When you work in a comic shop, on occasion you will get a moment to indulge in some of the stock (That’s right, I bet they don’t let you do that at the chocolate factory), but these times are brief, its not long until the next customer comes in. So what do you pick? Often it’s a quick dose of some of our classic British comic stock, and so if you are in our stores you might see comics such as The Beano or Roy of the Rovers open on the counter, perhaps the odd vintage Wizard or a nice old wrinkly broadsheet Eagle!
Despite the rapidly changing times we now live in with regards to how we consume our entertainment, and how the untrained eye of some, the appearance of such characters as Roy (That beautiful hair) may seem a little dated now at first glance, if you take a relaxing dive in, it won’t take you long to realize that there is still so much to enjoy, discover, and cherish about our comic history here in the UK.
Most of us here at Wow Comix, grew up across eras where we would still pick these up on a whim from the newsagents, rolled up in the back pocket for a read on the bus into town before being promptly hidden away before meeting up with friends that included that girl you secretly wanted to impress. Many people will fondly remember holding some kind of subscription with their local newsagents as a youngster. The Beano is the obvious one to talk about when it came to British comic success stories, 2000 AD would be another, but then at various points in time in the UK we have had an incredible variety on offer, and one of the more dominant genres for a long period of time was sports.
If you were a young football fan in the 70s and 80s, you were certainly covered when it came to reading material. Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Hotspur, Valiant and Hurricane, Scorcher, Score ‘n’ Roar, Scoop, and the rest! Many of these we published weekly and ran for years without break. A crazy schedule for the staff, no doubt, but what an era they delivered! When you look at the modern comic era and how rare it’s become to have now, longer ongoing comic series on the shelves with such regularity, it’s actually incredible to think about how many plot twists, character arcs, and direct parallels from real life they kept delivering so consistently. It was relentless, hard-working storytelling at its best, and a quick mood fixer after a bad day on the pools at the worst.
So where does Barrie Tomlinson fit into all this?
Barrie Tomlinson is essentially one of Britain’s great under-stated (for this generation at least) comic storytellers. As a writer and editor who started out with IPC Magazines, he was a key part of British comic culture through the years which would be fondly remembered in the future as some of the industry’s best. Whether they be regular comic readers or not, by the mid-1980s it is very likely that most people in Britain will have been in the close vicinity of Barrie’s work. The Roy of the Rovers (1976), Speed (1980), Scream! (1984), Wildcat (1988), and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (1990) are to name just a few of the projects that he was the founding editor of. How about that re-launch of Eagle in the early ’80s? Tiger anyone?
After seeing, by chance, that Barrie had joined Twitter (And naturally, already scooped up a rapidly growing fan base), we reached out to have a discussion about his career, and after having a slightly longer-than-planned chat on the phone, he kindly agreed to do a little interview with our team for the website. We have always found the trials and tribulations of the publishing industry in Britain to be a fascinating subject alongside the history of so many classic titles, so Barrie’s insight and experience were of particular interest to us, as I’m sure it is to you! So we gathered up a bunch of questions to put to this legend of the British Comic Industry…
Wow: You began your career with IPC/Fleetway in the early 1960s, how did you get into the comic industry. Was it something you had a burning desire to do or was it part of a wider plan to become a writer? Can you tell us something of what it was like to be involved in the bustling British comic business of the 60s?
Barrie: I started doing some journalism during my national service. When I came out of the army I looked for a job in journalism but I had lots of rejections. One day I was shown an advertisement which said: “Beginners wanted for children’s comics”. I applied for the job and was accepted to work for Fleetway Publications in London. Prior to that, I didn’t have any particular interest in comics. As a boy, I’d read Dandy, Beano, Radio Fun and the original Eagle. Once I got into the world of comics I found I was well suited to the job and the rest, as they say, is history. I started as a sub editor of Lion, where I was taught all about the job by Bernard Smith, the editor who had launched Lion. I shared a large office with the staff of Lion and Tiger. I then moved on to Tiger, which was then edited by David Gregory. He taught me the style of being an editor!
Wow: Having established yourself as a writer and editor did you consider branching out into novels or perhaps TV work?
Barrie: That’s a question I have always disliked. I was well suited to being a comics editor. It was a skilled, satisfying job. People in the TV industry couldn’t have done my job and I couldn’t have done theirs. Having said that, I did do some script ideas for TV, but that was in my spare time. I was concentrating on the comics industry.
Wow: You are of course well known for your involvement with Roy of the Rovers, being instrumental in Roy’s own comic. Did you have much to do with his earlier incarnation in Tiger. Did you work with Roy’s creator Frank Pepper?
Barrie: After working on Lion, I was transferred to Tiger as a sub editor, where I first met the brilliant Frank Pepper. I much admired his scripts on Roy, Captain Condor, Jet-Ace Logan and other top stories. A true gentleman.
Wow: Roy of the Rovers is rightly considered one of the great British comic strips. Can you tell us how you managed to relaunch him in his own comic?
Barrie: Roy was always the top story in Tiger. When I was asked to produce a new football comic, I suggested it be called ‘Roy of the Rovers’. As a precaution, I ran a Roy story in Tiger and in Roy’s own comic. Tiger didn’t suffer at all, so eventually I dropped Roy out of Tiger. The story Billy’s Boots took over as the top Tiger story. I should pay tribute to the original team who launched Roy in Tiger. Editor Derek Birnage, artist Joe Colquhoun and writer Frank Pepper. Lion editor Bernard Smith told me he thought up the Roy name.
Wow: How were you able to get so many celebrities to appear in the strip and on the photo covers? Did it become one of those things where people began to approach you requesting their chance to be involved? Is it true you asked Prince Phillip to write for Roy of the Rovers?
Barrie: I have always had a knack of persuading famous people to appear in my comics. I asked Morecambe and Wise, at the height of their fame, to appear in the comics. Eric, being a big football fan, was in the Roy comic and Ernie appeared in Tiger. I signed top names in sport to write for Tiger and appear in the comic. Big names like Gordon Banks, Trevor Francis, Malcolm Macdonald, Sir Alf Ramsey, Mick Channon, Jackie Charlton, Geoffrey Boycott, Tony Greig, Ian Botham and a few others. Yes, the Duke of Edinburgh wrote an article for the first issue of Roy of the Rovers. How did that happen? I wrote to Buckingham Palace and asked him. He said “Yes”.
Wow: Roy was brought back and rebooted a few years ago. What do you think of the new version?
Barrie: It’s Roy for the new era. I haven’t been involved with the relaunch.
Wow: Of course Roy was not your only footballing triumph. Can you tell us how you came up with Scorer? What is the background to the strip? Was it a chance for you to work on something a little racier than Roy Race?
Barrie: The Daily Mirror asked me to produce a new football strip featuring a hero who had a little more freedom than Roy. I showed the hero, Dave Storry, turn into a superstar, with all the trappings of a modern footballing hero. He had lots of girlfriends. Few people noticed that I was moving through the alphabet with the girls’ names. I started with Annabel, then Beverley, then Cindy…and so on. I went through the alphabet almost three times!
Wow: 22 years of Scorer. A great success by any measure. You wrote all of the stories I believe. How were you able to keep the series fresh, interesting and relevant?
Barrie: I tried to keep in touch with what was happening in football and sometimes, maybe, be ahead of the game. The series appeared six days a week. It had a run of over 6,000 episodes. I wrote them all. The series was always fresh because Dave had a life on and off the football pitch. The football was always tied-in with real-life fixtures, so it was always up to date. The succession of girls also kept things fresh!
Wow. Can you tell us something of your involvement in the revival of Eagle in the 1980s? We now know it was a great success but at the time did you think it was a risk to bring back a comic which had been so successful in the 1950s and early 60s but which had become somewhat tired and out dated by the end of its original run.
Barrie: I was a reader off the original Eagle and it was always my ambition to bring the title back. I managed to do this in 1982. I knew there would be lots of criticism from the original readers but we were bringing Eagle back for the new generation of readers and things had to change. We introduced photo-stories to make things a bit different. The only story we kept was Dan Dare with, of course, the Mekon! We also kept the famous Eagle cutaway drawing.
Wow: What did you think of the 1970s,very different Dan Dare that had appeared in 2000 AD and what was your thinking in adopting a more “traditional” version in the revived Eagle.
Barrie: I always preferred the traditional Dan Dare!
Wow: What did you think of the later versions of Dare which appeared in Revolver and in the comics published by Virgin comics.
Barrie: I didn’t see them!
Wow: Can you tell us about Scream? If was something of a departure from the typical British comic of its time.
Barrie: I launched Scream in 1984. Previously, I had always edited comics which were a family-buy. Scream was a bit different. As we said on the cover it was “Not for the Nervous”. `There was another cover line which said “Just when you thought it was safe to sleep in the dark”! There was a good team of writers and artists contributing to Scream and I think we produced something special. It had a very short life, however. Partly due to some industrial action and partly due, I think, to the publishers being a little concerned with the content. The readers liked it and I’m delighted it is still very well remembered.
Wow: Which stories did you enjoy writing?
Barrie: I really liked writing scripts. The Hard Man in Roy of the Rovers was fun to do, with lots happening thanks to arrival in the story of manager Viktor Boskovic. Top art from Doug Maxted. Scorer, of course, was brilliant to write for 22 years, with great artwork from Barry Mitchell, David Sque and John Gillatt. Brilliant colouring from David Pugh. Death Wish was a story I wrote which appeared in Speed, Tiger and Eagle. Top artwork by the Vanyo brothers. The brothers also illustrated the Storm Force scripts I wrote for Battle. I wrote the introduction Turbo Jones story for Wildcat, drawn by Ian Kennedy, as well as the Loner series illustrated by David Pugh.I wrote Roy of the Rovers for Today newspaper, with art by Kim Raymond.
Wow: How would you sum up your time as a writer/ editor and do you have any words of advice for young people looking to get into the comic industry now?
Barrie: I enjoyed every minute of editing and writing. I had the best job in the world. The comic industry is very different these days. New writers and artists should always remember the audience they are writing for. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
Wow: Is there a comic strip/book which you deem to be amongst your personal all time favorites? Also is there any work from an artist or writer that you perhaps something you feel under the radar or are still somewhat underappreciated?
Barrie: That is the most difficult question. I was lucky to work with contributors who produced brilliant work. I can’t single out one artist or writer, or one story, that is undervalued.
Wow: Our final question. You have published a couple of books in the last few years, including the very insightful Real Roy Of The Rovers Stuff. Can you tell us a little about them, and if you have any more work in the pipeline?
Barrie: My two books are “Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff”, which is all about the time I spent on Roy of the Rovers. “Comic Book Hero” is about the other comics I edited.You can still buy the books online and Kindle editions are still available. I have finished my third book, which is my autobiography, which includes a long chapter on the comics, talking about people and events not mentioned in my first two books. Awaiting a publisher for that!
We want to thank Barrie for taking the time to do an interview with us, what better way to celebrate our British Comic Fest in Stockport than with an interview with one of the key figures in our comic industry history here in the UK! It certainly was a pleasure and we very much look forward to reading his future work!
You can grab a copy of Real Roy of the Rovers on our website and in our stores now! It’s a fantastic read that will please many a nostalgic British comic fan and comes highly recommended by our team! Learn a little history about Britain’s biggest fictional sporting hero by picking up a copy from us! We’ve even put together a bundle for you. Buy the book and get a FREE vintage comic that Barrie has worked on alongside! Exclusively here!
Do you have any fond memories of Barrie’s work across the years? Let us know in the comments!
Interview conducted by Wow Comix