Derek Birnage: Editor of Tiger comic and Roy of the Rovers comic strip writer

Derek Arthur William Birnage, who was born in London on 13 June, 1913, died in Burgess Hill, West Sussex on 18 January.

Derek 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 for a further five.

The son of a newspaper editor, Birnage found his metier 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, Sussex, in the late Forties, and editing his father Frank’s old newspaper, the Sunday Companion, from 1963 to 1970.

From his 20s onwards his career revolved around the children’s division of Amalgamated Press, initially as a sub-editor and writer for Schooldays and Champion in the Thirties and from the Fifties to the Seventies as an editor of its comics.

Throughout the Fifties comics were a publishing phenomenon, and in 1954 Amalgamated, having a hit on its hands with the Lion adventure comic, launched a sports oriented companion title called, naturally enough, Tiger.

Birnage, the editor, and 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’s masterly ear for dialogue and grasp of football club culture, was a combination that created an enduring popular icon.

From 1959 until his departure in 1963 Birnage handled the writing himself, despite it being credited to 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.

He leaves his widow Audrey Waterman and two sons and a daughter.

Alan Woollcombe, ©The Independent

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