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Authors: Richard Allen

Skinhead

BOOK: Skinhead
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RICHARD ALLEN
Skinhead

Sixteen-year-old Joe Hawkins is the anti-hero's anti-hero. His life is ruled by clothes, beer, football and above all violence – violence against hippies, authority, racial minorities and anyone else unfortunate enough to get in his way.

Joe is a London skinhead – a member of a uniquely British subculture which arose rapidly in the late 1960's. While other skins were driven mainly by music, fashion and working-class pride, Joe and his mob use their formidable street style as a badge of aggressive rage, even while Joe dreams of making a better life for himself.

Lacerating in its depiction of violence and sex, often shocking by today's standards,
Skinhead
is also a provocative cross-section of urban British society. It doesn't spare the hypocrisy, corruption or excessive permissiveness which, the author believed, allowed the extremist wing of skinhead culture to flourish.

Skinhead
, first published in 1970 and a huge cult bestseller, is now available for the first time in ebook form, with a new introduction by Andrew Stevens. Nearly fifty years on, it remains one of the most potent artefacts of British popular culture ever committed to print.

INTRODUCTION

Richard Allen's
Skinhead
(1970) was the first instalment of a cycle of pulp novels (since described as ‘paperback nasties' by John Harrison) which firmly established the New English Library as entirely symbolic of the era in which they were rooted and the passing fad nature of youth cults.  

Skinhead
is brilliantly evocative of its time and place in early 1970s Plaistow, East London. The taut prose forms a concrete understanding of the milieu and mores of the post-Mod boots and braces culture of British working class youth and its social impact.

The first few Skinhead titles were published at a time when
Clockwork Orange
copycat violence was allegedly being meted out as quickly as municipal tower blocks and concrete car parks could be erected for it to take place in (a murder case of the time saw ‘sensational literature' cited in mitigation). Further dark episodes in the nation's psyche, such as the Black Panther murders, were not far behind.

Further evidence of the New English Library's (NEL's) former reputation is the reported existence of a Buckingham Palace Library-stamped copy of
Skinhead
, since the Queen's own interest was piqued by the ensuing tabloid outrage.

No passing seventies youth cult was spared the NEL treatment: bikers, punks, football hooligans and even Kung Fu. The Skinhead series was temporarily halted each time to take into account shifts in the zeitgeist, be it life on the long-haired campus left against a backdrop of Angry Brigade bombings and wider militancy (1971's
Demo
, a ‘masterfully-researched probe' according to its cover) or the latest manifestation of accelerated and manipulated teenybop (
Glam
, 1973).

The less-than-PC portrayal of
Skinhead
's protagonist Joe Hawkins and his cohorts' acts of violence and rape, not to mention far from casual (but never organised) racism, in Richard Allen's work (‘Richard Allen' was in fact an ageing hack by the name of James Moffat rather than the ear-to-the-ground bard of the terraces imagined by fans) causes many to blanche today. At the time these elements simply added to the series' allure and profitability.

In recent years discussion has shifted from Hawkins to Moffat himself; the image of a chain-smoking alcoholic hunched over a typewriter churning out opportunistic prose for a ready paycheque, almost an arresting and topic-worthy narrative in itself.  There are tales of Moffat having to be locked in the NEL offices to meet a deadline, though the out-of-print cachet of the NEL titles tends towards furthering this mystique.

By the end of the cycle, 1980's
Mod Rule
(the protagonist Joe Hawkins' rape plot bastard offspring on this occasion, naturally), Moffat was understandably burnt out and NEL cut their losses accordingly – the imprint went on under a change of ownership in 1981 as a solidly mainstream thrillers and horrors concern.

As risible as the plots and violence became, parody and pastiche weren't far behind, affectionate or otherwise. Here we can count the satirical poise of artist Stewart Home, the best-selling Victor Headley of
Yardie
fame, not to mention the
Football Factory
's John King's own
Skinheads
novel of 2008, the entire Attack! Books roster and the unabashed NEL stylings of
The Reprisalizer
(Warp Films, 2011).

In 1992 A timely reissue of Moffat's Richard Allen novels via
Skinhead Times
(featuring artwork in its own way as iconic as the earlier covers) recognised their cult status and global following. Far from being a passing fad, skinhead culture had gone through several iterations by this point, continuing to do so to this day.

Helpfully, the late Laurence James, an early editor at NEL and himself a pulp author as ‘Mick Norman' (the writer behind NEL's aforementioned Hells Angels cash-ins) even then called them ‘nostalgia for a time when there really appeared to be “no future”'.  

Andrew Stevens, May 2015

 

CHAPTER ONE

Outside the shed, a freighter blasted the lunch-hour silence with her whistle. The churn-churn of props frothed the Thames as a Liberian registered vessel slipped from her berth, holds battened down on the vital exports bound for South Africa.

Inside the shed, surrounded by an untidy clutter of unloaded merchandise, the dockers relaxed – sandwiches eaten, tea brewed and being sipped, the flick-flip of cards the only sound they wanted to hear.

Jack Boyle grinned across the upturned crate at his mate Roy. “Whatcha doin', Roy?”

Roy Hawkins studied his cards for the fourth time. He wasn't much of a poker player. Solo was more his game. “Blowed if I know, Jack.”

Ed Black leant across Roy's shoulder and snorted disgustedly. “Pack 'er in, Roy,” he offered. “Let me take your seat an' I'll show you 'ow the game should be played!”

Roy glanced at Jack and got a nodded agreement in return. Slowly, he replaced his coins inside his dirty overalls, carefully stacked his hand on the discard pile and relinquished his seat. He didn't mind. He had only taken a hand because Ed had to see a union representative at the gates. “What happened about the meeting?” Roy asked as Ed slumped into his place.

Ed set twenty quid on the table with a flourish. He fancied himself as
the
poker player of all time. His claim to fame was his ten hour visit to Las Vegas when sailing the P. & O. line to Vancouver and Japan. He never let his mates forget how he managed to sit in on a game with Red Skelton and come out showing a profit of six hundred dollars. What he forgot to mention was his subsequent call at a Gardena, California club and the loss of that six hundred plus every British penny he had in his pocket.

“Jack's got 'em by the short and curlies,” he said loudly. “They got until Monday to meet our demands...”

“And then?” Roy asked, stuffing tobacco into his old briar.

Jack gathered the cards and started to shuffle the pack. His attention was focused on Ed but it didn't stop him doing an expert job and dealing five cards to each member of the school.

“Then we go out,” Ed announced.

Roy scowled. He didn't like strikes. He believed in Jack Dash; believed in a working man's right to withdraw his labour for better pay. He didn't believe in frivolous disruptions of work – and, in his opinion, this latest episode was decidedly petty. “I'm against it Ed,” he said.

Black spread his cards tight against his chest. He was a canny man; a distrusting individual. He studied the cards pointedly then, having proved his superiority, glanced leeringly at Roy. “You'll do exactly as Jack says!”

Roy nodded.
Yes
, he thought,
I'll follow the bloody band. I dare not go against it.
He believed that Jack Dash was the man closest to God; believed fervently in the right of the docker – and every working man – to take measures to combat the capitalistic employer. He was completely disenchanted with this Labour government – but he wouldn't abstain nor vote Tory. He would vote Labour as he always had; as his dad and his granddad had. It didn't matter what he said between elections – that the long period of Tory rule had been the best in living memory – providing that when the day came, he could make his “X” against the local Labour party candidate. In his constituency, Plaistow, the ineffectual hands on the helm of England counted for less than a man's worth to an employer. 1926 and the “cloth-cap” image had to be preserved. Forgotten were the affluent days of Tory rule. Forgotten were the massive debts piled on a staggering nation by yet another Labour administration. It didn't count that Britain was being dictated to by the International Monetary Fund.

“Are we playin' cards or discussin' the political situation?” Jack Boyle asked.

Ed Black glanced at his fellow-docker.

Roy smiled, puffing contentedly on his briar.

Solly Goldbluff smacked a fist into his palm and demanded, “Fuck the politicians and Jack Dash. I've got a hand – when are we goin' to play cards?”

Ed glared at Solly now, relinquished his platform to the determination showing on that Jewish face. He had never understood Solly; just as he had failed to appreciate Roy's hostility to the Labour movement as specified by extreme adherents like Dash. He knew that Roy would follow along in the main-stream of opinion; knew that Labour had an unswerving vote from Hawkins; knew too that the disenchantment Roy felt was common to the majority of trade unionists. Yet, he was assured by “cell” leaders, Roy and his mates would vote as usual when the crunch came.

Studying his cards, Ed shouted, “I'll open...”

Roy watched the game with lessened interest. He saw his mate win the pot; saw four other hefty hands go to Jack. Then, suddenly, it was time to return to work.

“It's a bleedin' shame,” Jack Boyle said as they stepped outside the shed, “that Ed has it in for you, mate.”

Hawkins shrugged and puffed on his pipe. “Oh, he isn't so bad.”

“Like hell! He's a rotten bastard...” Jack's antagonism boiled over as Ed stepped from the shed with four of his special cronies trailing behind like bodyguards, ready to prevent physical harm to their adored leader. “Why don't you let Joe do him?”

Roy ignored Jack's suggestion. It was enough that he claimed fathership to the lad. He didn't have to be reminded what a rotten little bastard his son was nor to inflict him on one such as Ed Black. Basically, Roy was decent; law-abiding within the limits set by dockland. He did not consider pilfering a crime; it was a docker's perks to purloin Scotch and foodstuffs and the occasional costly items from “broken” packing cases. In the old days, Christmas would have been a barren table if it hadn't been for the goods stolen from the docks. Mostly, the employers and the police turned a blind-eye to the petty stealing. Only the capitalistic insurance concerns made a hue and cry about the extent of dockland thievery. Like so many of his mates, Roy didn't stop to consider that £10 a month taken from somebody else's pocket could multiply into a fantastic sum when set against the total number of dockers in the nation.

“'Owabout it, Roy?” Jack insisted.

“Forget Joe,” Roy growled. “I have...” He tapped the tobacco from his pipe and prepared to mount the gangway of a Norwegian freighter.

Boyle frowned. He couldn't understand Roy's attitude toward his own son. In his opinion, Joe Hawkins was only doing what all of them should do – have a go at authority. Jack was a rebel out and out. Only his hatred for Ed Black saved him from being classified as a militant – plus, of course, his friendship for Roy. He needed somebody like Hawkins to temper his viciousness; his addiction to causing trouble.

An hour later, Jack found himself forced to work with Ed. In a far comer of the hold, Roy slaved with a dedication Jack found sickening.

“Christ, doesn't 'e know when to stop?”

Ed Black welcomed the opportunity to take a break. He wasn't a man who enjoyed hard labour nor did he consider it necessary to kill oneself for the employing body. His creed was simple – “higher pay for less work.” Productivity agreements were, to him, a means to an end. They sounded fine on an engineering contract but, in reality, they meant absolute zero in action. His brother in the
Mirror
had kept him informed of
their
productivity agreements and it was a family laugh when they discussed the way that union had buffaloed the government's prices and incomes policy.

”'E's a blackleg, Jack. I don't trust 'im.”

Boyle moved away, wishing to hell he hadn't opened the door for another Black tirade. Roy and he may not always agree, see eye-to-eye, but they were mates. Which was more than could be said for Ed Black. Ed was nobody's mate. “I wouldn't annoy Roy unless you want to meet up with his son, Joe.”

BOOK: Skinhead
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