apple Corps on the day of the Beatles’ last public performance ever in 1969. It’s true: when your memories are accompanied by press clippings, you’re unlikely to forget any of them.

Cavendish also puts his vivid memories down to his dislike for drug du jour LSD: “I remember everything because I wasn’t drugged out like most people – I had to cut the hair of the most famous people around every morning at 9am!”

And so it’s with great clarity that The Cutting Edge nonchalantly traces the evolution of a generation through Cavendish’s eyes, hopping from the early 60s to the heady summer of 1969 – and then over to 1970, when the deadly Altamont free concert and the Manson murders irretrievably changed the mood.

“This whole darker side started creeping in. I noticed everything through fashion and hair, and, to be honest, the best look McCartney ever had was on the roof of Apple,” says Cavendish. “His hair is really long and he’s got a jet-black beard and he looks incredible. But that’s not the same Paul of 1964 and the girls screaming.”

When, in 1970, “the unthinkable happened” and the Beatles split up, it was clear that the end of an era was nigh. “As we drifted into the 70s we all eventually had to come to our senses. There’s a great quote by Lennon: ‘the dream is over.’ That’s what it was like.”

There are dozens of jaw-dropping moments in The Cutting Edge; it seems impossible that such an unassuming young man really orbited in the world of the world’s biggest stars and musicians. But he did.

He doesn’t seem maudlin or overly nostalgic, though. [quote] He was still young and single and as such managed to drift into other trades, opening a clothes shop on Walworth’s East Street; later, he began spending time in Spain, had two sons, married, divorced and, simply, continued living his life.

“I had such a great time being near the Beatles - but some things just can’t be repeated, and that’s ok. When I had kids, I told them who the Beatles were… you go on, and you move on.”

The Cutting Edge by Leslie Cavendish is published by Alma Books, £14.99