Stan Miles makes the final cut after 60 years as a barber in Otford village… and don’t forget the boxing, biking and blues
My Sevenoaks Community Editor Frank ‘Scoop’ Baldwin talks to Stan Miles about his 60 years as a barber in Otford
STAN Miles’ barber shop in Otford may not be very large, but more than 100 people crammed in to it throughout a day-long open house retirement party recently to say farewell and thanks to Stan for serving their village for almost 60 years – a display of loyalty which is almost unheard of these days.
Villagers are so appreciative of this loyalty that they had a collection to raise funds to buy a picnic table and bench bearing Stan’s name. It is going to be put in the nearby recreation ground to reflect the number of years he worked on the High Street.
But Otford almost didn’t get Stan. He was brought up in Halstead after his large family came to live in Kent to escape wartime London. After attending Bromley Grammar School, he trained at the London Academy of Vidal Sassoon, the celebrity hairdresser known for creating styles for film stars and fashion designers in the 50s and 60s.
Stan takes up the story: “When I was still a teenager in the late 50s, I saw an advertisement which said an Otford barber was looking for an assistant. So, I went to Otford with my dad and we found this barber shop called Dirty Dick’s. When I walked in the floor was completely covered in a couple of inches of hair and it looked filthy. I thought ‘there’s no way I’m working here’. In fact, we had gone to the wrong place!”
Stan found the other High Street barbers, landed the job, and two years later had the opportunity to take over the lease himself when the owner decided to retire. He said: “I managed to borrow the money to get started from my family, but I was too young to sign the lease, so my father, who was a bricklayer, had to sign it for me until I became old enough to take it on myself.”
Although he took over an existing business, Stan still had to build up his own clientele during those early years and he was helped by his connections with boxing – another passion of Stan’s – as fighters from London would come down to get Stan to cut their hair.
Stan said: “I came from a very sporting family. My brothers were very good footballers and played at a high level, but I was born with Rickets and so wasn’t able to play as I couldn’t last a whole match. My uncles on my mother’s side of the family were all boxers and so I took up the sport to build up my strength.”
It proved to be a good decision as Stan’s talent soon became obvious and he later became South East Champion. He started as a member at Downham Goldsmiths and at the age of 18 joined the Fisher Club in Bermondsey.
It was while his career as a barber and his success as a boxer were taking off that he met his German wife Ursula, who is better known as Usch. They married in 1965 and moved into their house near Bradbourne Lakes, Sevenoaks, two years later. It was here they brought up their two sons Samy and Jacques.
During ‘the swinging 60s’ Usch can remember going to parties in South London where there would be several ‘faces’. She said: “Coming from Germany, it was a bit of a shock as I had never been to parties where all the women stayed in one room and all the men stood around in the kitchen with crates of beer drinking and smoking.”
Usch went to a few boxing shows with Stan but she said: “I only ever saw him fight once and I never wanted to watch again!”
It was another person connected with the world of boxing who suggested that Stan should audition for some film work. He was able to get an equity card and Stan’s good looks landed him television parts and roles as an extra in several films such as the wartime favourite, The Mosquito Squadron. He was also employed as a model in advertisements.
Stan has used his boxing talent to help raise money for charity. Older Otford residents will remember him setting up a boxing ring at the annual village fete where he would take on all-comers. Stan said: “I did it all over the south east, not just in Otford, but of course I liked doing it in the village as I knew so many people. There used to be long queues of people wanting to take me on and I would offer £10 if anyone could knock me down and £25 if they could knock me out. In the many years I did it, I never had to pay out a penny,” he says with a wry smile on his face.
Stan soon became a well-loved character in Otford and his shop became known as the ‘House of Blues’ because there was always music playing. Stan said: “It was nearly always blues, but I also liked to play classical music.”
Usch said: “Stan is one of the few people I know who actually looked forward to going to work and he liked to make it fun. People would often pop in just for a chat and Stan wouldn’t charge some of his elderly customers for a haircut, but they wanted to give him something, so he would come home with bags full of vegetables they had picked from their allotments or gardens for him.”
Customers also became used to his unusual way of doing business. If the sun was shining, they would find a sign on his door saying: ‘Sunbathing in the rec – if you want a haircut, come and find me’. Plus, it became a known fact that during the second week of Wimbledon, Stan would only be open until 1pm as he would be rushing home to watch matches on the television.
Stan was a keen tennis player himself and was a member at Otford, before moving on to Sevenoaks Clarendon, where he became chairman, and in recent years he played at Kemsing.
When Stan first started working in Otford, he drove in from Halstead but after moving to Sevenoaks he discovered what was to become yet another passion – cycling.
For the past 20 years or so, Stan has been a familiar sight cycling backwards and forwards between Sevenoaks and Otford. But it was no fancy racing or mountain bike for Stan. He has an old sit up and beg bike.
With his new-found love of cycling he teamed up with his friend Lenny Metcalfe, a former Sevenoaks Postman, and together they took part in many events for charity, including several London to Brighton bike rides. What made these efforts even more remarkable is that Stan rode his standard bicycle and Lenny rode his old postman’s bike with no gears and the mail basket still on the front.
Stan’s work as a barber has not been restricted to his shop. He has taken his scissors and clippers and cut hair for people in many of the local charitable institutions over the years such as the former Dorton House for the Blind in Seal, Demelza House, and the Cheshire Home in Chipstead.
One of the popular times in Stan’s shop was when the local primary school finished for the day and parents would bring their children to have their hair cut.
These children stayed as customers throughout their lives and Usch said: “On Stan’s last day, one man actually became quite emotional and said ‘I had my first ever hair cut here and I have been coming here ever since’. Stan has watched many of the village children grow up into adults.”
Stan says the view from the picture window at the front of his shop has hardly changed in 60 years but what are the changes he has seen in Otford?
He said: “I can remember when there were many different shops in the village including a cobbler, a delicatessen, a bakers, two butchers and at least three grocers stores. But this all changed when the large supermarkets came to the Sevenoaks area. There are still lots of nice shops in Otford, but there used to be a lot more.”
Usch added: “There is still lots going on in Otford and the community spirit is still strong with many different clubs and organisations which bring people of all ages together.”
Stan has collected many mementos from his various experiences and adventures over the years which he put up on the walls of his High Street premises. But there is only one item that has been there from when he first started working in the shop nearly 60 years ago – the till, and Stan was still using it right up until the last day.
Stan, who has just celebrated his 77th birthday, has had a full and colourful working life and these memories above are just a tip of the iceberg. After 60 years he certainly deserves to enjoy his retirement, but Otford will find him hard to replace.