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Κυριακή, 22 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Barrie Tomlinson remembers Roy of the Rovers Christmas past

Roy of the Rovers editor Barrie Tomlinson talks about his Christmas memories to Mark Towers for the online fanzine "Racey's Rocket" in 2008.

As Editor and Group Editor of children‟s comics, it was always my policy to feature the big celebrities of the day, from both television and sport. I began this policy with TIGER and carried it on when I launched ROY OF THE ROVERS. I figured that television was playing a big part in the lives of young people and the only way we could fight it was to join in ourselves and involve the titles in the world of television. When I later launched the New EAGLE, that policy was heavily criticised and I was accused of being “star-struck”. I had to change my plans to put top celebs in EAGLE. But that‟s another story! Let's get back to TIGER and ROY OF THE ROVERS...


There was a time when Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were the very top show business celebrities and it was a massive scoop to include them in the pages of the two comics, on many occasions. I became great friends with Ernie and he came to many of the TIGER events, such as the Tiger Sports Star of the Year presentation lunch in 1978. The winner that year was cricketer Geoff Boycott. He and Ernie got on really well (they're both from Yorkshire!) and we had lots of laughs at that lunch. Geoff went on to write regular articles for TIGER and, of course, to become Chairman of Melchester Rovers.

A year later, Ernie returned to award the Tiger trophy to goalkeeper Peter Shilton. I actually used a photograph of Ernie and myself, taken at that lunch, on one of my Christmas cards, just a few years ago. I liked it because it showed me making a speech and Ernie laughing at one of my jokes! Back to Mr Boycott: Despite what you may have read in a recent book, Geoff‟s appointment was something special. He was a top name in the world of sport and he really got involved in being Melchester Chairman. The readers enjoyed him being Chairman and it was a partnership which brought us great publicity and success. But I‟m supposed to be talking about Christmas! We had already featured articles by Morecambe and Wise in TIGER and I decided a real scoop would be to have Eric in ROY OF THE ROVERS at Christmas and Ernie in TIGER. We did this for Christmas 1976. It worked well!

The comics always went to press very early, usually six weeks before the publication date, so we had to plan things well in advance. It was early November when we started to get things done. Eric's son was visiting Fleetway Publications (the Publishers of TIGER and ROY) on the very day we planned to drive to Eric's home in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. So we all travelled together. Alas, there was a mix-up on our expected time of arrival and Eric was not happy when we arrived in Harpenden later than he expected. But things were quickly sorted out and as soon as the camera appeared, Eric was his usual self, posing for a hilarious and exclusive set of photographs, in a Santa outfit we had brought with us, complete with boots.

Our Roy of the Rovers cutout was also in attendance and Eric posed with Roy, giving him the famous double-handed face slap, for which Eric was so famous. There were also photos of Eric reading ROY OF THE ROVERS and trying to fit his glasses on to Roy's knee. I was delighted to be shown in ROY OF THE ROVERS helping Eric take off his Santa boots. The photo caption suggested I was pulling his leg! (That was a joke!).

In his article, Eric informed us that “I could have been a schoolboy international in my boyhood days. There was just one snag - I never went to school!” Later, Eric told of his skill on the football pitch: “I always wore my shirt the wrong way round. It was a clever ploy, because the opposition never knew if I was coming or going!”

My visit to Ernie Wise‟s beautiful house overlooking the River Thames, went more smoothly! We took some great photos of Ernie dressed as Santa, taking a copy of TIGER ANNUAL out of his sack and sitting at a typewriter creating one of the plays “what he wrote”!

Ernie's article contained a story about Eric: “I remember one occasion when he acted as umpire in a showbiz cricket match. He insisted on being called "Ref" and turned up in footballing kit, complete with whistle. He had two batsman out for off-side...” I was proud to appear in that issue of TIGER, with Ernie putting his Santa beard half over my face, which was thought to be an improvement! I only met Eric that one time. Ernie attended a lot of our functions. I recall after one gathering, going to dinner, with Ernie sitting opposite me and Paul Daniels next to me. It was a very jovial night to remember, as were the other occasions I met and dined with Ernie and his wife.

On the occasion of Roy‟s 30th birthday, Ernie wrote: “Many good wishes on your 30 years. I send you sunshine and laughter!” Morecambe and Wise certainly did bring us LOTS of sunshine and laughter...plus lots of entertainment. Hopefully just like TIGER and ROY OF THE ROVER did! It was an honour to be part of it!

Barrie Tomlinson December, 2008.

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