THE RICHARD ALLEN LEGACYPosted: September 3, 2016
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.