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.

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