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Blackpool 1994 BBC series Three Salons at the Seaside becomes surprise iPlayer hit

Before the days of reality TV and social media, there was one way to keep up to date with the latest gossip: going to the hairdressers. 

And the conversations at the salon proved so interesting that they became the subject of 1994 TV documentary Three Salons at the Seaside.

Now, the fly-on-the-wall 40-minute episode focusing on three hairdressers in Blackpool has proved a hit once again after being put on BBC iPlayer. 

The show focused on the proprietors and customers of salons Vanity Box, Mary’s Way and Tricia’s. 

Before the days of reality TV and social media, there was one way to keep up to date with the latest gossip: going to the hairdressers. And the conversations at the salon proved so interesting that they became the subject of award-winning 1994 TV documentary Three Salons at the Seaside (above)

It was directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, who is now well-known for directing episodes of shows including Call the Midwife and The Crown. 

In one exchange, two women at Vanity Box are seen having their hair done as they discuss how one of them was injured and needed stitches after ‘a woman knocked me down outside Kwik Save.’ 

When her friend asks where she got hurt, the 80-year-old replies: ‘I had to have stiches in me head. I’ve had to walk with a stick since.’ 

She adds: ‘I was supposed to go to the hospital. The nurse at the doctor’s surgery took two out. 

‘She said to come back. I came to Hilary and Hilary said “I’ll take those stitches out”. So Hilary took them out.’

In one exchange, two women at Vanity Box are seen having their hair done as they discuss how one of them (left) was injured and needed stitches after 'a woman knocked me down outside Kwik Save'

In one exchange, two women at Vanity Box are seen having their hair done as they discuss how one of them (left) was injured and needed stitches after ‘a woman knocked me down outside Kwik Save’

In another, a hairdresser at Mary’s Way is seen having a discussion with a customer about Coronation Street star Lynne Perrie, who played Ivy Tilsley, after she had plastic surgery.

The hairdresser said: ‘Oooh don’t she look horrendous, she looks like a chipmunk don’t she!’

When her customer said ‘there was nothing the matter with her at first,’ she added: ‘Oh she was, she was. She had wrinkles down her cheeks. They’ve gone away. 

‘But i’m sure they’ve done her mouth wrong. Terrible.’

A third exchange sees Hilary, of Vanity Box, talking to a customer about a couple who had ‘new windows’.

The customer, whose hair is rolled up in curlers, says: ‘I couldn’t believe it.’ 

She adds: ‘I applied to see if I could have a grant, and they said no. And she’s on social and gets [the] lot… it is a disgrace.’ 

Mary Burney, 75, who ran Mary’s Way until her retirement in 2011, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We didn’t know about these fly on the wall things that they do now, and couldn’t understand why somebody would want to film us doing what we do everyday.

‘But it was terribly interesting and everybody was lovely. And you could tell when you met Philippa that she was very talented and very clever. And it was just great fun.’

In another exchange, a hairdresser at Mary's Way is seen having a discussion with a customer about a Coronation Street star who had allegedly had plastic surgery. She said: 'Oooh don't she look horrendous, she looks like a chipmunk don't she!'

In another exchange, a hairdresser at Mary’s Way is seen having a discussion with a customer about a Coronation Street star who had allegedly had plastic surgery. She said: ‘Oooh don’t she look horrendous, she looks like a chipmunk don’t she!’

A third exchange sees Hilary, of Vanity Box, talking to a customer about a couple who had 'new windows'. The customer, whose hair is rolled up in curlers, says: 'I couldn't believe it.' She adds: 'I applied to see if I could have a grant, and they said no. And she's on social and gets [the] lot... it is a disgrace'

A third exchange sees Hilary, of Vanity Box, talking to a customer about a couple who had ‘new windows’. The customer, whose hair is rolled up in curlers, says: ‘I couldn’t believe it.’ She adds: ‘I applied to see if I could have a grant, and they said no. And she’s on social and gets [the] lot… it is a disgrace’

Ms Lowhorpe added: ‘It was one of those things where I really wanted to put women talking on the telly because it is how I grew up in Yorkshire listening to my aunties talk like that. 

‘And there was a challenge because a colleague of mine said nobody would be interested in such a film as that. 

‘And we went up to Blackpool, and sat around in different hairdressers and came across Mary, who was so warm and funny and witty. 

‘The hairdresser performed a social service to the community. It was more than just having your hair done, it was about life and death and everything in between.’ 

Since making Three Salons, Ms Lowthorpe has tried to feature a hairdresser scene in every film or series she has made.

In The Crown, Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth is seen getting her hair done in series two. 

Tricia’s and Vanity Box have shut since Three Salons aired, whilst Mary’s Way is now an outlet called Salon K.

Three Salons was this year selected as one of the best documentaries of the past 50 years by the charity the Grierson Trust, which promotes documentary filmmaking. 

It prompted the BBC to bring it out of its archive. 

Mary's Way, which was run by Mary Burney until 2011, is seen above in the BBC documentary

Mary’s Way, which was run by Mary Burney until 2011, is seen above in the BBC documentary

Tricia's was another outlet that featured in the hit BBC documentary, which is now on iPlayer

Tricia’s was another outlet that featured in the hit BBC documentary, which is now on iPlayer

Vanity Box also featured on the show. Hairdressers Hilary and Joyce were among the staff

Vanity Box also featured on the show. Hairdressers Hilary and Joyce were among the staff

Hairdresser Hilary of Vanity Box

Joyce, who also worked at Vanity Box

Hairdressers Hilary (left) and Joyce (right) of Vanity Box are seen above in the BBC show 

Fans on social media have been singing the show’s praises. 

One wrote: ‘I would urge anyone of a certain age, particularly if you’re a northerner or a Victoria Wood fan (you’ll see what I mean if you watch it) to give it a go. It’s absolutely wonderful.’

Another called it ‘BBC documentary-making at its finest’, adding: ‘There’s something humbling in listening to those stoical, working class women, many of whom would’ve lived through two World Wars and a great depression. 

‘Now loneliness. The quiet strength of women of a tough era.’

A third said the show reminded them of their own mother, who ‘would visit her hairdresser every Friday to catch up on all the latest gossip’ and ‘have her shampoo and set’. 

In April, Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett and Harriet Walter made a spoof version of Three Salons, called Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport, on their mockumentary series Documentary Now.

The episode was filmed at Ms Burney’s former salon.  

In April, Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett (right) and Harriet Walter made a spoof version of Three Salons, called Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport, on their mockumentary series Documentary Now. The episode was filmed at Ms Burney's former salon, which is now called Salon K

In April, Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett (right) and Harriet Walter made a spoof version of Three Salons, called Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport, on their mockumentary series Documentary Now. The episode was filmed at Ms Burney’s former salon, which is now called Salon K

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