Obituary: Richard Allen

Jack Shamash
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:45

James Moffatt (Richard Allen, James Taylor, Ray Ferrier, JJ Moore), writer: born 1922; married; died 8 November 1993.

OVER the last 20 years, few pulp writers have had as much influence on their peers as Richard Allen, although few can have remained so resolutely in the shadows.

Allen - his real name was James Moffatt, and he also went by the pseudonyms James Taylor, Ray Ferrier, and JJ Moore - wrote some of the most enduring and best-selling pulp novels of the Seventies such as Skinhead (1970), Suedehead (1971), Bootboys (1972) and Knuckle Girls (1977). His books were foul-mouthed, violent, racist, but they gripped readers and helped shape a generation of writers. Julie Burchill cites him as a major influence, as part of her reading in her youth. Victor Headley's acclaimed novel Yardie (1992) was widely seen as following in Allen's footsteps. There is hardly a style magazine that hasn't enthusiastically embraced Allen .

Eighteen titles were published by the New English Library under Allen's name. He wrote about violence with genuine relish. Of Joe Hawkins, the hero of million-selling books such as Suedehead and Skinhead, he writes, 'Joe Hawkins was semi-educated, capable of . . . enjoying the charade of being a decent citizen even as he battered some innocent's skull to pulp.'

The books are liberally peppered with sex. Skinheads are forever lowering their jeans to make love to young girls and older women alike. For the youngsters of the 1970s this was a heady mix. What differentiated Allen's novels from the average pulp novel, was that Allen had real respect for the kind of people he wrote about. Before Allen, most youth novels were written from an adult viewpoint and the heroes always mended their ways - usually under the influence of a benevolent or socially concerned teacher. Allen's heroes never mended their ways.

Allen's philosophy was undoubtedly anti-Semitic. In the introduction to Suedehead he blames the evils of society on 'mercenary minded rag-trade merchants'. In Bootboys, there is a Jewish character: 'His parents knew that an occasional sip of kosher wine straight from Israel was enough for any adolescent.' The books were outrageously racist, full of slighting references to 'Pakis'. The hero in Glam reflects this racism: 'He did believe in Britishers first. Immigrants and people of a different skin tone belonged elsewhere.'

The author himself - in the introductions to his novels - always claimed to be merely reflecting trends in society rather than inciting violence. And, rather fancifully, he claimed that the books would be a 'source of reference for future students of our violent era'.

Very little is known about Allen's private life. He always found excuses not to give out personal details. However the British Library catalogue reveals he was a Canadian national born in 1922. The remainder of his output mainly consisted of mediocre spy and sex novels. On one notable occasion he was challenged on television, on Late Night Line up in 1972, to write a book in one week. The next week he appeared on the show with the completed manuscript of The Marathon Murder.

He did vast quantities of hack writing including novelisations, children's annual and sporting books. He seemed to disappear for most of the Eighties, which may have been connected to his alcoholism. He admitted to drinking a bottle of Scotch a day at one point in his life.

He only resurfaced two years ago due to the recent skinhead revival across Europe. In a series of articles in Skinhead Times, he began to elaborate the idea that skinheads were a quintessential part of English life. And that Stonehenge would have been built by the ancient equivalent of skinheads.

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