COLIN 'THE BARBER' LEWIS
How long have you been in the area?
Since Monday 22nd October 1973. I've just celebrated 42 years in this shop.
What brought you here?
I worked in NW10, Stonebridge Park, which was an area like this, with rows of terraced houses. But Ken Livingstone came along with his bulldozers and flattened it. I was working for another guy and his shop was due for demolition so I needed a new source of employment. This place was on the market so I came to take a look. The outside was bottle green and the inside was dirty pink and I saw some room for improvement. I was refereeing football back then and one of my customers was a decorator. He painted the place blue and white because he was a Queens Park Rangers' fan. I had no say in the colours whatsoever. Beggars can't be choosers. He did it for the price of a haircut.
How long have you been a barber?
Fifty years I've been cutting hair.
Has this area changed?
For many years there was no change at all. The properties were all rented. I knew one lady who rented before the Rent Act of 1956 so her rent was frozen. When I came here, she was paying 62 and a half pence rent for a three-bedroom house. Everyone worked in factories around here in those days. CAV, at the bottom of Cobbold Road, were the biggest local employers. They made motor components. They employed about 6000 men and women. Behind what's now the library was Johnson and Matthey, the gold bullion people. One of my customers, his dad worked there and he told me, when we were kids, we used to brush the yellow dust out of the turn-ups on dad's trousers. He said, thinking back, we threw away a small fortune. I have some customers who were born in this street and have lived here for ninety years. When I arrived, these houses were around a hundred years old. The first occupants rented and probably worked in the local brickworks making the bricks that made Notting Hill. And their children were born around 1900. So when I came here in 1973 their children were in their 70s. Over the next decade they'd all gone, to the grave or moved in with their children who'd already left. That third generation couldn't wait to leave Shepherd's Bush. They thought it was a dump. When I first came here you wouldn't want to live here and now I do want to live here I can't afford it.
Who taught you how to cut?
I was trained by a Harrod's barber, the very best. I spent six weeks learning how to hold a pair of scissors. Not cutting, just holding. You have to hold it so the bottom blade always stays still.
I was told, because of the way I combed my hair I'd go to prison.
Do you think modern men are vainer than previous generations?
The opposite. Back in the 1940s, men had their haircut short for economic reasons. They had it shaved so it'd last longer. That style has come back, but it's a poor man's haircut.
What are your top grooming tips?
I shampoo my hair every morning, comb it and that's it for the day. I've never been a fan of lotions and potions, but people do it for different reasons. It's all fashion. The punks diluted sugar in warm water, then dipped their comb in.
Who cuts your hair?
Wherever I happen to be at the time. I have no preference.
Are you a difficult customer?
Not at all. I sit in the chair and when they're done, they're done.
What's the strangest request you've ever had?
One young man came in with straw-coloured, straight hair, a bit like (early-80s TV scarecrow) Worzel Gummidge. He showed me a picture of (pop star) David Essex with his curly, dark hair and the boy said, can you do it like that? I said, sorry, no. And he got angry and said, you're a barber aren’t you? And I said, yes, but I'm not a miracle worker.
Whose hair would you like to have cut?
Elvis had fabulous hair. I used to comb my hair like him. I've been there with the DA and the quiff. When I was fifteen I was told by the village elders in Cornwall, because of the way I combed my hair, I'd go to prison.
Were you a rebel?
I did rebel, because I was able to. I missed the army call up. Back in the fifties when a guy was eighteen he was a kid. He went in the army and when he came out two years later he was a man. He missed his youth. I just missed the call up by a couple of months so I Brylcreemed my hair and the village elders didn't like it. I was the first teenager in the village.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I had two younger brothers but sadly both died around forty years ago, one 25 and the other 20, both accidents, one industrial and the other a road accident. The thing is they used up all their bad luck in one go. And I inherited all their good luck. You'll never meet a luckier man than me. I've had a wonderful life. Everything I've done has turned to gold. Not financially, but in every other way. Money is way down my list of important things. I've got a wonderful family: a wonderful wife and four kids.
Did any follow you into the beauty industry?
I advised them against it. I wanted them to do better. And you need to have the right mental attitude to be a barber. You need to be calm. There's no reason not to be calm.
Is it a satisfying job?
It does give you pleasure. You cut a guy's hair today and he walks by the shop tomorrow and you think, I did that.
Does your wife trust you to cut her hair?
I won't cut hair at home. Joyce goes to a women's hairdresser and I don't say anything. It's best not to say anything, but we've been together 39 years. She's a wonderful person.
If you weren't a barber, what job would you like to do?
A joiner – not a carpenter, a joiner. I do love working with wood. I've made lots of furniture, a bed, lots of things...
How do you relax when you're not in the shop?
I've always loved football. I refereed local football for about twelve seasons, for the factory teams. Every factory had a football team. Park Royal was full of factories: Heinz; Walls, the sausages and ice cream; McVitie and Price, the biscuits; Landis and Gyr, who made gas meters, had two football pitches. I refereed and played there with a young man who went on to play for England, Stuart Pearce. They were good days.
Do you think they'll ever find a cure for baldness?
I bet you're quite pleased about that.
Thank you, Colin. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
Interviewed Nov 2015 by Jo Reynolds