When comics ruled
BARRIE TOMLINSON reflects on his adventures with the likes of Roy of the Rovers, Tiger, Billy’s Boots and Hot-Shot Hamish…
The days of Roy Race and Tiger
ITHINK I had the best job in the world. I was Group Editor of the Boys’ Sport and Adventure Department at IPC Magazines and I was responsible for such classic comic titles as Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, the new Eagle and a host of others.
I’d started as a sub editor on Lion, in 1961, then I moved to Tiger where I first met a character called Roy of the Rovers. Roy would change my life.
I became editor of Tiger and decided to make Roy Race’s adventures much more true to life. Originally, Roy’s team, Melchester Rovers, won every game they played.
I made the football content much more real, with Roy facing all the problems of a modern striker.
Roy eventually became captain and then player-manager of the Rovers.
Off the field, I also made his life just like the real thing. He was the first boys’ comic hero to get married and the first to became a father. The national press loved the stories and Roy got plenty of publicity.
In 1976, I gave Roy his own comic. By this time, he was getting very famous. So much so, that the Duke of Edinburgh agreed to write an article for the first issue of Roy of the Rovers.
When Roy was shot, I had to find someone to take over Melchester Rovers. Sir Alf Ramsey agreed to become manager of the side, while Roy recovered. When you were in charge of Roy Race, you could organise that sort of thing!
Sir Alf appeared regularly in the Roy of the Rovers picture strip and he seemed to really enjoy being part of the Melchester set-up. Newspaper headlines said: ʻ Ramsey of the Rovers’ and ʻ It’s Sir Alf of the Rovers’.
Later, Geoffrey Boycott took over as Chairman of Melchester Rovers. There was nothing that Roy could not achieve!
Geoffrey appeared in the picture-strip and the press said: ʻ It’s Geoff of the Rovers’ and ʻ Meet Boycott of the Rovers!’.
It was great fun involving people who you wouldn’t think of as being associated with comics. Each time that happened we got lots of publicity.
I told the whole Roy story in my current book ʻ Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff’. In words and photographs the book outlines the events which made Roy a national institution.
But I was also in charge of other comics, including Tiger, which had some magnificent sports stories.
Billy’s Boots, the boy with ʻ magic’ boots that used to belong to old-time footballer DeadShot Keen; Hot-Shot Hamish, the giant Scottish striker; Johnny Cougar, the Native American wrestler; Skid Solo, the grand prix racing driver and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, two lads with a yellow racing mini. Remember any of those stories?
Famous people were involved with Roy’s comic and it was the same with Tiger.
Gordon Banks, Trevor Francis and Malcolm Macdonald wrote for the title for many years, as did Mike Channon, Tony Greig, Ian Botham and Geoffrey Boycott.
I signed Morecambe and Wise to write for the comics. Eric starred in Roy of the Rovers and Ernie contributed to Tiger. Paul Daniels wrote for Tiger.
So much happened in the comics I edited that I felt it was time to produce a second book, which goes on sale on September 1.
It’s called ʻ Comic Book Hero’ and tells my
behind-the-scenes stories of lots of famous comics, such as Tiger, Battle, Scream, Speed, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Wildcat and a few others, as well as annuals I edited, such as the Big Daddy Annual, the Suzie Dando Annual and Geoff Boycott Annual.
The new book also takes in the 22 years I produced Scorer, the six days a week football picture-strip which appeared in the Daily Mirror.
There are lots of photographs in the book, including Peter Sellers and Pele reading Tiger.
Big names and the comics went together very well. I think I might have had just a little bit of skill in persuading famous people to get involved with my titles!
There’s a great photograph of Trevor Francis playing Subbuteo against Geoffrey Boycott, with Dickie Bird as referee. That happened at a party to celebrate Tiger’s 25th birthday.
I had a life-sized cut-out of Roy of the Rovers and I took him everywhere.
On one occasion we were watching an England training session when an England coach came across to me and said “There’s more life in your cardboard cut-out than there is in the England team!”
Even Roy smiled at that.
The Duke of Edinburgh called the Roy story “a soap opera”. He was right.
That’s what the story became as I tried to keep the comics as up-todate as possible.
Tiger and the Roy story had a tremendous start in life, in 1954, with the first issue of Tiger, with Roy of the Rovers on the cover.
Tiger, Roy of the Rovers and my other titles were lucky to have some brilliant contributors... writers and artists. They were the best of the best. Together we produced comics which were very special. Usually the comics were delivered with the morning newspaper and were a massive part of a child’s life. It is very rewarding that people today still remember the comics and there is a massive amount of interest on the internet. I regularly get lots of questions from people who read my titles as children and are now grown-up, with children of their own. Sometimes I feel like a comic book hero myself!
Keeping up to date: Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United show off their copies of Tiger
Bearded wonder: Gordon Banks with a copy of Tiger
Good read: Barrie Tomlinson, left, and Malcoln Macdonald