By Barrie Tomlinson
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
The Book: Roy Race was Melchester Rovers’ super striker, who became player-manager of the club. He is known everywhere simply as ‘Roy of the Rovers’. Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff is the inside story of his life with Melchester, told by the man who knows him better than anyone: editor Barrie Tomlinson, the man who helped turn him from comic-book hero to a national institution.
From the 1950s, millions of children grew up reading about his footballing adventures in Tiger and Roy of the Rovers. Now they can relive all the memorable moments from Roy’s illustrious footballing career. From his debut as a fresh-faced teen in the comic Tiger, Roy became the hero of his own football comic; with league titles, cup finals, Wembley wins and much more; how he survived a near-death experience, became the first boys’ hero to get married and become a father and just why the saying ‘Real Roy of the Rovers stuff!’ became a stock phrase for football commentators everywhere.
Packed with photos from Roy’s life, the book tells how he became a top celebrity of his day, how Sir Alf Ramsey was convinced to be Melchester manager, Geoffrey Boycott became chairman and even how the Duke of Edinburgh once came to write for Roy’s comic!
The Review: When I was a comics-obsessed kid in the early 1980s, I read adventure comics like Eagle and Battle Action Force and my brother read sports titles like Roy of the Rovers. I wasn’t a sports fan, you see. But gradually, I found myself reading my brother’s Roy of the Rovers comics as well. The stories were so good, the characters so well drawn that you didn’t need to be a football lover to enjoy them. Roy’s story was, as author Barrie Tomlinson notes in this book, a soap opera.
Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff is one of the best books about British comics I’ve ever read. It’s nice to see a book about comics written by someone who actually worked on those comics. I’m not knocking books written by comics historians, but this is the real deal.
It’s a nicely presented book with a proper hardback cover and dust jacket. With numerous photos and colour reproductions of comic covers, it’s a visual feast and would make a terrific Christmas present for a comics fan.
Barrie Tomlinson was the Group Editor in charge of the Roy of the Rovers comic and we follow his career in comics from the early sixties right up to his more recent work writing the “Scorer” strip for The Mirror. It’s a rollercoaster ride, and the book offers some great anecdotes such as his memory of playing cricket in the Lion and Tiger offices!
Barrie had a distinguished comics career. A Sub Editor on Lion, he went on to launch the Roy of the Rovers title in 1976 a fine home for a character whose ‘life’ began in in Tiger and became so popular that his own comic was, perhaps, inevitable.
What really comes across in the book is how much effort Barrie put into publicizing the comic. He knew how to use the media, tying in stories with topical events such as Charles and Diana’s wedding and issuing press releases to drum up media interest. He got many famous footballers on board and even Morecambe and Wise helped out with publicity. But none of it was at the expense of the quality of the stories. Barrie was a showman in many ways but he was a great creative talent as well. It all makes you realise that the late 1970s and early 80s were a Golden Age of sorts for British comics.
Barrie is somewhat cagey when it comes to talking about those who took control of Roy of the Rovers when his tenure had ended on it but he’s too much of a gentleman to dwell on it. Reading the book, you are left with the feeling that he’d still be editing a Roy comic now given half a chance.
The book includes plenty of extracts from newspapers reports of the time. Whilst these put the whole thing into some sort of historical context and show just how good Barrie was at getting the media’s attention, they are not as readable as the author’s own easy-going prose style. This is the story of a life well lived and gives us a unique insight into the lives of two men – Roy Race and Barrie Tomlinson.
• Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff is available now from all good book shops
• Follow Barrie Tomlinson on Twitter @BarrieEditor1
• Pitch Publishing is online at www.pitchpublishing.co.uk
Roy of the Rovers © Rebellion
Former Co-ordinator of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Publisher and Editor of comics-related fanzines. Contributor to books on Doctor Who from Virgin and Miwk Publishing. Contributor to cult TV fanzines and periodicals.