Richard Allen earned himself a reputation as the bard of bovver in the blood-ﬂecked 705, with his harrowing tales of skinhead Joe Hawkins. After a spell in the wilderness his books are back on the shelves, courtesy of a small Scottish publisher. Tom Lappin laces up his Docs to get the lowdown . . .
‘He was whistling when he strolled down to the Barking Road. The cosh felt comfortable against his ﬂesh. His boots felt solid, secure on his feet. In a few minutes he would meet his mates and. soon, they would be ready for aggro. . .' (Skinhead)
n the twilight age between 605 drugs and free love, and post-punk video nasties, all the deprived 7()s teenager had in the way of escapism were the New English Library novels of a middle-aged pulp fiction writer called Richard Allen. In the first few years of a dismal decade Allen produced twenty novels, starting with Skinhead, a seminal book in both senses of the word.
Its hero, Joe Hawkins, continued his bloody adventures in future instalments hacked out mostly in a fortnight or less - Suedehead, Skinhead Escapes, Trouble For Skinhead and the swansong Skinhead Farewell. The first two sold over a million copies each and established Joe Hawkins as the first real mass-audience, working-class, teen anomie hero, the sort ofguy who could put Holden Caulfield in hospital as soon as look at him.
The reasons for this phenomenal popularity are not too elusive. Allen was the first writer for adolescents who gave the audience what they wanted: violence, sex, some more violence, ladled out in liberal quantities, from page one to 127, in a slim, pocket-sized paperback with menacing
‘Teenage youth cults are what he was tamous tor and without him a lot at those cults would have been lost, you wouldn’t
have heard of suedeheads.’
picture cover. He told it how it was, or at least how his limited research suggested it might be, out there on the streets, where boot regularly met hippie skull and white power was enforced with a well-placed size ten Doc Marten toecap. For an age-group where how ‘hard’ you were mattered, Joe was several degrees tougher than the rest. Allen didn’t waste too much time on characterisation or plot or anything that smacked remotely of the literary. Joe and his gang were cheerfully unquestioning psychopaths differentiated only by degrees of ‘bottle’ or viciousness; their victims were either cowardly and fawning immigrants identified by the usual racial epithets, or work-shy hippies, the lowest ofthe low. In between bouts ofblood-letting, the lads spill
other bodily ﬂuids with ‘birds’. either bored housewives/schoolgirls who are ‘gasping for it’ or hippie chicks too stoned to notice they are being raped. Marcel Proust it wasn‘t.
Allen churned out this kind ofstuff to order, numbing in its repetitive bloodshed and romanticised hopelessness. At the time, the zenith of his acceptability was when Skinhead was made recommended reading by the Queensland education authority, an act that said more about the most Neanderthal right-wing state in Australia than about Allen’s status as an author. What is pertinent. though. is the fact that he was the only writer consistently charting the development of British youth cults in the 703, from suedeheads through to second-generation mods. and at the same time writing exciting visceral entertainment for the early teens. These achievements have earned Allen some kudos with the current thirtysomething media figures ofthe Burchill ilk. who are quick to claim him as a genuine voice ofthe urban working class. ‘Bollocks’, as Joe Hawkins would no doubt say.
Allen’s novels have long been avidly sought out in charity shops and jumble sales and changed sweaty palms for hefty sums. After being out of print for over fifteen years, the first three novels are about to be reprinted in a single volume, the fruits of a remarkable deal struck by Dunoon-based organisation ST Publishing, and more specifically George Marshall.
Marshall is the 26-year-old editor/publisher ofSkinhead Times, a witty and articulate newsletter for skinheads throughout Europe that proclaims ‘Pride Without Prejudice’ under its masthead and features ads for SHARP — Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. The classified ads recently included the rather touching message ‘Happy first birthday Leah-Marie. Only another seventeen years till we take you 'on your first booze-up. Love Mummy and Daddy.’ That sums up the general tone of the magazine. So what’s a nice guy like George doing publishing the adventures of Joe Hawkins?
‘The main reason for me reprinting these books is to make them available again to today’s skinhead cult,’ he says. ‘To read a book, you don’t have to agree with it, and to publish a book it’s exactly the same. I’m not racist, and I think the books stand by themselves. There are people who are racist and you can’t ignore that. That’s all he’s writing about with Joe Hawkins, a skinhead who was racist.’
"The -ist 31 Julv— 13 August 1992