In the 1960s the New English Library, a British subsidiary of the New American Library, had been plodding along churning out westerns and science fiction novels, but after approximately 1970 the imprint stumbled on a new audience that would make it lots of money. For young men who grew up in Britain during the era, the New English Library was an endless source of high-octane pulp fiction about the rough and tumble of the urban street.
The name applied to the genre eventually came to be “bovver,” as in “bovver boys” or “bovver boots”—it was a corruption of “bother”—but many also simply think of them as the Skinhead books. They were geared toward a working-class youth audience and saw opportunities in the mostly white subcultures that were coming into being at the time, skinheads, punks, bikers, and mods, with attention also paid to girl gangs. Using photographic covers for automatic authenticity, the books crammed as much telltale detail of “the life” as possible. Many readers were certain that the author must be “one of them”—which was not really true.
As Harry Sword wrote in his memorable VICE story about the publishing company from 2014 “The New English Library was the maniacal king of pulp publishing in 1970s Britain.” “Maniacal” was an apt descriptor: One of the hallmarks of this new type of fiction was that books were churned out at an incredibly fast rate. Sword quotes Mark Howell, employed by “the NEL” in the early 1970s:
That damn delivery schedule was the most driving force I’ve ever met in publishing. You just had to get it out there—it was breakneck, insane. I started a series called Deathlands, and the first writer I gave it to had done a wonderful first story and was given the green light—and spent his entire advance on heroin, which, back in those days, was not unknown. It was crippling for some, but most of our writers were addicts of the typewriter, and one of the glories of this was that it was a conveyer belt—we thoroughly addicted our readers. It was endless repetition stemming from unresolved anomaly.
The most successful books of the NEL were the Skinhead series, which focused on a “misanthropic 16-year-old thug” named Joe Hawkins. The Skinhead books were incredibly violent and trafficked heavily in racism, rape, robbery, and gang beatings. To read one of the Richard Allen books was to enter a world of “cold rain, futility, bad sex, spilt blood and stale beer” set in an indistinguishable series of East London tenements.
The books were credited to “Richard Allen” but the identity of the author was actually James Moffat, a Canadian-born author who cold generate 10,000 words a day and published roughly 300 books over his long career. He died in 1993 at the age of 71.
As Howell says, “We had a market who were always hungry for more. The James Moffat Skinhead books sold in their millions.” The first novel of the Joe Hawkins series, Skinhead, was published in 1970. A year later the book Suedehead came out. Those two books as well as Skinhead Escapes were reprinted in 2015 by Dean Street Press.
Much more after the jump…....