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.