The Richard Allen InterviewPosted: September 16, 2016
Scootering Issue 75, December 1991
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.