The Sarge Interview

Mark Sargeant (Sarge) has written for Scootering since the 80s – you might not be reading this site without the contribution of his spadework in bringing Richard Allen to a new audience during that period.  Sarge was kind enough to put down his tools and answer a few questions on ‘The Richard Allen Legacy’ and his Scootering interview with the author himself.

When did you first come across the Richard Allen books?

At school. Skinheads were morphing into suedeheads at the time, it was a mixed grammar school, with quite a strict policy on uniform and colours of uniform. Those of us with a rebellious streak pushed the boundaries with button-down Ben Sherman, or Jaytex Oxford cotton shirts or white Fred Perry polo shirts with black, grey or even navy blue sta-press and black Doc Marten or brogue shoes. Later Brutus jumbo collar shirts and certain combinations of tonic sta-press were favoured by those of us in the know, of course, navy blue or black Crombie coats were worn to and from school. Instead of being sent home for hair being too long, quite a few lads were sent home until their hair grew. New English Library put out Skinhead by Richard Allen, which followed the exploits of East End skinhead Joe Hawkins.

I got my copies of Skinhead and Suedehead from WHSmith in Oxford city centre, in fact, I got most of my Richard Allen books from there, and still have those copies today. Some schoolmates would’ve found themselves in trouble at home if they dared to take a copy there, so well-thumbed dog-eared copies of Skinhead, and soon after Suedehead were passed around in a similarly furtive way as soft porn magazines. Some copies of Skinhead and Suedehead were confiscated by school teachers, who probably wanted a sneaky read themselves. Those with grebo inclinations had their own similar books such as Chopper also published by New English Library. One lad in my year selected to read a chapter from Skinhead in a public reading/speaking competition held at the school. Despite several Anglo-Saxon words included in his chosen chapter, the subject of which was football violence, he more or less pulled it off, apart from a minor admonishment by the head of English, for sniggering while reading out loud a line about Joe Hawkins kicking some random opponent in the balls! Cult fiction like Richard Allen books tapped into the impressionable teenage market of the very early 70s, way before the internet, mobile phones and social media. Suedehead sales went into the millions, which literally saved New English Library from going bust.

Were you still a skinhead in the late 80s when you were at Scootering and beginning to write about the books or more of a scooterboy by then?

More of a scooterboy/soulie, though always have had a leaning towards the original skinhead/suedehead era.  Interesting times… Oxford Roadrunners had mods, scooterboys, scooter skins, soulboys, punks and psychobillies as members, with no cultural differences as scoots were what brought us all together.

The problem was, I think, uber-elitist mods in the early 80s pushed the more Quadrophenia-inspired away, scooter boys were on the rise, riding serious distances on scoots led to practicalities in the attire stakes. Also while many arrived via mod/Quadrophenia, it soon became an insult to be dubbed a mod, scooterboys were in effect anti-mod in appearance… yet underneath shared a similarly wide taste in music.

Personally, I went from a young skinhead/suedehead and later bootboy eras into soul, with a brief dip into early punk, both northern soul going to Wigan Casino events as well as funk/jazz funk Rio Didcot, Lacy Lady and Goldmine down near Canvey Island among others. Then the mod revival reawakened my interest in scoots, having learned to ride Lammys aged 13/14. Mod, skin/suedehead and soulboys/soulies cross-pollinated with each other. I can remember scoots parked up outside Wigan Casino on many an occasion, for example.

What caused you to put pen to paper with ‘The Richard Allen Legacy’ for Scootering

If memory serves, it was initially a broad overview of cult fiction, from Absolute Beginners onwards, that very tenuously included scooters. A loose follow-on to Steve Berry’s overview of scoots featured in big and small screen films. Other books included covered The Death Penalty – I can’t remember the author off the top.of my head – which was about a skinhead/bootboy football crew who after their team gets knocked out of a cup competition, track down the referee who awarded a penalty against them. Set in the early 70s, the referee is eventually chased while out training alone by the ‘heroes’ on their scooters, before being kicked to death. Caleb, a West Indian lad on the periphery of the crew, gets fitted up for the killing. The Richard Allen Legacy was kind of a natural progression from the initial cult fiction idea. There were a total of 18 books penned by James Moffat as Richard Allen… some better than others, of course. Demo, the first Richard Allen book about/subject of student/hippy protesters was the only book I didn’t get as a new publication. Skinhead, Suedehead, Boot Boys, Smoothies especially and the last Richard Allen book Mod Rule were part of the formative years of two separate generations of the magazine’s readers at that time.

Outside of the novels, there was a fair amount of rucks between those subcultures?

There were a few, well more than a few, incidents, stand-offs and the like. That the male of the species has an inbuilt natural desire to defend their turf and invade/conquer others, without getting too sociological, goes back to prehistoric times.

I can remember being at Tiffany’s Great Yarmouth when Desmond Dekker played live and the gig was halted by right-wing boneheads who had planned the disruption. Of course, it was near impossible to differentiate right-wing extremist boneheads and scooter skins there to see a skinhead reggae legend. The, err, boot was on the other foot so to speak, at Margate rally when Col. Kilgore Vietnamese Formation Surf Team played, right-wing boneheads attempted to disrupt that rally gig but ended up getting battered. Isle of Wight rally when several Oi bands played and ended up in a riot culminating in scooters being banned from the island also marked the end of overt infiltration of the scene by right-wing boneheads.

Of course, in the early days of the national rallies locals took exception to their hometowns being invaded by hordes of scooter-riding outsiders, with occasional inevitable culture clashes resulting in scuffles and punch-ups. Riding back from a Bournemouth rally around 1980, a few of Oxford Roadrunners took an unplanned detour which resulted in some local yokel wannabe punks mob-handed in cars attempting to run the scoots and riders off the road. Needless to say, a return visit was paid! Early RSG nights run by Jon Buck in Berkhamsted invariably ended up with mass brawls in the streets with mods, scooterists and soulies against mobbed-up locals. Both incidents being far from unique, similar incidents were rife across the UK from the 60s through to the noughties and beyond.

In general terms rivalries such as mods and rockers, skinheads and grebos, punks and revival teddy boys, football team local derby matches, and the like have, to lesser or greater degrees, been part of teenage and beyond males’ makeup. To quote Madness, oh what fun we had!

Subcultural rites of passage and a sense of belonging while looking down on and belittling those not a part of your inner circle was for many decades a quasi-tribal part of growing up, certainly in the UK. In recent times the advent of political correctness along with invariably mollycoddling of their young the British middle classes have created a generation of mummy’s snowflakes, the combination of which has all but eradicated the advent of new youth subcultures with tribal undercurrents sadly.  Which has led to youngsters with a desire to be different and to rebel against society to discover for themselves subcultures that are decades old, though the influx of young blood does put a contemporary spin on what’s gone before. At least that’s the way I see it.

By the time you wrote that piece Moffat/Allen was largely forgotten about?

Apparently so. Certain Richard Allen titles were beginning to command £5 even £10 for near-mint first editions from collectors. But yes, in the main, even with Mod Rule being published at the tail-end of the 79 and early 80s revival, Richard Allen books, along with similar cult fiction novels had been forgotten by the mid to late 80s.

Although I didn’t know at the time, James Moffat AKA Richard Allen was not in the best of health, in a care home. I tentatively attempted to get in touch with him (as did a few others with less luck) and I sent a copy of the magazine with The Richard Allen Legacy in it, along with a covering letter to him via New English Library. I believe it was forwarded on to his family, then they forwarded it on to him. He replied by post, he was surprised there was an interest in some of the books he’d written many years before, and pleased with the Richard Allen Legacy piece too. On the back of that he agreed to do an interview (by post), he politely declined meeting in person or speaking on the telephone. His official reasoning being that he didn’t want to shatter any illusions of how Richard Allen was perceived to be like. The stark reality was he really wasn’t in the best of health and couldn’t guarantee he’d actually be well enough to keep to any time or date schedule. Instead by communicating via letter he could respond as and when he was able. I was in communication via correspondence with him for some time until a few weeks before he passed away. He asked that I didn’t, at the time, reveal that James Moffat was Richard Allen.  In fact, all correspondence I received he signed Richard or Richard Allen.

Did the interview have any immediate impact, either by the readership or outside of it?

The magazine had some complimentary comments when it came out. What also transpired as an aside to the interview was James Moffat had retained copyright on his Richard Allen novels. I put James and George Marshall at ST (Skinhead Times) Publishing in touch with each other, the result of which saw ST put out a series of six Richard Allen books, each with three linked titles. For volume one of the series of six James, as Richard Allen, wrote the foreword. Was nice for me to get a namecheck in that. Also, as an aside to the interview, George, just after doing the deal with James for reprinting and represent all 18 Richard Allen titles for several years after published a number of cult fiction books, via ST, alongside his own coffee table-type books on skinheads.

A short while after the interview came out I had a few letters from longtime Richard Allen fans, one who generously sent me a copy of, I think, Marathon Man by James Moffat… it was the book he was challenged to write on live Saturday night magazine programme On The Braden Beat. It was in the run into an Olympics, so topically the Olympic Games were worked into the plot. The challenge was to write and (have it) published as a book in one week/seven days… James managed to complete the challenge with one day to spare! As far as I’m aware that Braden Beat appearance was the only time James or one of the very few times, appeared on television. He was quietly quite proud of that achievement, as he mentioned it several times to me.

What about yourself after that era of Scootering?

I’ve covered a vast number of feature scooters as well as the occasional rallies, events, scooter sport meetings and custom shows. Also interviewing bands, musicians, live shows, specialist music DJ-driven all-nighters and all-dayers, plus on occasion interviews with authors of books, and even films and plays.

In 2014 I was commissioned to produce an entire supplement for Scootering, ’50 Years of Mod’, as 2014 was the golden jubilee of the then over-reported and sensationalised bank holiday mods and rockers clashes. Though I say so my self it was rather good as it revealed the realities of some of the ‘happenings’ of 1964 from people who were there at the time. Additionally, there was a short overview of subcultures that were, in effect, the bastard sons of the original mods, skinheads/suedeheads, northern soulies and casuals amongst them. As an aside, albeit linked to writing and photography for Scootering I’ve contributed as a researcher/interviewee to a number of books with specific bands, eras, and subcultures as subject matter.

In recent times Scootering editorial policy moved away from the more lifestyle type of features for several years.  However, over the past 18 months or so there has been a massive swing back to encompass, embrace and include a wide range of lifestyle, as in music, books, and clothes, subjects in Scootering magazine.

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From the Bovver Boys of N.E.L.


Words & Sounds – Scootering

In recent times Old Dog publishing has resurrected the cult fiction genre and in some style.  The undisputed emperor and innovator of the genre, Richard Allen, penned a total of 18 books in the 70s.  First of these was Demo, it was his second book, Skinhead, that introduced anti-hero Joe Hawkins in the process capturing the attention of a generation. The Joe Hawkins character was a larger than life East End skinhead who embraced and got involved in every element of that youth culture.  Subsequent Richard Allen books followed the exploits of Joe Hawkins as the Skinhead culture evolved through the Suedehead era, with Joe as something of a city slicker, and beyond.

First published by paperback company New English Library, (NEL), copies of the entire Richard Allen series, especially those focusing on the skinhead culture and its derivatives, are highly sought after.  With sizeable price tags when second hand copies are up for sale.

When Scootering was based in Weston-super-Mare we ran a feature titled The Richard Allen Legacy, which resulted in us not only tracking down Richard Allen for an exclusive interview, also a deal was brokered to reprint the entire Richard Allen back catalogue, in six volumes, each containing three books.  Of course, they are long out of print, and collectable in their own right.  Now Dean Street Press have acquired the rights to the Richard Allen series, the first trio of books featuring Joe Hawkins are now available in individual volumes, complete with weathered reproductions of the NEL cover art, overlaid with the Lonsdale logo-inspired individual book titles.

Sarge (Scootering, May 2017)


The Richard Allen Interview

Scootering Issue 75, December 1991

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Following on from last month’s Richard Allen Legacy, we managed to track down the man himself.

For the uninitiated, Richard Allen books were fictional tales portraying the exploits of the skinhead movement and its offshoots. A number of Richard Allen’s paperbacks featured in the top ten Best Sellers, no mean feat for a series of cult fiction stories. Joe Hawkins, central character in many of the books almost became, through his activities, a larger-than-life epitome of the skinhead movement.

Older scooterists, I’m sure, will remember growing up with Richard Allen books, which, although currently out of print, are now proving to be highly collectable with a whole new generation of readers. Richard Allen, could arguably be described as a spokesman for a generation.

Currently, despite being in bad health, he was pleasantly surprised that anyone still remembered him, never mind his books being the subject of a magazine feature – many years after they were published. He was pleased with the feature in last month’s Scootering, so much in fact, that despite his ill health, he agreed to an exclusive interview with Scootering Magazine.

What initially inspired you for the book ‘Skinhead’?

After a pub session, an editorial hopeful phoned me at 10.30pm, asking if I could write a book about skinheads, since another author had failed to deliver his manuscript and the production department were in a dilemma. He was a Skin and never missed a Chelsea game – at ‘The Shed’. So, I said yes – but I’d need guidelines. And I got those fast from West Ham. And the book was printed.

In ‘Suedehead’ Joe Hawkins came over as more of a City slicker than a streetwise suedehead. Does the author’s note in the opening pages touch on perhaps why this happened – taking it as read that censorship and more to the point, moral standards, was more rigid than now?

After ‘Skinhead’ finally started to sell I was swamped with letters from fans and quite a number from Suedeheads actually working in the City. So Joe Hawkins became one of them and my author’s note was based on advice from the publishers who had been warned by certain distributors that they would not display material they considered to be anti-social.

Joe Hawkins was a product of the original skinhead era. In the more multi-racial society of today, to some Joe Hawkins may come over as a racist. As he was your creation, would you say he was racist or more of a British patriot?

Joe Hawkins was, like my maternal grandfather who was born within the sound of Bow Bells, a true British patriot. He shared the belief that Eastenders were – if not the salt of the earth – the cream of Londoners. Racism never guided him in any way. He was strictly concerned about his ancient roots.

When ‘Skinhead’ was first published, did you anticipate the success that would follow? Had ‘Suedehead’ (for instance) been planned at that stage?

When ‘Skinhead’ was published, I, frankly, thought it would be a no-go book. Then, suddenly, it took off and the fan letters convinced me that a follow-up was essential. ‘Suedehead’ was a result of those letters, not my personal inclination.

Discounting ‘Demo’ from your eighteen novels, as it had nothing to do with the Skinhead movement, which three books are/were your favourites, and why?

I think that this is a very difficult decision. That ‘Skinhead’ and ‘Suedehead’ were million-copy sellers and ‘Boot Boys’ almost reached the target, I have to admit that I enjoyed writing ‘Glam’ and ‘Teeny Bopper Idol’ simply because both books were inspired by a couple of really terrific fans who even got their teachers into the act to thank me for ‘sorting them out’.

At several times throughout Joe Hawkins’ ‘career’ it seemed that each particular book would be the last featuring Joe. Obviously (despite the body not being found), ‘Skinhead Farewell’ was the last Joe Hawkins story. Did you at any other time attempt to ‘dispose’ of the Joe Hawkins character?

I was tempted to dispose of Joe Hawkins several times, mostly because the National Front wanted me to make him a ‘member’ of their organization. This was not on. Although he created problems for society, Joe was a patriot, not a political idiot.

‘Mod Rule’ was the last book from you. Were there any plans to carry the Joe Watson character any further?

‘Mod Rule’ was the last in the series because my marriage break-up and NEL’s new management did not want to be associated with this type of paperback, meant the end of an era. I did have plans for another book but this was kayoed by the new editorial director who did not want to be known to his Oxford friends as a ‘skinhead’ supporter.

Being totally hypothetical, in last month’s ‘Scootering’ (Richard Allen Legacy) it was speculated upon how Joe Watson may have developed if he had continued. As his creator, how would he have developed and which direction (if any) would he have taken?

‘Mod Rule’ was the start of a new saga. I saw a new generation wheeling its way to glory but when my association with NEL came to an abrupt end I had not decided just how to handle him. Inspirations usually came from those terrific fans who wrote to me and made suggestions – some diabolical – and made their personal exploits crystal clear.

As a writer who managed to accurately portray the various sub-cultures and descendants of (original) Skinhead movement, are there any other writers who have produced similar work, that you admire? Alan Clarke whose plays/films ‘Scum’, ‘Made in Britain’ and ‘The Firm’, and the book ‘Steaming In’ by Colin Ward, had (at least for me) a similar impact.

Re-reading works by other authors engaged in cult topics, I have to admit that it was my policy never to even scan their efforts. This was simply because I did not want to be accused of ‘stealing’ some of their ideas or changing my style of writing to match their presentations.

After the success of over ten years writing fictional stories which captured the atmosphere and attitudes of the various youth cults, it was surprising that ‘Mod Rule’ was the last Richard Allen book. Why was this?

As explained previously, things drastically altered for me. The company I had loyally ‘served’ for years, underwent dramatic change and I did not feel inclined to betray that loyalty and switch publishers. So, Richard Allen books went into a hiatus.

I understand that you own the rights to all of your paperbacks. Do you have any plans to make them available to a whole new generation of readers?

I have been thinking for a few years about offering my books for reprinting, but only in omnibus editions. Imagine how many of my ‘old’ mates would cherish Joe Hawkins’ exploits under one cover!

Finally, do you have any plans regarding new novels, or characters, in the future?

I can think of dozens of characters who could revive the skinhead image but, unfortunately, my health prevents me from sitting at a typewriter day after day and creating characters with genuine today-ness.


THE RICHARD ALLEN LEGACY

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By Mark Sargeant, Scootering Issue 74, November 1991

Media image is something many sub-cultures have created for them – often ‘new’ converts are attracted by the stereotype portrayed for mass “acceptance”, produced by an old hack with little concern for research.

During the days of Mods and Rockers and even previous to that – Bikers received anti-hero status. They were the subject of ‘B’ movies in the late sixties-early seventies, their culture both sides of the Atlantic was ‘portrayed’ in a host of fiction paperbacks.  Some average, few were good, most were pure sensationalism based on tabloid-created attitudes and assumptions.

The Scooter scene, however, has not received much in the way of national coverage, which means there is no standardised image for us to conform to.  Local reports after a National Rally refer to ‘scooter fans’, ‘scooter riders’, occasionally ‘scooterists’, and still ‘mods’.  For this, I suppose, we should be thankful. Regarding paperback cult fiction, there is little directly or indirectly involving scooterists of any particular subdivision.

Several come to mind, exceptions proving the rule, loosely falling into this category – obviously Quadrophenia, the film/video, and, of course, the book of the film.

In the early 70’s The Death Penalty was published.  The storyline involved a skinhead/football hooligan crew who, following their team’s exit from the Cup, decide to wreak revenge upon the referee. Needless to say, in their opinion, it was the referee’s decision that cost them the match by awarding a penalty to the opposition.  The crew visit the referee while he is training.  After chasing him on their scooters they literally kick him to death.

Few other fictional paperbacks even loosely touch on our scene – probably the best known exception is Mod Rule by Richard Allen.  This particular publication was the last in a line of eighteen credited to the Gloucestershire-based author.  Although currently none of his books are in print, second-hand copies of his books are becoming quite collectable.

The main theme of almost all his writings was the skinhead cult and its sub-divisions.  His first book Demo, dealt with the ‘student’ pastime of the late sixties – protest marches.  Obviously as fictional story it went into the various accredited activities of those involved in that particular scene.

Central character in seven of his books is Joe Hawkins.  Son of an East End docker, Joe is the epitome of skinheadism.  Leader of a mob, he is involved in football violence, confrontation with Asians, gang warfare, Bank Holiday coast trips, plus the almost obligatory sexual conquests, before his arrest and subsequent imprisonment for assault on a police sergeant.  That all took place in the book Skinhead; the sequel saw Joe return from prison as a suedehead, although Richard Allen’s portrayal of skinheads (via Joe Hawkins), encompasses most of the subtle changes – in the book the characterisation was a bit too up-market.  I suppose the author’s note tells a story as to why ‘suedehead’ wasn’t as ‘street’ as its predecessor – it ends with Joe on his way back to prison for four years – a just reward for stabbing an African in the throat.

Skinhead was first published in 1970, while Suedehead ‘arrived’ in ’71.  The following year saw three Richard Allen books published by the New English Library.

Skinhead Escapes sees everyone’s favourite anti-hero escaping from prison ‘with’ a top gangland criminal.  This, after taking the place of another on the breakout, literally by force.  Back in the East End, after pausing in Cheltenham to carry out a vicious rape (significant this, much later on), he is shunned by his former mates.  After obtaining a gun he heads North to Liverpool where he recruits another ‘crew’.  The ensuing violence, robberies and, of course, sex almost follow a set pattern – the book closes with the recapture of Joe Hawkins.

Skinhead Girls heralds the introduction of Joan Marshall.  Her Memory Lane trips make up the bulk of this story.  Hippy bashing, dance hall brawls, seaside excursions, football violence are all included, along with her memories of Joe Hawkins.

Boot Boys gave devotees of Richard Allen literature The Crackers.  They were a terrace firm headed by a new character, Tom Walsh.  At the time there were a few organised football hooligan firms.  Allen’s idea of The Crackers as an organised hooligan outfit was arguably prophetic.  As per usual, an orgy of violence, anti-semitism (despite having Jewish members), gang rape, and even black magic rites ensues.  Inevitably Tom Walsh ‘has his collar felt’ as they say in all London based cop programmes.

1973 brought forth no less than five books from the pen of Allen, to the nation’s bookshops.  Trouble for Skinhead chronicles tales of Joe Hawkins’ exploits behind bars – plus a few of his memories thrown in for good measure.

The early seventies heralded, among many other things, the advent of the teenybopper.  Young, often hysterical girls who followed their favourite pop stars with an almost rabid intensity.  Richard Allen responded with two books, Teenybopper Idol and Glam.  Both involved Johnny Holland – ex-skinhead – aspiring from street gangleader to head of a new band – kicking a current hero of the teenyboppers off stage in the process.  Glam is the sequel, which continues the journey through the world of pop in the early seventies.

Smoothies chronicles the last in the evolutionary process of the skinhead cult.  Joan Marshall is back following the break up of her marriage.  It is the story of the expansion of the smoothies across the UK – plus a product of Allen’s imagination, Brass, were also introduced in this book – perhaps a visionary glimpse at the Boneheads who would appear, just after punk, some years later.  Smoothies ends with Joan firmly in control.

Sorts should have been about the smoothies’ female counterparts – unfortunately, it’s a story about drop-out hippy types.

Top Gear Skin is currently very topical with the nation’s attention recently being focussed on the joyriding antics taking place on Oxford’s Blackbird Leys Estate.  Roy Baird, an Anglo-American, is top dog in a post-skinhead collection of football hooligans and car thieves.  By its title I’m sure you can ascertain that a mixture of violence and petty crime form the main content of the storyline.

Skinhead Farewell is the tying up of loose ends for a number of Allen-created characters.  Joe Hawkins is the main subject.  His latest prison escape follows his Down Under to deal out his own brand of getting even.  Joan Marshall and Tom Walsh receive more than a passing mention.  Lottie Newman receives a fair amount of coverage along with her (and Joe Hawkins’) son.

With Terrace Terror and Dragon Skin, a new Richard Allen character arrives.  Steve Penn, is an ex-skinhead who is recruited, along with his mates, to sort out the escalation of violence on the terrace. Dragon Skin, topical at the time of its publication, as Kung-Fu films were popular then, follows Steve Penn’s (legitimate) firm averting a large scale robbery.

Several years elapsed until Richard Allen’s next two youth cult paperbacks arrived.  Punk Rock traces the rise of punk rock and new wave, including the Kings Road rucks, as seen by journalists at the time.

Knuckle Girls tells the story of Ina Murray, a vicious fighting girl, with punk type leanings, whose addiction to gratuitous violence inevitably sends her behind bars.

Chronologically we are now up to the last novel by Richard Allen.  Published in 1980 at the time of the mod revival, it is the story of thirteen year old Joe Watson, the illegitimate son of Joe Hawkins.  After witnessing the gang-rape of his mother, by bikers – following an altercation; he steals his mother’s scooter and disappears into London.  Establishing himself as leader of a post punk gang, his exploits are followed until he reaches Hastings.

We can only speculate as to what might have transpired if he continued with the exploits of Joe Hawkins’ illegitimate offspring Joe Watson.  Would Joe Watson have aspired to become a top scooter racer, perhaps a customiser, or just an (above) average rally-going scooterist? Alternatively, he might have become a rave promoter or similar – only Richard Allen knows the real answer.  As far as we know he’s not saying, either way.

In retrospect, it’s probably just as well he didn’t.  The scene had more than its fair share of cling-ons in the mid eighties.  This was without any ‘outside’ influence.  None of Richard Allen’s books would ever win awards for literary achievement from pretentious arty type critics – in the main, most of them captured the flavour of the times, at levels his readers could relate to.  Quite probably, the aforementioned critics were quite put out to find that several of Allen’s books were international bestsellers – one hell of an achievement for a fictional story about a British youth sub-culture.

Allen’s books are, as previously stated, out of printed.  There are at present no plans to re-issue them. Unless you are visiting places like Malta, it’s a case of scouring the second-hand bookstalls – happy hunting.


Paperback Nasties

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Excerpt from Skinhead intro

Skinhead is brilliantly evocative of its time and place in early 1970s Plaistow, East London. The taut prose forms a concrete understanding of the milieu and mores of the post-Mod boots and braces culture of British working class youth and its social impact.

The first few Skinhead titles were published at a time when Clockwork Orange copycat violence was allegedly being meted out as quickly as municipal tower blocks and concrete car parks could be erected for it to take place in (a murder case of the time saw “sensational literature” cited in mitigation). Further dark episodes in the nation’s psyche, such as the Black Panther murders, were not far behind. Further evidence of the New English Library’s (NEL’S) former reputation is the reported existence of a Buckingham Palace Library-stamped copy of Skinhead, since the Queen’s own interest was piqued by the ensuing tabloid outrage.

No passing seventies youth cult was spared the NEL treatment: bikers, punks, football hooligans and even Kung Fu. The Skinhead series was temporarily halted each time to take into account shifts in the zeitgeist, be it life on the long-haired campus left against a backdrop of Angry Brigade bombings and wider militancy (1971’s Demo, a “masterfully-researched probe” according to its cover) or the latest manifestation of accelerated and manipulated teenybop (Glam, 1973).

The less-than-PC portrayal of Skinhead’s protagonist Joe Hawkins and his cohorts’ acts of violence and rape, not to mention far from casual (but never organised) racism, in Richard Allen’s work (‘Richard Allen’ was in fact an ageing hack by the name of James Moffat rather than the ear-to-the-ground bard of the terraces imagined by fans) cause many to blanche today. At the time these elements simply added to the series’ allure and profitability.

In recent years discussion has shifted from Hawkins to Moffat himself; the image of a chain-smoking alcoholic hunched over a typewriter churning out opportunistic prose for a ready paycheque, almost an arresting and topic-worthy narrative in itself. There are tales of Moffat having to be locked in the NEL offices to meet a deadline, though the out-of-print cachet of the NEL titles tends towards furthering this mystique.

By the end of the cycle, 1980’s Mod Rule (the protagonist Joe Hawkins’ rape plot bastard offspring on this occasion, naturally), Moffat was understandably burnt out and NEL cut their losses accordingly – the imprint went on under a change of ownership in 1981 as a solidly mainstream thrillers and horrors concern. As risible as the plots and violence became, parody and pastiche weren’t far behind, affectionate or otherwise. Here we can count the satirical poise of artist Stewart Home, the best-selling Victor Headley of Yardie fame, not to mention the Football Factory’s John King’s own Skinheads novel of 2008, the entire Attack! Books roster and the unabashed NEL stylings of The Reprisalizer (Warp Films, 2011).

 

Excerpt from Suedehead intro

In Suedehead, Joe Hawkins’ milieu shifts from Plaistow in East London, with its ‘poverty and hardship’, to a West End pad and dalliances with more affluent women, where he’s all of a sudden stepping out wearing a bowler hat. But what we’re dealing with is a more enigmatic prospect than Skinhead, as suedehead itself represented a more tailored approach to the skinhead aesthetic, with its velvet-collared Crombie, houndstooth check suits and brogues. The hair grown out and lack of bovver-boot attire singlehandedly and conveniently for many to this day manage to sidestep any visual associations with the far right – though for Allen, the look still represented ‘cultism’ as a façade for violence, which was of a ‘deep, dark nature’.

Four decades on, it is perhaps the debut solo single of Morrissey which serves as a blistering arpeggio-laden intro to the subculture for many, certainly representing an enduring fascination with aspects of the East London demi-monde on the part of the post-Smiths singer. The musical taste of skinheads and suedeheads themselves ran to reggae and ska, reflecting their broader interest in West Indian culture and fashion. Trojan Records returned the recognition with their 2008 Suedehead box set. It’s arguably a footnote in the evolution of the skinhead subculture but Barney Platts-Mills’ lauded Bronco Bullfrog (1969) represented the suedehead style’s sole depiction in cinema (though it’s often mislabelled a ‘mod’ film).

Interest in the NEL, Allen and the Skinhead cycle remains strong and testimony to the enduring values and aesthetic of the skinhead subculture, demonstrating perhaps that dangerous youth cults incubating within the bourgeois system prove a perennially potent concept. No doubt fuelled in part by successive iterations of skinhead, the cycle of novels was repackaged two decades on in the early 1990s by Skinhead Times as a six-volume set (which included other Allen titles such as Knuckle Girls and Punk Rock). Beyond the odd enthusiastic write up in Scootering Magazine, Moffat, who died in 1993, would probably be surprised to know that the spirit of his work lives on, not only in the form of films like This is England, but also allusions in the work of contemporary bands such as Sleaford Mods.

Andrew Stevens

 

Richard Allen’s Skinhead (1970) and Suedehead (1971) will be republished in ebook format by Dean Street Press in July 2015.


Richard Allen, The Charles Dickens of skinheads

Taken from The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction

James Moffat (1922-1993) was a Canadian-born writer who once published a magazine about bowling and who, under sundry pseudonyms, wrote hack fiction (westerns, children’s stories, mysteries). In 1970 he was asked because he was so versatile and prolific, to write a book for the New English Library about skinheads, the white working-class youths whose thuggery seemed, to some, an authentic cry of alienation and, to others, the decline of Western civilisation.

Allen’s first novel, Skinhead, uneasily combined self-righteous fascist rhetoric, nihilist indifference and the shocked voice of reason. But it succeed with its authentic portrayal of Joe Hawkins, the 16-year old gangster convinced the Cockneys had lost control of their patch, London, and whose life of rape, drink and hooliganism ends in a kind of triumph when he is jailed for beating a cop – a punishment which, he gloats, makes him king of the skinheads.

After that sold a million, the formula stayed pretty constant for 17 other novels – seven with the words “skin” or ‘Skinhead’ in the title. Allen bought to the task an enthusiasm for research, speed – he once completed a novel in less than a week – narrative drive and pulp fair. The opening line of Suedehead is masterful: “As he stood in the dock, Joe Hawkins considered the situation with a detachment”. Yet the author, uncomfortable with charges he encouraged violence, later blamed “leniency in courtrooms, catering to fads by mercenary-minded rage-trade merchants, a soft-peddling attitude by politicians who look for teenage votes and a overwhelming pandering by the media”.

Rediscovered in his seventies, Allen was planning a sequel Skinhead Return, when years of writing at short notice aided by tobacco and booze finally caught up with him. He died in 1993.

Influenced by: Pulp fiction, Harold Robbins.

Influence on: His success led to a plethora of books like Bill Buford’s Among The Thugs, in which intellectual types slummed it with violent oiks.

Essential reading: Skinhead and Suedehead stand apart.

Further reading: As Trudi Maxwell, Allen wrote the compellingly dire Diary of a Female Wrestler, unforgettably, ludicrously bad.