When David Bowie first appeared on TV it was not as a musician but as president of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men

David Bowie on The Tonight Programme
(Image credit: BBC)

In early 1964, an article appeared in the Evening News and Star. Written by journalist Leslie Thomas and headlined 'For Those Beyond The Fringe', the piece was centred around an interview with one David Jones, of Plaistow Grove, Bromley, the 17-year-old president of a newly formed lobbying organisation. 

"Are you hairy?" asked Thomas. "If so, are you proud of being hairy and want to remain hairy? And are you tired of people making fun of you? If so, join a new society formed just for you and other hirsute folk – the International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament."

"Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell," explained President Jones, a.k.a. the future David Bowie. "It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls. Everybody makes jokes about you on a bus, and if you go past navvies digging in the road, it’s murder!"

The society was an invention, of course. In the wake of a rejection by Decca Records' Mike Smith (the man who famously also rejected The Beatles) the previous September, Jones and then-manager Leslie Conn realised that they couldn't rely on record industry to recognise his genius, and that a quicker route to wider fame might be to court controversy. 

It worked. In the wake of the interview, Jones and the rest of the International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament (now renamed The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men), were invited to appear on the BBC's flagship Tonight Programme, hosted by the legendary Cliff Michelmore. 

"It's all got to stop! They've had enough!" exclaims Michelmore in his introduction. "The worms are turning; the rebellion of the long hairs is getting underway. They're tired of persecution, they're tired of taunts, they're tired of losing their jobs, they're tired of being sent home from college, they're tired of being sent home from school, they're tired even of being refused the dole. 

"So with a nucleus of, uh, some of his friends, a seventeen-year- old Davey Jones has just founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. Well, here we are. Long-Haired Men, you've got to have your hair, what, nine inches long before you can join?"

"Well, I think we've passed that over now," Bowie responds.

Michelmore: "Have you?"

Bowie: "Yes."

Michelmore: "Now, exactly who's been cruel to you?"

Bowie: "Well, I think we're all fairly tolerant, but for the last two years we've heard, uh, comments like, 'Darling!' and, 'Can I carry your handbag?' thrown at us, and I think it just has to stop now."

Michelmore: "But does it surprise you that you get this kind of comment? Because, after all, you've got really rather long hair, haven't you?"

Bowie: "We have yes, yeah, it's not too bad, really."

It's goes on in this fashion for a couple of minutes, and, while it might not be the the most hard-hitting current affairs television you'll ever see, it is a fascinating historical piece. 

More long-haired shenanigans were to follow. When Jones and The Manish Boys recorded a version of Bobby Bland's I Pity the Fool (featuring a guitar solo from session man Jimmy Page) the following year, the BBC invited the band to perform live on the sixth episode of the BBC's new pop music show Gadzooks! It’s All Happening. Show producer Barry Langford had an issue with the length of the band's hair and initially barred them from performing, but then relented, claiming that their fee would be donated to charity.

Bonus fact: During the I Pity The Fool session, Page showed Bowie a guitar riff he was working on but couldn't find a home for. Bowie later used the riff on two different songs, on The Supermen (from 1970's The Man Who Sold the World) and on Dead Man Walking, released nearly three decades later on the Earthling album. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.