Fremantle Stuff > People > Norm Wrightson

norm wrightsonNorm Wrightson

Norm Wrightson (1924-) is a hairdresser and bandleader. His band, the Norm Wrightson Orchestra, played Saturday nights at the Victoria Hall for thirty years from 1949. His salon at 7 William St (in the Manning Chambers building) is still a barbershop with his name on it, tho he himself retired in 1999.

Norm Wrightson born 1924, became the third generation in the family to work as a barber. In 1933 the family opened a shop opposite the Town Hall in William Street and the family lived upstairs. After serving an apprenticeship with his father and completing four years of Army service during World War Two, Norm worked in the shop with the support of his wife, Bernice, until his retirement in 1999. Norm Wrightson developed great skill as a musician, playing the saxophone and clarinet. He started his own band and became a well-known and respected band leader, playing at numerous venues until he retired from music in 1961 to concentrate on the barber's shop. Bob Wrightson focussed on teaching dance and with his wife Shelda competed in international ballroom competitions with great success. He was involved in dances at Victoria Hall and Canterbury Court. Summary of a 2012 interview with NW by Heather Campbell, Fremantle Library OH/WRI.

Robert Wrightson and his dad Ernie Wrightson had a small barber shop on Canning Hwy in East Fremantle. In 1933 a shop at 7 William St Fremantle became available and they jumped at the opportunity. They named the barbershop R.E Wrightson.
Norm Wrightson, the son of Robert Wrightson would have been 9 years old at the time, and Norm's brother Robert was 13 years old. Norm's parents Robert and Moude slept upstairs above the barbershop in the front room practically underneath the Town Hall clock. Norm and his brother Robert also slept in the room upstairs above the barbershop.
wrightson hairwayNorm's grandfather Ernie retired from barbering after six weeks of entering their new business premises so from then on Norm's father Robert started to employ hairdressers.
Haircuts for men at the time were a shilling. Kids' haircut and men's shave were sixpence. Norm's brother Bob started a hairdressing apprenticeship with his dad but at age 16 was selected to go on a tour of South Africa with the YAL (Young Australian League). Norm would practise on his saxophone upstairs and he was sure he used to drive the customers downstair in the barbershop mad. Norm would go off to school and by age 13 would come into the barbershop and start cutting kids' hair to help out his dad.
In those days Norm's dad was quite a heavy smoker and his mum who didn't smoke or drink would roll his cigarettes, light them and pass them on to Norm's dad to smoke. Norm's dad used to have a habit of smoking whilst he was cutting hair and one of his friends used to walk in and pick up his cigarette and have a couple of puffs. One day Norm's dad loaded the cigarette with six wax match heads and his friend that used to come in and puff his cigarette started to puff away. Imagine what happened - the cigarette blew up in his face and there was a lot of laughter from all the other customers and barbers.
norm wrightsonThe second world war started in 1939 and in 1942 Norm was called up.
While he was away for four years, Norm's dad put on two apprentices, brothers Les and Horry Hawkins and they turned out to be very good hairdressers so they kept the place going.
During the war there were no shop fronts, all the windows were taken out and the fronts boarded up in case of air raids. When Norm got out of the army in 1946 he comlpeted his apprenticeship. It took Norm eight years all up to finish his apprenticeship including his army time.
Norm married Bernice Poole on 1947 and sent Norm's parents to England for a holiday for six months by ship and they loved it.
Norm Wrightson's was one of the first barbershops in WA to put on a lady apprentice, Katrina Bannister and a lady hairdresser Tina Russel. They both turned out to be excellent hairdressers.
Norm's dad started to take things easy and retired in 1973. Norm's mum still worked behind the counter and Bernice (Norm's wife) worked a couple of days also to give Norm's mum some much needed time off.
During the 1950s and 1960s Norm employed two Italian hairdressers and several ladies. The Italians were Tony D'Andrea and Fedele Potalivo, both excellent barbers and they all had a lot of fun together. Both men worked for over thirty years for Norm. Norm would call Fedele a D-I-N-G and he would call Norm as 'Ossi Bugga' - the customers loved the banter.
wrightson vic hallNorm's dad passed away in 1981 and Norm's mum in 1983. The business was originally in the name of R.E Wrightson and when Norm took over from his father he renamed the shop to Norm Wrightson's Hairway.
As the business started to expand, Norm knocked down the wall to the backroom to increase the barbershop to '6 Chairs' to let people know how big the business was. This proved to be quite effective but also humorous, as friends of the staff were confused and thought the Barber Salon was called 6 Chairs. Text from the history section of the Norm Wrightson Hairway website.

References and Links

See also: Wrightsons Barbershop.

Campbell, Heather 2012, Interview with Norm Wrightson, Fremantle Library OH/WRI.

Foster, Brendan 2013, 'A party to cut through the years', Fremantle Herald, 25 October (photo above).

Horsley, Lorraine & Chloe Papas 2015, 'Dancing through Fremantle's history with music veteran Norm Wrightson', 720 ABC Perth, 27 March (photo right).

Norm Wrightson Hairway website (top photo).


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