8 November 1993

‘Skinhead Dickens’ dies

James Moffat, the Canadian ‘pulp’ author dubbed ‘the skinhead Dickens’, died on this day in 1993. He wrote prolifically under a variety of pen-names and was once challenged by the BBC programme Late Night Line Up to write a book in seven days. He accepted and duly appeared a week later with The Murder Marathon.

Moffat achieved fame and notoriety as Richard Allen, under which name he wrote the infamous Skinhead, a playground favourite which supposedly sold a million copies. Its anti-hero, Joe Hawkins, was so convincing that many readers believed the books to be the work of a real-life skinhead.

The many sequels – Skinhead Escapes, Suedehead, etc – followed a rigid formula of brutish violence, philistinism, racism and right-wing prejudice, all communicated in Moffatt’s uniquely pugnacious prose.

Politicians and teachers expressed understandable dismay, but the series nevertheless attracted one prominent fan in the unlikeliest of places, as the following article reveals…

Allen's novel was an immediate success

MY PRIZE POSSESSION

From The Observer Magazine 22 July 1997

Skinhead paperback

Peter Bridges, aka ‘Plaistow Pete’, proprietor of Boots & Braces

I’ve been a skinhead since 1969. I was nine years old and my older brother gave me a pair of skinny braces. The boots were more of a problem. I bought the smallest pair of cherry red Doctor Martens that you could get, but I still had to wear three pairs of thick socks to walk in them!

I opened Boots & Braces in 1981, and many of the original skinheads still drop in – some of them don’t need to use clippers any more!

Customers come from all over these days: Italians, Americans, Japanese – liquorice allsorts. A lot of people think being a skinhead is about politics and all that rubbish. Leave it out. Skinhead is a way of life. A skinhead is a skinhead, end of.

The shop sells fanzines, books and CDs but it’s first and foremost about being smart and looking the business. I sell everything from vintage Ben Sherman shirts and Levi’s Sta-Prest strides through to tonik suits, Crombie coats and penny loafers.

It was difficult to choose just one item, but in the end I’ve gone for Skinhead, the first book in the series published by New English Library. It says ‘Richard Allen’ on the cover, but it was actually written by an old Canadian geezer, name of James Moffatt. We didn’t know that at the time though, and the main character, Joe Hawkins, was such an authentic East End boy that everyone reckoned it was written by a real skinhead.

Original copies of his books are collectors’ items, and I’ve got first editions indoors. But this particular copy isn’t one of them – I’ve chosen it because there’s an interesting story behind it.

When Skinhead came out it was so popular that it was reprinted many times. Then the politicians started sticking their oar in, complaining about the violence. Setting a bad example and all that.

Apparently the Queen was very interested in the controversy and requested a copy. Straight up.

I’ve no idea what she thought, but I do know the Queen Mum was well into it, and ordered some of the others: Trouble for Skinhead, Skinhead Escapes, Skinhead Girls, Suedehead.

This copy of Skinhead is the actual one that started her off – it’s got ‘THE QUEEN’S BOOK’ rubber-stamped on the first page, which proves it’s from her personal library. I acquired it at a royal charity auction that I read about in Majesty magazine.

There was a lot of competition from other skinheads, but luckily I was successful. If I hadn’t won, then it would have cost the winner an arm and a leg – literally!  Only joking, we’re all mates really.

Anyway, it cost me a packet but it was all for a good cause. Something about wildlife I think it was, which is quite appropriate when you think about it.

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