Originally aired in 1996 the BBC documentary Skinhead Farewell tells the story of the New English Library and the series of youth culture exploitation novels they released in the early seventies. The most famous of these being the series of Skinhead related pulp novels produced by James Moffat under the alias Richard Allen but running a close second the biker novels produced by Nick Norman and Peter Cave.
The documentary does a great job of telling the tale via interviews with NEL staff and writers from the time but is at its most revealing when involving those who bought, read and loved these books first time round. Its easy to see why these pulp novels, full of violence, offensive language viewpoints anmanner manner of deliquent behaviour wind up many but it’s fascinating to hear the responses to the books from the very people the books were meant for and aimed at.
These actual consumers of the books reveal how they truly believed that the writers must have been ‘just like them’. A first time round skinhead, and Joe Hawkins fan talks of how he believed the writer must have been a skinhead himself to have got the stories so spot on – he is even seen discussing with fellow old skins on how he would love to meet the writer to find out about his life as a skinhead. As we know the writer of the skinhead books, real name James Moffat, was far from being a British skinhead kid. A fan of the Chopper books reveals how he thinks the writer must have been a hardcore biker (like himself) so much do the stories, attitudes and outlook mirror how he himself lived his life within the biker scene. Again the writer picked up the gig via a casual conversation at party and set out to write the novels with virtually zero knowledge of the bike scene he was describing and unleashing on to the unsuspecting public, but as with Moffat/Allen there was plenty of sensationalist violence and anti-establishment attitude to appeal to kids across 70’s Britain.