Lionel Bart, Barbara Windsor, Robbie Fowler and Hoardings
Churchfield Road's Tony Antoniou of Classix speaks out
On February 8th Tony Antoniou, owner of Classix barbers celebrated 15 years of being in business on Churchfield Road. His large turnover of clients means that he knows more secrets than most about the locals.
Tony himself is a South London man, though his wife and her family are local. He originally chose Churchfield Road, he says, "because I thought it had potential - I liked the villagey feel of the road." He says plenty of people told him: "you'll never survive round here", but he's pleased to have proved them wrong.
He is proud to have cut the hair of Kevin Gallen (the QPR striker currently on loan to Plymouth Argyle); Robbie Fowler (Liverpool FC and England) has also visited the shop, and the chairs around the coffee table are often full of clients waiting their turn.
Despite being very busy running his business, Tony is a great ambassador for Churchfield Road. He says he would really like to have a butcher, a fishmonger and a bookshop on the road. He often bends the ears of his clients (being careful not to nick them with his scissors as he cuts their hair) extolling the virtues of Acton and Churchfield Road. He will break off from the final touches of a haircut to gesticulate with his scissors in a very Mediterranean way.
He has fond memories of Lionel Bart, who lived in a flat opposite (above what is now Datacourt and the house next door to it) for many years. The flat had previously been occupied by Leo Sayer before Bart lived there. Tony remembers how Bart first came into his hairdressing shop. He said: "Hi. I'm Lionel. My barber is in Fulham but I thought I'd give yours a try." Tony said to him: "You look familiar...." and Bart told him who he was - which was exciting news for Tony as he had always loved Oliver since he first saw it as a young boy.
Until he died in 1999, Lionel Bart crossed the road twice a week for a coffee, a chat and a scalp massage. He often escaped to Classix when things got a bit much for him. One particularly memorable time, Bart was holding a party. His flat was full to bursting with showbusiness personalities. Tony was amazed to see him arrive in Classix with Barbara Windsor. The two sat in his back room reminiscing over a bottle of booze.
Tony has strong views on the look of Churchfield Road and its shops. He was upset by the ugly hoarding in front of Vogue Drycleaners after a council cleaning vehicle mounted the pavement and a wheel went through into the basement of the shop. It took the council over 6 months to repair the damage and the grey hoarding obscured the view in both directions.
He is upset that the business is now closed: "We could do with a dry cleaners in this road. Lots of people miss Vogue. I'm baffled about why the business wasn't taken over more quickly, although I think the bailiffs have now repossessed it - there are builders in there now. Willmott's, who manage the property, must be owed back-dated rent. I don't understand why the landlord didn't act more quickly."
Tony sees red when confronted by the ugly green hoarding which now seems to have become a Costcutter store two doors down from his smart shop. He told me: "when the hoarding first went up, I rang Ealing Council to complain. They told me it only had permission as a temporary structure, but it's been there for several years and blocks the view of my shopfront. It's a very ugly structure and the owner only put it there so he wouldn't have to cart his veg back into the shop when he shut up for the night. Just pure laziness. I think Ealing Council should at least have consulted me and I wish they would do something about it now."
He also has nothing good to say about landlords who convert their shop spaces. Many landlords make shops smaller in order to create more space for flats. "I think this makes them harder to let and could explain why many shops are lying empty on Churchfield Road."
Tony has views on the local pet hate: Rubbish. He told me: "I'd really like a local recycling unit. The newspaper facility at Acton Central Station just isn't enough. Although the rubbish clearing has improved this year, it really annoys me that I have to pay £1 per bag to put out my rubbish. Other businesses in the road then bag up their rubbish in a Netto carrier bag or something and plonk it next to my bag. They both get taken away by the Council, but no one does anything about them when they are effectively fly-tipping. It's not fair and yes, I have phoned the Council about it."
One more thing: Parking restrictions. "We need clearer signage for the restrictions. Lots of my clients get tickets. The difference between pay-and-display and one hour free bays has not been made clear enough."
Hopefully, someone influential will listen to Tony. Businesses such as his make Acton a better place. As I leave, he wields his scissors once more to ensure that Acton Central residents and those who come from miles around are perfectly groomed. May his influence extend far beyond the length of his scissors.