When the barber’s shop was at the cutting edge

Bishop's department store in Falkirk town centre opened a hairdressers which catered for both men and women.
Bishop's department store in Falkirk town centre opened a hairdressers which catered for both men and women.

There are still a surprisingly large number of hairdresser’s shops in Falkirk including a few run by highly skilled young Turkish barbers who really know the business.

There are unisex salons too where young men are offered some fantastic cuts and styles that leave old fogies like me shaking our thinning grey locks in wonderment.

It goes without saying that ‘‘things ain’t what they used to be’’ when we were marched by our parents to Armstrong’s or McKenna’s 60 years ago.

They were amazing places, far more than mere shops for the cutting of hair.

Many of them – and there were two dozen to choose from in the 1950s – were like social centres where horse racing and football were analysed with as much heat as today’s TV pundits can muster

Listen carefully and you could come away with the solution to all the problems at Brockville or the Shire’s park or a sure fire winner in the two o’clock at Ascot.

The war was not long finished when I was first lifted into the barber’s big chair, draped in the white sheet and handed over to the man with the flashing scissors.

Last week a friend reminded me of the signs that promised “Army Haircuts Repaired!”

The crew-cuts favoured by American servicemen were all the rage at the time and getting ‘‘scalped’’ was also thought to be the healthiest way to wear your mop.

Hand clippers were being replaced by electric powered cutters and in my mind I can still hear the high pitched buzz which emanated from the doors of all the barber’s shops.

I can’t quite remember where my first encounter took place but it may have been in the wee red hut with the striped red and white pole in Burnhead Lane run by the McKenna brothers, Johnny and Bill.

As well as getting a ‘‘short back and sides’’ I learned all about horse racing and the difference between a three-cross double or a ‘‘yankee’’ bet at the bookies.

Another popular place was Armstrong’s up the close in the High Street.

This was always busy with several chairs in operation at any moment and a queue waiting to be called.

I especially remember the barber with the big red face and horn-rimmed glasses who worked fast and never stopped talking.

The patter was great but for a youngster the great moment was when a man was about to be shaved.

The soap boy would lather up the hot water in a big jug and the customer’s face would soon disappear under a great white swathe.

The barber would pick up the cut-throat’’ razor, the implement at the centre of a 100 nightmares, and sharpen it on the great leather strop which hung on the wall beside the sink.

He would then begin the delicate shaving process all the time carrying on an animated discussion about Falkirk’s prospects with the occasional muffled response emerging from the bubbles.

Other popular places were Dick’s and Fallon’s in Camelon, Donnelly’s near the bus station and Malloy’s in the High Street.

Bishop Brothers in Callendar Riggs was a very popular ‘‘super store’’ and when they opened their hairdressing salon it had a more modern approach with male and female sections.

Styles had changed and boys would ask for a Tony Curtis or a D.A. (ask your grandpa!).

By the mid 60s long hair was all the rage and my visits to the barbers declined and came to an end.

I haven’t been back for 50 years as I now ‘‘employ’ my own hairdresser at home! Cheaper, but I still miss the patter.