Derek Birnage

Founding editor of 'Tiger' comic and co-creator of Roy of the Rovers
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The Independent Online

Derek Arthur William Birnage, editor and comic-strip writer: born London 13 June 1913; married 1954 Audrey Waterman (two sons, one daughter); died Burgess Hill, West Sussex 18 January 2004.

Derek Birnage was the real-life "manager" of the fictional football star Roy of the Rovers. As founding editor of Tiger comic, Birnage helped create and develop the character, including writing his exploits for four years and being in overall charge of him for a further five.

The son of a newspaper editor, Birnage found his métier working mainly for one publisher, interspersed with breaks for the Second World War (six years in the Royal Signals Corps), running the family toyshop in Bexhill in Sussex (in the late 1940s), and editing his father Frank's old paper, the Sunday Companion (1963-70). From his twenties onwards his career revolved around the children's division of Amalgamated Press, initially as a sub-editor and writer for the school papers Schooldays and Champion in the 1930s and from the 1950s to the 1970s as an editor of their line of children's comics.

Throughout the 1950s comics were a publishing phenomenon, and in 1954 Amalgamated, having a hit on their hands with the Lion adventure comic, launched a sports-oriented companion title called, naturally enough, Tiger. Birnage, the editor, and the group editor Reg Eves wanted a fantasy footballer for the comic's figurehead. What they got, thanks to the writer Frank Pepper and the artist (and subsequent scripter) Joe Colquhoun, was Roy of the Rovers: Pepper's brilliant concept and Colquhoun's masterly ear for dialogue and grasp of football-club culture combined to create an enduring popular icon.

From 1959 until his departure in 1963 Birnage handled the writing himself, despite it being credited to the footballer Bobby Charlton for two of those years. During Birnage's editorship he wrote various strips and saw Tiger swallow up two rival titles, Champion in 1955 and Comet in 1959.

From 1963 onwards Birnage briefly edited many more children's comics and annuals, as well as the declining Sunday Companion newspaper, but would never again achieve such éclat, and by 1972 he was out of the industry, a victim of redundancy.

Alan Woollcombe

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