Review- Allen, “Skinhead”

Richard Allen, “Skinhead” (1970) – My readings on the right have brought me to this underground cult classic. It is part of the “youthsploitation” wave of pulp novels of the era, where cheap publishers rushed out material on the range of youth subcultures then making the news. Many of them were written by a middle-aged alcoholic Canadian hack named James Moffat, who wrote under numerous psuedonyms, including Richard Allen. As Allen, he wrote a dozen-odd skinhead novels that became quite popular within the subculture and became both passed-around artifacts and subjects of artistic parody.

No one has ever accused skinheads of being the most sensitive readers, and part of me is a little surprised they took to these books the way they did, given the undisguised contempt the author has for the subculture. For Moffat/Allen, skinheads were a symptom of modern culture gone awry, barbarians at the gates of a civilization too weak (due to egalitarianism and the welfare state) to fend them off. At the same time, he has a sickly fascination with the virility and violence of Joe Hawkins, his skinhead main character. Joe is something of an East End ubermensch, who takes what he pleases, be it blood, money, or sex, with violence and cunning. He does lose a fight or two but always gets revenge. One can see how the character would appeal to a certain type of young man.

This book was published in 1970, relatively early in the career of the skinhead subculture. As such, the politics involved were much more muted. Joe and his friends are racist and hate hippies and radicals, to be sure, but they care about beating up black people and Asians about as much as they care about beating up rival soccer fans. Moffat/Allen doesn’t seem to really make the connection between his preferred social order, where men are real men, hierarchy is gladly accepted, and Britain is great again, and the sickly fascination he has for Joe’s violence against shared enemies, but others would, and I wonder if the author does in later books.

Moffat/Allen clearly had some pulp writing chops and the novel zips right along. I don’t think I encountered a single sentence where the only verb was a variation of “to be,” a good sign for pulp. But there’s two major problems here that prevent me from recommending it as (highly, highly “problematic”) fun. The first is the author’s ideological hectoring. No one was (is, afaict) as attached to orderliness and The Rules as the Anglo-Canadian pedant, and Moffat/Allen makes sure to point out for every bad thing happening (which he leers and drools over), there is a social welfare policy encouraging it. This attachment to order, presumably, is what prevented him from seeing the Joe Hawkinses of the world as allies, as later far-right nerds would. More importantly, there basically isn’t a plot. The book begins with a depiction of Joe’s father and his corrupt docklands milieu, where faux-radicalism and pilfering go hand in hand and dock leaders plan strikes for malicious reasons. I thought that it would end with the skinheads attacking strikers. That would have been interesting and have dramatic unity, but no. Instead, Joe just does a bunch of crimes and gets away with them, the end. I guess that’s all you need for “youthsploitation,” but I prefer my voyeurism to at least have the decency of a plot. This is an interesting literary artifact but that’s about it. **’

Review- Allen, “Skinhead”

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