Asher (Harry) Gilbert

Asher (Harry)
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Interview Date(s): 
21 Jun 1998
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Interview notes


[Transcribed from Joyce Robinson’s handwritten notes. Unfortunately there is no indication where the different sides of the recording end and start DS]

[At the time of the interview] Asher Gilbert still works in the Asher Gilbert Hairdressing Academy in Praed Street that opened after the Second World War. He was born in the East End of London on 13/11/1912, one of seven children of Polish-Russian immigrants (tailors and dyers of material). When a member of the Angel Weightlifting Club he joined in the confrontation of the Blackshirts [Oswald Mosley’s fascists] at the Mineries [near Aldgate]. First apprenticed to a barber, he became a general men’s/women’s hairdresser before becoming chief stylist at the Bonnington Hotel, Russel Square.

He opened a shop in Golden Square about 1928, which did not do well in an office area, so made up income by preparing lotions for other stylists. He trained many apprentices, “practice, practice, practise” [sic] including Eddie Weir, a world competition winner. Gilbert talks of marcel-waving, [curling the hair using heated tongs, named after Francois Marcel. DS] and the treatments and disasters he’s given or experienced. He speaks of the difference between relaxing and perming hair. He opened a salon in Bouverie Place after the war and another in Ruislip. Four in all. But discovered that wig-making was more lucrative and took up ‘board-work’ (wig making). Also discovered in time that it was cheaper to send detailed instructions abroad to have custom-made wigs made there where a superior method of fixing real hair to a base by heat, as opposed to sticking in or sewing, had been perfected. Mostly from China, with Indian hair it seems for only £50 to £100, as opposed to week’s work in the UK.

Gilbert used to have a £50 a year service contract with Praed Street customers looking after all aspects for a year. He comments that no work comes his way via personal recommendation as no client needing a toupee or a hair-piece is likely to confess to it! He has made some for many ‘show-biz’ personalities, unnamed. Also hires to TV, film and theatre companies. He mentions worling for the Unity Theatre briefly. A large part of his sales side consists of providing wardrobes of wigs for transvestites – many being ‘drag’ artists. He knows of no actual union available for hairdressers and can only remember the Shop Assistants Union which offered little help. Permanent-waving is still the mainstay of salon work (no longer so popular anyway with home use of products). Gilbert reckons that as hair has actually been proved to be alive it will play a part in research into areas of health etc. He feels, passionately, that compulsory registration of hair-dressing operatives, depending on thorough training, is called for.



Asher 'Harry' Gilbert  was born in east London. He began training as a hairdresser at 14 and opened his first salon at 20. He founded his Paddington wig shop in 1956. In the cellar of the shop he developed 'Liquid Life', an 'elixir of youth'. He was made famous by the BBC docusoap Paddington Green.