They say that you should never meet your hero and for some that can be true. The idea being, in your mind, you have built them up so much, that the reality is never as good as your imagination would lead you to believe. Which translated means you see their weaknesses, their frailties and you realise that they are indeed just human like the rest of us. Well let me blow that myth completely out of the water! Not only did I meet my all-time hero, but I actually had the chance to interview him as well! Safe to say that this hero, more than lived up to his ‘hero status’ in my opinion and he still is ENGLAND’S GREATEST EVER FOOTBALLER.
If you read my recent blog about childhood heroes you will already know that my all-time schoolboy hero was Roy Race or better known to you and me as “Roy of the Rovers”. Roy’s adventures first appeared in the Tiger Comic before Roy became a big enough star to have his own comic called, “Roy of the Rovers” of course! One of the voices behind Roy’s greatest adventures was Editor Barrie Tomlinson who has kindly agreed to be interviewed.
Of all my lifetime achievements, to get the chance to interview your all-time hero is right up there with my greatest moments. These opportunities don’t come along very often and I am so grateful to Barrie and of course Roy, for agreeing to do this.
So without further ado, let me put my best Footballing Interviewer ‘hat on’ and fire the burning questions that I am sure that you all want to see answered.
Over the years there were plenty of sensational headlines involving Roy and his family, what story do you think was the most popular amongst the readers? Did the story create a rise in circulation of the comic?
I suppose the Roy shooting was the story that people really remember. Roy was also the first boy’s comic hero to get married and become a father. Surprisingly, the story which got us most publicity was when Roy’s wife, Penny, left him because he was spending too much time at the football club. That made headlines in most newspapers and on the day the comic was released, I appeared on ITV news at lunchtime to talk about Roy’s situation and I was on BBC TV in the evening, doing the same thing. I think all those stories were popular with the readers.
Following on from the first question and twisting it slightly, what storyline gave you the most pleasure in writing?
I wasn’t the regular Roy writer. At the start of Mr Race’s adventures, the writer was Frank Pepper. Later Tom Tully took over the story. As editor, I would have regular meetings with the writer, to plan Roy’s activities on and off the football pitch. I did write the Roy story which appeared in Today newspaper, illustrated by Kim Raymond.
There were plenty of high’s and low’s in the career of England’s greatest ever player, what would you say were your greatest high’s and low’s in your time with Roy?
I suppose the high point was launching Roy’s own comic in 1976. Previously, Roy of the Rovers had been the top story in Tiger so I thought it was time he had his own comic. The low point was having Roy of the Rovers taken away from me in 1989/90 and watching the character of the title change and things happen which I wouldn’t have been happy with as editor. Things like Penny being killed off and Roy losing his foot in a helicopter crash. In my opinion, not the best decisions in the history of comics.
Roy played under a variety of different owners and Chairman, were any of them based on real life characters?
Geoffrey Boycott was chairman of Melchester Rovers for many years. He had been a regular contributor to Tiger and when I told him that Roy wanted him to be chairman, he was delighted to accept. Sir Geoffrey was a enthusiastic chairman and was always happy with the script and artwork which featured his likeness. The appointment got us a lot of publicity in the media. A typical headline was “Boycs of the Rovers”.
Along the same lines, how much of the content and characters were based on real life events?
I wanted Roy to lead the way with footballing ideas. Quite often Roy would organise something and months later it would happen in real life. Things like all-seater stadiums and how to deal with hooliganism were good examples of this, as was Melchester playing their home games at Wembley, when their own ground was out of action.
Who was the best celebrity or footballer to work with?
There were so many. Malcolm Macdonald is a great fan of Roy and he was part of Roy’s England team which played against Holland (and won 5-1). Trevor Francis was also in that team. Trevor scored a hat-trick and Malcolm got two. Roy didn’t score himself. (That only happens in fiction!). Suzanne Dando and Sharron Davies starred in special Christmas ‘pantomimes’ with Roy.
(Derek Dougan, Roy and Barrie)
Roy worked with plenty of footballers, celebrities, comedians and even politicians over the years, do you think that they gained more publicity from being connected to Roy than the other day round?
I think it’s fair to say that probably Roy got more publicity. When I signed Morecambe and Wise they were at the very top of the entertainment league. Ernie wrote for Tiger and Eric for Roy of the Rovers. Ernie attended many of our comic functions.
(Sir Alf Ramsey, Roy and Paul Mariner)
Was Roy actually the first ever real ‘celebrity’ Footballer?
He led the way, right from 1954, and others followed!
What advice would you/Roy give to any new aspiring footballers, who want to be the next Roy Race?
I’ve spoken to Roy about this and we agree they should read all the back issues of Tiger and Roy of the Rovers!
Roy was President at St. Albans Football Club, was he involved at any other clubs?
I don’t think so. He was vice president when I was involved with the club. I was born in that city.
What would Roy think about the modern game and all the recent changes, for example VAR?
In 2004, I wrote a Roy episode for a national newspaper, which showed how Roy would react to changes in the laws of football and that was fun. It was drawn by Michael White who had drawn Roy for the comic. VAR? Roy was using video replays before anyone!
How did you manage to get the Duke of Edinburgh involved with the Comic?
I wrote to Buckingham Palace and asked the Duke to contribute. Originally I wanted his article for Tiger, then when the Roy of the Rovers launch came along, I suggested switching the article into that comic. The Duke agreed. The article was probably my biggest scoop, alongside Sir Alf Ramsey taking over managing Melchester Rovers, when Roy was shot.
Will Roy ever return in his original format?
Rebellion are publishing the old stories again and they still look good.
Why do you think that Roy has stood the test of time? Other heroes have come and gone, but Roy has still remained a boyhood hero for so many, what is his special appeal?
Roy was always your local hero. Melchester was wherever you wanted it to be. The Melchester ground was just around the corner from where you lived. Readers could always identify with Roy on and off the pitch. Roy’s original editor, Derek Birnage, set a high standard for the story and it’s one I tried to keep when I became editor. My book ‘Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff’ (still available on Amazon, see the link below) tells the full story of my time with Roy, along with lots of photographs.
I would like to say a massive thank you to Barrie and of course Roy himself, for agreeing to the interview and I look forward to hearing and reading more about Roy and his exploits in the future.
All photographs shown here were kindly provided by Barrie Tomlinson and can be found in his book ‘Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff’ and the link for the book is below.
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