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Rudi the Demon Barber

As barbers go, Rudi was irresistible to us teenagers.

In the 1960s there was a barber’s shop on the corner of Church Way and West Percy Road. The proprietor was a German, by name of Rudi Seiber.

Rudi, so he told us, had been a Luftwaffe pilot in the war, had been shot down and became a prisoner of the British. His home in Germany, where his widowed mother still kept house, was now in the East, and he had decided to stay in England.

He is listed as having been a prisoner at Harperley PoW Camp, in Durham. (A fellow prisoner was Bert Trautmann who also stayed in England, and played in goal for Manchester City in the 1956 FA Cup Final. Bert endeared himself to soccer fans by playing on after breaking his neck; substitutions were not allowed in those days and Bert became an instant hero.)

As barbers go, Rudi was irresistible to us teenagers. He was a colourful and romantic character, and for the standard fee (which may have been 1/6d if memory serves) was willing to spend a bit more time and create for us the latest hairstyling fashions.

Moreover, Rudi had available an early version of hair gel, a glutinous, turquoise coloured substance which he stored in large jars under the customers’ bench seat. He applied it vigorously at the end of each haircut; on a good day, its effects might last as long as three or four hours.

Rudi had a certain skill at promoting his business. He appeared in the local paper after announcing that he had decided to bar members of the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) from his shop because they were “rude and arrogant”. Since members of the Wehrmacht were rarely, if ever, seen in North Shields, this move was unlikely to have had much impact on his income.

He also claimed to be a friend of Lord Gort, former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and to have the run of Lord Gort’s estate for shooting. Lord Gort died in 1946 so this has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but since Gort’s estate was in Durham it seems possible Rudi might have met the distinguished soldier while he was at the PoW camp.

Rudi never took a meal break, but was constantly eating thick sandwiches and drinking tea as he worked. I can see him now, scissors in one hand and sandwich in the other, cracking jokes in his German–Geordie accent, and keeping up a running verbal battle with the girls in the ladies’ hairdressers next door.

For all I know Rudi may still be alive, but he would be at least 85 now. Wherever you are, Rudi, auf wiedersehen.

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