Allen, Richard (James Moffat) (pulp fiction writer)



Simmering behind the good vibes of hippiedom and swinging London as the 1960s came to a close was another, less friendly British cultural movement, one built not on peace and love but on suspicion, resentment, racism, and violence. Media reports exposed the rise of white, working-class youth gangs, new cults of juvenile delinquency involved in riots and violent incidents, some of it aimed at the United Kingdom’s rising immigrant population, a great deal of it centering on explosive soccer (football) team fandom. The most intimidating of these antisocial groups were the “skinheads,” angry young people uniformly clad in blue jeans or army trousers, union shirt, suspenders, steel-tipped boots, hair shaved to the scalp (a pointed rebuke to those long-haired hippies), many with a right-wing, white supremacist political orientation. To conventional Britons and media pundits the skinheads and soccer hooligans signaled the end of western civilization, but to the good folks at the New English Library (N.E.L.) they looked like money in the bank. Ever ready to put their paperback presses in pursuit of a new trend, editors at N.E.L. saw a chance for a quick quid in the fictional exploitation of the new delinquency and “football aggro.” The idea took hold one night over drinks at a London party; the editors agreed they should get the topic out as soon as possible, before the bloody tabloid stories grew old, so sometime before midnight they called their fastest and most reliable “hack”— Richard Allen—and assigned the novel idea with a one-week deadline.

The writer they called was no youth himself— 48 years old in 1970—and knew nothing about football gangs, but he had not sold hundreds of topics and articles by turning down assignments. In the morning, in search of some background detail, he drove over to the East End of London, command central for the new youth cults. At a pub he introduced himself to a group of drunken skinheads. An outsider, he was met with typical aggression at first. “But the moment I told them they were to be featured in a new topic,” the writer recalled, “they completely changed their attitude. They bought me beers and verbally fought for top-billing. And I had enough material to start typing!”

In June 1970, N.E.L. published Richard Allen’s Skinhead. A viciously invigorating read, Skinhead was the real Clockwork Orange—the Anthony Burgess topic (and Stanley Kubrick film) about renegade juvenile gangs—without the intel-lectualism, irony, or distance of a science fiction setting. Skinhead was the story of Joe Hawkins, a fearless, dangerous East Ender, leader of a small mob of violence-craving teens. Only 16, Hawkins is filled with an angry nostalgia for all he perceives his kind has lost. Once, Hawkins reflects, when the Krays—gangster brothers, the Al Capones of ’60s London—had been the “king-pins of violence in London,” the East End had ruled the roost. “Not now! Every section of the sprawling city had its claims to fame. South of the Thames the niggers rode cock-a-hoop in Brixton, the Irish held Shepherd’s Bush with an iron fist; and the Jews predominated around Hampstead and Golder’s Green. The Cockney had lost control of his London. Even the porno shops were having their difficulties with the parasitic influx of outside talent.” Allen’s topic was a close study of Hawkins’s life, days and nights of drinking, raping, attending soccer games (for the primary purpose of attacking opposition fans), and brutally “bashing” an assortment of detested elements, including blacks, Pakistanis, and “soft, dirty hippies” (with their hair “so bleedin’ long and matted with lice and dirt”).

With a seven-day deadline weighing upon his typewriter, Allen had little time for a consistent perspective. The novel spouts righteously right-wing, fascistic rhetoric about foreigners and the welfare state on one page, a shocked voice of reason on another, and gleeful, nihilist indifference on the next. Overall, though, Allen was a sympathetic chronicler of the skinhead life. The violence and racist attacks are written with the lasciviousness of pornography, and in the novel’s end the young protagonist, having landed in jail after beating a cop, is, by his own standards, triumphant: “From today, Joe Hawkins was made. His name would rank with those others in the crime underworld. . . . Oh, the stupid bastards—didn’t they ever learn! Didn’t they know that his crime being publicized would make him a king of skinheads!”

N.E.L. brought the topic out within weeks of its completion and sold it at newsstands and topic stalls like any other exploitation paperback. The topic, with its cover photograph of a skinhead in full regalia, did not have much appeal to the mainstream softcover reader. In time, however, British youths themselves discovered the title, narcissistically hailing its subject matter and uncompromising vision, and N.E.L. found itself with a million-copy seller. The formerly unknown

Richard Allen was hailed as the Dickens of the skinhead movement. Sequels followed: Suedehead (1971) took an on-the-lam Hawkins into straight society and a city job, complete with pinstripe suit and tie. But Hawkins soon gets involved with a new violent youth cult. “Suedeheads” were a more subversive group than their skinhead predecessors: “An anti-social anti-everything conglomerate affecting status as their protective cover whilst engaging in nefarious pursuits more savage, more brutal than other cultists we have seen rise—and fall in this past decade.” The pinstriped Joe sees the possibilities at once, and immediately sharpens the metal tip of his umbrella into a lethal weapon.

Allen continued writing about the outlaw Hawkins and his spiritual kin and descendants. British youth culture had no end of malcontents, with later topics centering around punk rockers, neo-Mods, angry street demonstrators, and kung fu gangs. In Skinhead Girls (1972), Sorts (1973) and Knuckle Girls (1977), Allen focused on female delinquents, young darlings living for kicks, like Glasgow’s Ina Murray (one of the Knuckle Girls), whose “violent upbringing taught her to fight for her rights—with a bicycle chain and a copper wire!” There were 18 Richard Allen topics in all, published between 1970 and 1980. Looked at by the literary establishment with all the horror and contempt launched at the skins and punks themselves, the topics achieved something remarkable and significant: pure pulp masterpieces that put the raw taste of anger and anarchy on paper and documented important social phenomena and historical upheaval the mainstream culture preferred to avoid.

Richard Allen was in fact James Moffat, a Canadian-born writer with Celtic roots and hundreds of topics and nearly as many pen names to his credit. He had studied law at Queen’s University in Canada but dropped out to write and wander the world. For a time he published a magazine about bowling. He lived in Hollywood and Mexico and more than once lost all his savings at the gaming tables in Las Vegas. Settled in Britain in the early ’60s, he became a reliable hack writer for various paperback houses both in London and New York, producing westerns, children’s stories, horror novels, a mystery series about Canadian private eye Johnny Canuck, and more. He married another Canadian, also a writer, and remained in England, churning out topics. His reputation as one of the fastest writers in the business once led a BBC television program to film him as he produced a new topic-length work from first line to finish. Moffat completed the novel in less than a week. It went on sale the following month.

The Richard Allen topics were Moffat’s greatest achievement and clearly made a genuine connection with his readers. Through the years he received thousands of fan letters from skinheads and would-be skins and other alienated youth. The original editions and reprints of the topics, long out of print, became collectors’ items and difficult to find. A skinhead cult revival brought the spotlight back to Allen/Moffat in the early 1990s. The Scottish publication Skinhead Times determinedly prepared to return the entire Allen opus to print, and a grateful James Moffat, then in his seventies, and sounding more like a true believer in the cult than in the past, vowed to write a new sequel, Skinhead Return. Alas, the ravages of decades of alcohol and tobacco had caught up with him, and the 19th Richard Allen topic was never to be.


  • Boot Boys (1972);
  • Demo (1971);
  • Dragon Skins (1975);
  • Glam (1973);
  • Knuckle Girls (1977);
  • Mod Rule (1980);
  • Punk Rock (1977);
  • Skinhead (1970);
  • Skinhead Escapes (1972);
  • Skinhead Farewell (1974);
  • Skinhead Girls (1972);
  • Smoothies (1973);
  • Sorts (1973);
  • Suedehead (1971);
  • Teeny Bopper Idol (1973);
  • Terrace Terrors (1975);
  • Top Gear Skin (1973);
  • Trouble for Skinhead (1973)

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