MAN WHO LAUNCHED ROY OF THE ROVERS

The Burgess Hill man who launched the world's most famous cartoon sports hero has died at 90 after a long struggle against poor health.

Derek Birnage kicked off the career of Roy of the Rovers in 1954 as editor of the new Tiger comic.

He died as fans prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the football hero's launch into stardom with Melchester Rovers, who became the fictional heroes of millions of schoolchildren over the years.

Mr Birnage, who lived with his wife Audrey at Chanctonbury Court, Burgess Hill, and previously lived in nearby Chanctonbury Way, would interview Bobby Charlton, then a starlet with the Manchester United Busby Babes of the mid-50s, each fortnight to get ideas for Roy of the Rovers. In 1960 Charlton was announced to be writing for the comic, but it was Mr Birnage who actually wrote the column.

He was the co-creator with Frank Pepper of Roy and one of the script writers for the strip, and used to write the stories on the train travelling up to London to meet printing deadlines.

Mr Birnage edited Tiger for a decade and then took over the Sunday Companion church magazine, which his father, who died when Derek was 13, had once worked on.

He kept the first paste-page of the comic and the first printed edition.

The comic closed in 1993, with Roy suffering an horrific injury.

In his later years Mr Birnage worked as a clerk at the former Van Den Berghs headquarters in Sussex House, Burgess Hill, where he was known for his polite and gentle manner.

For many years Mr Birnage fought against arthritis, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. He died at home in Burgess Hill on January 18. He leaves two sons, Richard and Paul, and daughter Sheila, and his funeral service will be held at the Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton, on Tuesday at 1.45pm.

Paul Birnage said: "He was extremely proud at launching the career of Roy of the Rovers and followed his story over the years. He also wrote for the comic under the pen name Frank Winsor. We still have the original typewriter he used to type the scripts. We have been touched that so many people have told us the same thing about him. They all used the same word about him, that he was nice to people."

The family has suggested that instead of sending flowers people may wish to donate to St Peter and St James Hospice at Wivelsfield Green, through R A Brooks and Son, 35, Wivelsfield Road, Haywards Heath.