Friday, 10 October 2008

Forgotten Books - The Leather Boys by Gillian Freeman

Okay - I've done the movie now it's the turn of the book.
Gillian Freeman was born in London in 1929 and wrote both the book and the screenplay for 'The Leather Boys'. The original was printed by 4 Square books under the author's alias of Elliot George. NEL reprinted it in the 1970s.
Sadly, this is a neglected book - and the selling features of the edition shown do not do the book the right justice. What the blurbs states is that this is a book about ' Britain's Wild Ones -the motorcycle cowboys who live for fast machines and faster girls..........THE LEATHER BOYS is a savage, brilliantly told novel of these aimless young men and women.....and a strange, twisted love....'
Just the sort of blurb that would make me put the book straight back on the shelf.
Because I know that that is not the basis of the book.
The importance of the book is that within it's 126 pages is a snapshot of life in the early sixties. From the dark crumbling houses with an outside loo - they did still exist back then to a youth culture that was in it's birth pangs. A time when teenagers wore leather jackets and rode motorcycles - anything from a 250cc up. Nobody had stuck a label on them calling them 'Rockers', 'Greasers' etc. - but they did live under the legacy of the Teddy Boys (who wore drapes, drainpipes and brothel creepers) and they did get labelled that way.
Though the themes remain the same the film and the book are differant - and the book continues where the film leaves off.
The story concerns Dick who is an insecure person who tries to be everybody's friend and Reggie who marries too young to Dot. Dot makes life a misery for her husband and is completely unaware that she is the author of her own misfortunes. Reggie, on the other hand, married for sex and his idea of a good time is going out with his mates down at Ned's Cafe. And a good time included admiring each others bikes and having a conversation over a cup of coffee or a Coke.
Against this background the reader is introduced to the general prejudices of the time against youth, the quest for a bit more elbow room. Dot's own me-me-me attitude begins to reflect these prejudices as she tries to force Reggie to 'grow up'.
The more the pressure is put on Dick so he turns to Reggie, who lives with his grandmother, and they begin some male bonding and moves in with him. In the end they decide to get away from the situation and the squalor. They go to Southampton to find work on a ship and meet up with a group of men that makes Reggie think.
"Dick thought of the ugly, middle aged powdered faces. He had never seen homosexuals like them before. He had never thought of his relationship with Reggie as being homosexual."
And so Dick returns home alone.
That is where the film ends - but the book continues on for Reggie chases after him and they plan to rob the local cinema and get away together. But lurking in the background are former friends who have suspicions about the closeness of the two friends and it is this that leads to tragedy.
In the 1980s the Gay Press issued a copy of this book - I suppose that the assumption is that it is a book errs in that direction.
Even today having re-read the book I'm not sure that that is it's sole selling point. It's more a book about a fragment of time, about prejudices and their consequences. Certainly, Reggie and Dick become more dependant on each other - their weaknesses are counter balanced by their respective strengths. While Reggie may want the relationship to go further, I feel that Dick did not and was just content with a male bonded friendship.
Is the book relevant today? I think so, for as the book is read, the reader picks up on something and thinks -and if a book makes you stop and think - then it has to be relevant.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Ray - I wonder how much of this story reads like an autobiography of your biker youth. LOL

Ray said...

There are parallels. Hanging around cofee bars etc. but I will be doing a blog about that later.

David Cranmer said...

The Leather Boys sounds interesting and I will be looking forward to your biker youth post.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Shall I put this up this week?

Ray said...

Certainly, Pattinase (abbott).
I will attempt to put a book up each week. This one was a trial run and in keeping with the theme.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I was on a motorcycle once. The back of one. Terrified the bejesus out of me. The power of the wind and the fragile hold on the driver.