It’s well-known that the Beatles killed the quiff, but the story of how it happened can do with a retelling of the events surrounding that fateful day for us teds in Paris in October 1961.
The Beatles were of course often referred to as ‘the Mop-Tops’ at the height of their fame fame between 1963 and 1966, in reference to the distinctive hairstyle they sported. It’s 1966 that saw them change from being the amphetamine-popping performing guitar group to a more LSD-influenced psychedelic studio-based group. The changing hairstyle reflected the change: in 1966 they began to let it grow, first at the back along with sideburns, then moustaches in 1967, until they reached the complete hippy look including copious facial hair by 1970.
How different were things before 1962 when the Beatles were … rock’n’rollers sporting obligatory quiffs!
Here’s a few pictures of the Beatles
The Beatles spent much of the period from August 1960 to December 1962 as contracted nightclub performers in Hamburg where they honed their skills as a band and ‘grew up’ as they never had a chance to in Liverpool. Throughout this period they were a straightforward rock’n’roll band playing in a rock’n’roll environment. The pictures below give an idea of the general ambiance exuded by male youth in Hamburg at the time.
But the quiffed-up rock’n’roll aficionados were not the only scene in Hamburg. The Beatles would meet some student ‘Exis’ or Existentialists, artistic bohemians who liked the teachings of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Three of these, Klaus Voormann, Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer became close to the Beatles and would influence the Liverpool rockers in changing their hairstyle.
McCartney in 1988 credited Vollmer with inventing their distinctive Beatle-cut which he said “was in fact a ‘Jurgen’ haircut.”
Kirchherr had taken the style from Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau’s 1959 film Le Testament d’Orphée. Influenced Klaus Voormann 1st.
Vollmer cut Lennon and McCartney’s hair in his hotel room on the Left Bank.
Vollmer moved to Paris in 1961, and it is there that Lennon and McCartney went from Liverpool on 30 September to visit him to spend two weeks in Paris with money for Lennon’s birthday on 9 Oct, returning on 14 October (Beatles only in Hamburg from 27 March to 2 July in 1961). [McCartney, mentions only one week left in Paris after the hairstyle, so the cut must have taken place around Saturday 7 October 1961].
Vollmer mentions the holiday in Paris where Paul and John met up with him. They soon realized their Elvis quiffs and leathers were not working on the Parisian ladies, so exchanged their clothes for arty ones and asked Jürgen to give them his hairstyle. The sole motivation for the Moptop was to pull the Parisian bohemian girls! [Jurgen Vollmer. 2004. The Beatles In Hamburg: Photographs 1961. (English/German)]
Bill Harry (attended Liverpool College of Art with John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. He coined the phrase Mersey Beat and launched a newspaper of that name) writes: “As a result of the implication that Pete ignored the style, many people over the years suggested that this is one of the reasons that he was kicked out, that he was uncooperative by not adopting the hair-style. Yet Astrid states that she never considered attempting to adapt Pete’s hair in that style because she considered it too curly. When I discussed it with Pete he said that he was never asked to try out the new hairstyle – and he would have done so if he had been asked.”
Ray Coleman’s claim that Paul and John then followed by getting Astrid to style their hair is also wrong. John and Paul didn’t have Astrid fashion their hair. They returned to Liverpool with the same hair style they’d left in.
When John received a sum of money from his aunt Elizabeth for his 21st birthday, he invited Paul to join him on a trip to Spain at the end of September 1961. They set off, but never got further than Paris, where they stayed for two weeks. They discovered that Jurgen Vollmer, a friend of theirs from Hamburg, was now living in Paris. They both decided that they wanted their hair fashioned in the way Jurgen had his hair, which was the way a lot of French youngsters had their hair styled.
He was to say “I gave both of them their first ‘Beatle’ haircut in my hotel room on the Left Bank” and later confirmed, “I gave them the haircut. It was their idea to have it the same as mine. They left Paris, and never brushed their hair back again. That’s the real story of the haircut. Don’t let anyone tell you different.” And in an interview when George Harrison was asked how the Beatles haircut came about, he said, “I only brushed my hair forward after John and Paul came back from Paris.”
While Paul confirmed, “He had his hair Mod style. We said, ‘Would you do our hair like yours? We’re on holiday — what the hell!”
The hair style didn’t raise any eyebrows on Merseyside, where it wasn’t actually radically different from the hair style of the other local groups.
In their first interview for a major British publication, London’s Evening Standard, journalist Maureen Cleave mentioned their ‘weird’ hair: “French styling, with the fringe brushed forwards.” But it barely raised any attention in the British media.
However, it caused a sensation when the Beatles arrived in America in 1964. The affectionate term ‘Moptops’ was created and almost every comedian in the country cracked gags about their hair style. Hundreds of thousands of Beatles wigs were manufactured and it eventually led to the American youth growing their hair longer than had been previously acceptable for a young male.
American Beatle wig mania.
Joe Flannery continued, “Compare the photo of my mother and John Lennon and the hairstyles are remarkably similar. I have spoken on a number of occasions with Astrid and she has told me that she never ever said she created the hairstyle. In fact the group went to a barber’s at Horne Brothers at the corner of Paradise Street and Lord Street.”
I never noticed anything particular about John, George, Paul, Pete or Stuart’s hairstyles in the early days — apart from the fact that initially some of them sported the traditional Tony Curtis style that was popular in Liverpool in the late fifties. … / Nor did I notice anything specific about their hair when they returned back from Germany. Looking at the photos of the time, taken by Astrid and by Mersey Beat photographers, I couldn’t see anything that was radically different from the style most Liverpool youngsters and group members sported.
Despite Brian Epstein and his … publicity pictures to herald a new Beatles image … in April 1963 … their hair style began to change initially in Hamburg.
Paul McCartney, Anthology
His was actually more coming over to one side. A kind of long-haired Hitler thing, and we’d wanted that, so it was really a bit of an accident. We sat down in his hotel and he just got it – the ‘Beatle’ cut!
For the rest of that week we were like Paris Existentialists. Jean Paul Sartre had nothing on us. This was it. ‘Sod them all – I could write a novel from what I learnt this week.’ It was all inside me. I could do anything now.
When we got back to Liverpool it was all, ‘Eh, your hair’s gone funny.’ – ‘No, this is the new style.’
We nearly tried to change it back but it wouldn’t go, it kept flapping forward. And that just caught on. We weren’t really into the coiffure. It was like Mo’s out of the Three Stooges. It fell forward in a fringe. But it was great for us because we never had to style it or anything – wash it, towel it, turn upside down and give it a shake, and that was it. Everyone thought we had started it, so it became ‘the Beatle hairdo’.
Sunday Express 3.12.2014
In 1995 Astrid told BBC Radio Merseyside: “All my friends in art school used to run around with this sort of what you call Beatles haircut.
“My boyfriend Klaus Voormann had this hairstyle and Stuart liked it very, very much.
“He was the first one who really got the nerve to get the Brylcreem out of his hair and asking (sic) me to cut his hair for him.
Astrid has consistently denied that she was responsible for the Beatles’ radical change of image, once complaining: “All that rubbish people said, that I created their hairstyle, that’s rubbish! Lots of German boys had that hairstyle.
“Stuart had it for a long while and the others copied it.”
“Astrid and Klaus were very influential. I remember we went to the swimming baths once and my hair was down from the water and they said, ‘No, leave it, it’s good.’ I didn’t have my Vaseline anyway, and I was thinking, ‘Well, these people are cool – if they think it’s good, I’ll leave it like this.’ They gave me that confidence and when it dried off it dried naturally down, which later became ‘the look’.
Before that, as a rocker, I wore my hair back; though it would never go back without a fight – it goes forward when I was it. (It just grows into a Beatle cut!) I used to have to put thick Vaseline on my hair to hold it back.
I remember cutting John’s hair one time, and I tried to get him to cut mine. We did it just as a joke, only the once, but I don’t think he cut mine as professionally as I cut his…” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology
GROSS: How did you change their hair and why did you change it?
Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, my boyfriend, Klaus, had a big problem because his ears used to stick out and then I had the idea to just grow the hair over them, which he then did and it looked absolutely beautiful. So when the boys saw Klaus, Stuart was the first one who said, oh I would like to have that hairstyle and because their hair was very long I could do it in one night so -which I did. And Stuart was the first one who performed onstage with the so-called Beatles or Klaus haircut.
GROSS: So how did the other Beatles decide to pick up on the same style?
Ms. KIRCHHERR: When they finished playing in Hamburg, they went back to Liverpool, and I visited Stuart there. And then George came up to me and said, could you please cut my hair like Stuart’s? But the other two didn’t want to know about it, John and Paul.
John Lennon, ca.5:10, gives his view –
At the time, Ringo not only had a greasy swept-back haircut, he also sported a stylish beard. Ringo recalled John’s phone call to him, asking him to join the Beatles. “You can keep your sidies (sideburns), but lose the beard,” he was instructed. Early publicity photos, as well as Ringo’s picture on the Beatles’ first album Please Please Me, show Ringo clean-shaven, but still with a slightly swept-back coiffure.
02 March 1962 – At [= ? After] this point, they no longer wore their leathers. [www.beatlesource.com/savage/1961/61.xx.00%20tower/61.xx.00tower.html]
Voormann at 3:45 says tey picked up their leather look from the Exis
The details of how the Beatles wiped the floor with Elvis in 1964 are given by Alan Hanson here.
For the best collection of Beatles pictures from the 1950s to 1963, click here.
Just goes to show: “Well, there’s a way of twisting history – because if you find a roll of film in the cupboard, that’s going in the documentary. I may have been doing something far more important on the same day, but because I didn’t film it, it’s no longer important. I think it’s shown me that all history must be rubbish, because if we can’t tell our story – and we’re still alive – God help the Romans, or Alexander the Great or… anyone!” – George Harrison, Q Magazine, 1995