A 17-Year-Old David Bowie Defends “Long-Haired Men” in His First TV Interview (1964)

Have you heard of the Soci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­el­ty to Long-Haired Men? If not, you can’t say you know all of David Bowie’s groups. Fifty years ago, in his very first tele­vi­sion inter­view, Bowie appeared in the capac­i­ty of its spokesman, as well as that of “Pres­i­dent of the Inter­na­tion­al League for the Preser­va­tion of Ani­mal Fil­a­ment.” “I think we’re all fair­ly tol­er­ant,” says the 17-year-old then known as David (or even Dav­ey) Jones, “but for the last two years we’ve had com­ments like ‘Dar­ling!’ and ‘Can I car­ry your hand­bag?’ thrown at us, and I think it just has to stop now.” Cliff Michel­more, host of the BBC pro­gram Tonight where this all went down in Novem­ber 1964, asks if such behav­ior sur­pris­es him, because, “after all, you’ve got real­ly rather long hair, haven’t you?” “We have, yes,” replies the pro­to-Bowie Bowie. “I think we all like long hair, and we don’t see why oth­er peo­ple should per­se­cute us because of this.”

The “we” to which he refers com­pris­es all the equal­ly mop-topped young dudes flank­ing him. Togeth­er, they would lat­er appear on anoth­er BBC pro­gram, Gad­zooks! It’s All Hap­pen­ing, as the group — this time musi­cal — the Man­ish Boys, per­form­ing their big num­ber, a cov­er of Bob­by Bland­’s “I Pity the Fool.” But accord­ing to the David Bowie FAQ, pro­duc­er Bar­ry Lang­ford had, for that appear­ance, pre­vi­ous­ly “insist­ed that David cut his 17” long hair,” result­ing in the brief for­ma­tion of the Soci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­el­ty to Long-Haired Men and, con­se­quent­ly, “numer­ous news­pa­per reports… of course it was all a scam for some free pub­lic­i­ty.” What­ev­er his style — and he’s had a few — Bowie has clear­ly always known how to work the ever-reengi­neered pub­lic­i­ty machine. Some­times he’s done it by going with the flow, but only par­tial­ly, as we see here, where he and the Man­ish Boys sport rough­ly nine-inch hair rather than cuts to the harsh ear­ly-1960s stan­dard. Bowie, nev­er one of rock­’s ded­i­cat­ed long­hairs, can’t have found this too ter­ri­bly oppres­sive in real­i­ty, although when he returned to the BBC 35 years lat­er for a chat with the more stri­dent Jere­my Pax­man, he did so with a look that might have done the old Soci­ety proud.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

David Bowie Sings ‘I Got You Babe’ with Mar­i­anne Faith­full in His Last Per­for­mance As Zig­gy Star­dust

David Bowie Recalls the Strange Expe­ri­ence of Invent­ing the Char­ac­ter Zig­gy Star­dust (1977)

David Bowie Talks and Sings on The Dick Cavett Show (1974)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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