Category Archives: exploitation books

The Horror of….the New English Library Book Covers (70’s and 80’s)

New English Library paperbacks. The penny dreadful of the 70’s and 80’s, the B Movie of the book world. Those well known residents of car boot sales, charity shops and landfill. The yellowed pages, with the first page marked in the top right corner with a 5p / 10p/ 25p value. The cracked and worn spines, the smell of mildew, the forlorn look of neglect. What NEL lacked in sophistication, they made up for in their cover presentation. While some covers explicity advertised the contents, others were a bit more obtuse. TWLB presents a small selection of some of the NEL horror back catalouge; – A magazine for the pulp collector in all of us!

Fantastic – a magazine thats been running for a few issues that is dedicated to British pulp paperbacks. Stuff like Skinhead and Chopper, and much more besides…The website, basically a shop window for the physical magazine, describes itself thus;

‘The Paperback Fanatic is the British magazine for collectors of pulp paperbacks from the 1960s and 1970s!

Jam-packed with author interviews and articles about the weird and wonderful books from that era, The Fanatic is bursting with previously undocumented information and loaded with reproductions of many rarely seen covers.

The purpose of this web-site is to show-case the magazine, to provide an on-line facility for ordering copies, and a channel for contacting the mag’s editorial team.’

More of those Seventies Penny Dreadfuls from The New English Library – this time it’s the Angels! Chopper, Mama & The Run by Peter Cave (1971

Following on from the recent article on the Skinhead series of books published by New English Library, TWLB now looks at NELs publication of several Biker novels from Peter Cave. Although he wrote 5 biker books (‘Speed Freaks’ and ‘Rogue Angels’), the 3 we will be looking at are a trilogy, based around a London Hells Angels Chapter. The books were (in chronological order);

Chopper (1971)
Mama (1972)
The Run (1972)

Chopper by Peter Cave
“Chopper moved into position. The skinhead was still bent double. Bringing up his knee, Chopper felt with satisfaction the scrunch of broken bone as the kid’s nose made contact. The kid went down, while blows from boots rained upon his body. He lay groaning, spitting out gouts of deep red blood and pieces of broken teeth.

” ‘Don’t ever pull a blade on an Angel.’ snapped Freaky before they left the kid. ‘It’s not friendly.’ “

This is the story of Chopper, of his bike, his pills, his girls and his violent bid for gang leadership. Author Peter Cave tells like never before how a greaser grows up to become a fallen Angel.

(cover photograph by Shepard Sherbell)

© 1971 Peter L Cave

First NEL Paperback Edition April 1971
Reprinted October 1971

NEL Books are published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London, EC1.

In response to the Richard Allen success of ‘Skinhead’, NEL quickly released a UK based biker story entitled ‘Chopper’, written by Peter Cave. The focus is on the titular character, Chopper Harris, who is second in command in a London Angels chapter, with Big M, Marty Gresham, being the no.1. Gresham is accompanied by his gorgeous woman, Elaine, aka Mama, who effectively initiates a power struggle between the 2 men. This feels inevitable as Chopper desires Mama, despite the fact she belongs to ‘Big M’, but Gresham is distancing himself from the Chapter, wishing to settle down and leave the violence behind him. ‘Mama’, ingrained in Angel culture, sees Chopper as her opportunity to remain at the top of the Chapter.

As in the Skinhead books, violence and sex are the fundamental drivers in this story,
and the violence is quick to surface as the bikers deal out a beating to some skinheads (oh the NEL symmetry of it all!). ‘Pot Parties’, ‘plating’ (a curious euphemism for cunnilingus), ‘bundles’ (fights) – a lot of the language used in this book, feels (and is) antiquated now, but holds a curiosity value, a window to a world long gone.

Like ‘Skinhead’, ‘Chopper’ has some crude and very questionable content, such as when some of the Angels tempt a girl with stolen drugs, take her back to her place and
then proceed to abuse their victim relentlessly. Violence is extreme, with the largely faceless, character-less victims beaten senseless. A nihilistic book, with a lack of moral focus and characters who are hard to sympathise with, ‘Chopper’ does not end well for the title character, but it is very hard to feel any emotion about it.

A short novel, at 128 pages it has the brevity of the Skinhead novels of Richard Allen, and for both authors it is hard to imagine that these stories could be sustained much beyond their usual 100 hundred page duration. ‘Chopper’ may be a stylised account of Biker culture in the early 1970s, but it is also a hard read because of its ambiguous presentation of violence and sex, and it is not particularly a good read either, as the characters are largely
unsympathetic, devoid of warmth, humour or humanity.

Mama by Peter Cave

NEL March 1972.

Chopper may be dead but his girl lives on.
A motorcycle groupie becomes queen of the Hell’s Angels.

Spoilers from the start in Peter Caves sequel to ‘Chopper’, as the blurb on the front cover lets you now exactly what has happened, and is going to happen. With Big M having walked away from the Angels and her lover, Chopper, dead, it is up to Mama to try and seize control of the Chapter from Danny the Deathlover. Clad in an all-in-one leather bikers suit and offering sex as currency, she tempts a mechanic to restore the damaged Harley Davidson that was the instrument of Choppers downfall. Bursting back onto the scene astride the newly road-worthy Harley, with ‘Big Mama’ emblazoned on the back of her jumpsuit in studs, she quickly regroups the direction less Angels Chapter. As a leader, she chooses to rule alone, still mourning the loss of Chopper (whose memory has become enshrined in her bedroom – and where in one scene she masturbates to his photograph).

With this shift of power, comes the cue lots of violence, including an attack on a group of Pakistanis and on a gang of Suedeheads (which also happens to be the title and subject matter of the follow-up to Richard Allens successful ‘Skinhead’ title from NEL). Operating like bandits, in a new HQ, the Angels plunder and steal to finance their lifestyle, under Mamas strong and purposeful leadership. However, by the end of the book it all goes horribly wrong, and Mama is brought to justice for her crimes. For both Chopper and Mama, Cave ensures that being at the top of the Angels heap brings retribution, either at the hands of law and order (Mama) or, in what you can assume to be a warning to the curious, at the machines that they so closely identify with (Chopper).

Peter Cave does not really move on from the style of writing he adopted in Chopper – this is no-nonsense exploitation fare, with a similar page count, and like ‘Chopper’ before it, that does not mean that ‘Mama’ is an enjoyable exploitation book (although I thought the placing of a woman as the head of the Angels (and making a success of it was fairly forward thinking). Although women (or at least Mama) get a better deal in this book, the story is racially offensive, with its portrayal of Pakistanis and the violence meted out to them, and the introduction of a black recruit to the Chapter (who is nicknamed ‘Superspade’) firmly placing this book in a bygone era.

‘Mama’ is as bleak in its outlook as ‘Chopper’, but Cave reserves his most scathing prose for the Angels, as a whole, damning them for their gang mentality;

“They were merely a pathetic band of failures – dropouts from a civilisation they couldn’t cope with. Because they were unable to belong, they cowered together in fear and trusted only their own massed numbers”

Curious that Cave should choose to pick the bikers as his subject matter, to exploit their culture for the book, to make them the ‘stars’ of these novels, and yet at the same time try and portray them as a gang of social inadequates. Whereas other writers would portray the Bikers and their culture in completely different terms (Mick Norman, who wrote a quartet of Biker books for NEL in the mid 70’s (and which were re-released in an anthology by Creation press in the mid-90s) viewed them in a more positive light, as upholders of a different way of life, of an alternative society. An interview with him can be found here). Whereas Norman wanted to celebrate the biker, Cave wanted to vilify them.

The Run by Peter Cave

NEL 1972.

Chopper is dead.
Mama is in jail.
The Americans are taking over.

Spoilers again in this final part in the ‘Chopper’ trilogy by Peter Cave. It tells you all you need to know. Although I have the book (purchased at a car boot sale in Hull in the late 90s) I have never done more than look at the cover. But it is out there, available on Ebay along with the other 2 books if you wish to immerse yourself in a very grubby, very British slice of youth culture exploitation nonsense.


Richard Allen, New English Library, Skinhead, Suedehead & Sorts – the Seventies Penny Dreadfuls (1970s)

“As he stood in the dock, Joe Hawkins considered his situation with utter detachment.”
Opening line of ‘Suedehead’, by Richard Allen.

‘Richard Allen’ was the best-known pseudonym of James Moffat, and his series of books based on the Skinhead sub-culture are his best remembered works. Of those books, Skinhead, was the first, and is the best remembered. As you can see from the various book covers on this page, he wrote several sequels. These paperbacks (published by New English Library), had relatively few pages (generally more than 100 but less than 150) but a lot of sex and violence, and were squarely aimed at teenagers and young adults.

Skinhead was an immediate success, hence the raft of ‘Skinhead’ sequels from Allen. These books were marked by a predilection for casual violence, (including rape) which could easily be seen as a glorification / celebration of such behavior, though Allen was at pains to point out that that was not the case (or at least he did in the preface he wrote in his sequel to ‘Skinhead’, ‘Suedehead’). These books were cheap, fast fixes, true ‘exploitation’ books, especially when they began to ride the coat-tails of other contemporary fashions (like the Kung-Fu / Skinhead mash-up of ‘Dragon Skins’);

A more thorough explanation of who Richard Allen was, can be found below;

Richard Allen, The Charles Dickens of skinheads

James Moffat (1922-1993) was a Canadian-born writer who once published a magazine about bowling and who, under sundry pseudonyms, wrote hack fiction (westerns, children’s stories, mysteries). In 1970 he was asked because he was so versatile and prolific, to write a book for the New English Library about skinheads, the white working-class youths whose thuggery seemed, to some, an authentic cry of alienation and, to others, the decline of Western civilisation.

Allen’s first novel, Skinhead, uneasily combined self-righteous fascist rhetoric, nihilist indifference and the shocked voice of reason. But it succeed with its authentic portrayal of Joe Hawkins, the 16-year old gangster convinced the Cockneys had lost control of their patch, London, and whose life of rape, drink and hooliganism ends in a kind of triumph when he is jailed for beating a cop – a punishment which, he gloats, makes him king of the skinheads.

After that sold a million, the formula stayed pretty constant for 17 other novels – seven with the words “skin” or ‘Skinhead’ in the title. Allen bought to the task an enthusiasm for research, speed – he once completed a novel in less than a week – narrative drive and pulp fair. The opening line of Suedehead is masterful: “As he stood in the dock, Joe Hawkins considered the situation with a detachment”. Yet the author, uncomfortable with charges he encouraged violence, later blamed “leniency in courtrooms, catering to fads by mercenary-minded rage-trade merchants, a soft-peddling attitude by politicians who look for teenage votes and a overwhelming pandering by the media”.

Rediscovered in his seventies, Allen was planning a sequel Skinhead Return, when years of writing at short notice aided by tobacco and booze finally caught up with him. He died in 1993.

Influenced by: Pulp fiction, Harold Robbins.

Influence on: His success led to a plethora of books like Bill Buford’s Among The Thugs, in which intellectual types slummed it with violent oiks.

Essential reading: Skinhead and Suedehead stand apart.

Further reading: As Trudi Maxwell, Allen wrote the compellingly dire Diary of a Female Wrestler, unforgettably, ludicrously bad.

Taken from The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction,

What follows is a series of back page ‘copy’ found on Richard Allen paperbacks. Titles covered are Skinhead, Suedehead, Skinhead Escapes and Sorts;


SKINHEAD by Richard Allen
AGGRO – That’s what Joe Hawkins and his mates were looking for, with their shaven heads, big boots and braces.

Football matches, pub brawls, open-air pop concerts, hippies and Hell’s Angels all gave them chances to vent their sadistic violence.

SKINHEAD is a story straight from today’s headlines – portraying with horrifying vividness all the terror and brutality that has become the trademark of these vicious teenage malcontents.

First NEL Edition July 1970
This edition March 1972

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.


A young and brutal bovver boy called Joe Hawkins caused outrage when he was first introduced to the world in the NEL smash hit, Skinhead.
Now Joe has grown his hair and swapped his boots and braces for a velvet-collared Abercrombie coat. His aggro days are over … but his city-slicker days are just beginning.

© 1972 Richard Allen
First NEL Paperback Edition October 1971

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.

Skinhead Escapes

Joe Hawkins first made his shattering impact on readers in the best-selling novel, SKINHEAD.

For Joe, his exploits of violence and anti-social behaviour were to be cut short by a prison sentence.

But in SKINHEAD ESCAPES Joe Hawkins is on the loose again. With a vengeance to fulfill!

© 1972 Richard Allen
First NEL Paperback Edition July 1972
Reprinted May 1974

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.


SORTS by Richard Allen
‘Sorts’ are the Smoothy girls – they’re game if the price is right.

Terry Hurdy is running away – from her home, from her skinhead lover, and her memories. She teams up with Rose, who teaches her the ways of the road. Then the aggro starts, and Terry finds herself with “lay-by” problems, drop-outs and drugs – and murder.

This is a new kind of girl – first there were Skinheads and Boot Boys, then the Smoothies – and now there are Sorts, the female of the species.

© 1973 Richard Allen
First NEL Paperback Edition July 1973
Reprinted December 1974

Published by New English Library Limited from Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London EC1.

The complete list of Richard Allen books reads as follows – as you can see, he didn’t limit himself to the Skinhead movement, as he also documented (amongst others) Punk (Punk Rock),

Mods (Mod Rule) and Glam Rock (Glam);

Books by Richard Allen

Boot Boys
Dragon Skins
Knuckle Girls
Mod Rule
Punk Rock
Skinhead Escapes
Skinhead Farewell
Skinhead Girls
Teeny Bopper Idol
Terrace Terrors
Top-Gear For Skinhead
Trouble For Skinhead (originally to be titled Skinhead In Trouble)

A BBC TV documentary about his life, Skinhead Farewell, aired in 1996. This is a clip of that documentary;


By the way, ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ is a term I have probably incorrectly implied here (to a degree anyway). I like the term, and it does sum up the whole vibe of Skinhead etc. To understand what a penny dreadful really was, look here