THE BIG INTERVIEW
Paul Trevillion’s trusted pencil was at the ready.
With a piece of paper lying on his work desk waiting to be used, the famed artist paused for a second.
Tasked with sketching the latest ‘Roy of the Rovers’ comic strip for the magazine ‘Tiger’ in the 1950s, the young Trevillion glanced skywards for inspiration.
Creating an illustration befitting of the ultimate fictional footballing god was no easy task and Trevillion knew his drawing skills were set for the severest of examinations.
As he twirled his pencil between his fingers, his mind was suddenly engulfed with visions of just one man – Preston North End’s greatest ever player Sir Tom Finney.
“When I used to draw Roy of the Rovers, Tom Finney was the footballer I used to picture in my head,” said Londoner Trevillion.
“He was a real-life Roy of the Rovers. Tom could do things with a football which Roy of the Rovers could never do. He was better than Roy Race.
“People always ask me if I can name a footballer who was better than Roy of the Rovers and I always say, ‘Yes and his name is Tom Finney’.
“He was the greatest player there’s ever been. I will argue with anybody about that. He was the man.”
Sketching the world-renowned Roy Race of Melchester Rovers – using Finney as his inspiration – was just one of many pieces of work Trevillion, now aged 80, has undertaken in an extraordinary 60 years-plus career.
As well as being the creator of the popular ‘You Are The Ref’ strip which appeared in various different publications, such as the Shoot football magazine and the People newspaper during the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and which famously made a comeback online in the Observer in 2006, Trevillion has spent a lifetime mesmerising people with his art.
His ability to produce life-like pictures using a mere pencil as his tool means his name will forever be celebrated.
“People ask me how I can draw and I can’t tell them how,” said Trevillion, who is nicknamed the ‘Master of the Movement’ because of the way he can depict sports stars in action.
“When I was a little boy, I could draw before I could walk or talk.
“When I was two-years-old I would pick up a pencil and draw.
“At the time, I used to think it was the pencil that did it – I did not think it was me.
“When I was a boy, I did not have a toy or a teddy bear, I used to go to bed with a pencil.
“My mum and dad used to have to prise it out of my hand ever so slightly when I was asleep because I used to hold the pencil so tightly and they then would put it under my pillow.
“Even now I still sleep with a pencil under my pillow.
“For a long time as a boy, I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t the pencil that was doing the drawings. Sometimes I would draw and it didn’t happen for me so I would look at the pencil and say, ‘What are you doing wrong?’.
Trevillion, who has also worked has stand-up comedian during his life, has been fortunate to combine his God-given artistic ability with his love of sport – particularly football.
He has drawn some of the greatest sporting names in the world, including Pele, Tiger Woods, Sachin Tendulkar, Andy Murray and George Best to name just a few.
And his illustrations have appeared in virtually every national paper in the land.
However, unknown to many, his career in the newspaper industry nearly ended before it had barely begun – but it was a certain Sir Tom Finney who saved the day.
Having landed a job working for the prestigious Weekly Sporting Review and Show Business newspaper – which was based in London – Trevillion was commissioned to produce two pictures for a front page blurb previewing the 1954 FA Cup final at Wembley.
“I could not believe it – I was 20 and working for the Weekly Sporting Review and Show Business,” Trevillion said.
“This was the newspaper of the time.
“You could go in there and you wouldn’t believe who you would run into – it could be Norman Wisdom or Max Bygraves one day or Bruce Forsyth the next.
“I remember seeing Joan Collins – she was so beautiful.
“And you would get all these different sportsmen coming in as well, especially footballers from the London clubs.
“I used to be in total awe of all of them.
“I remember when I first started there it was the 1954 FA Cup final, West Bromwich Albion versus Preston North End.
“The editor said to me, ‘We need a front cover, can you do it?’. I said I could, so he said, ‘Right, we need a picture of Len Millard – who was the captain of West Bromwich – and Tom Finney’.
“So off I went up to The Hawthorns and then Deepdale to see Millard first and then Finney.
“I remember thinking this was my big chance.
“But the thing was, I had no idea how far Preston was from West Bromwich.
“I had arranged to meet Len in the morning and then Tom at lunch.
“I arrived at West Bromwich and caught up with Len.
“He was very friendly and I started doing some sketchings.
“Before I knew it, the time was half past 10 and I still had to get all the way up to Preston to meet Tom.
“It was a very long journey from West Bromwich to Preston but at the time I had no idea.
“I don’t drive and there were no motorways in those days.
“I was supposed to meet Tom at half past 12 but despite my driver – who was a friend of mine, virtually breaking the land speed record – half past 12 came and went and I was still in the car on my way to Preston.
“I was beginning to panic and I kept saying, ‘Come on we have to get there, I have to do a drawing of Tom Finney for the paper’.
“By the time it was one o’clock, we were in sight of Preston and so we started to stop and ask people for the quickest way to Deepdale.
“But that was another problem. When we started to ask people in Preston and I told them that I was meeting Tom Finney at Deepdale, they all wanted to tell me a story about him.
“I remember thinking, ‘I would love to listen to all your stories but we need to go – we’re running late’.
“Everybody seemed to have a Tom Finney story.
“We eventually got to Deepdale and I just thought, ‘I’ve blown it’.
“I just thought, ‘I’m in big trouble here – my editor is not going to be very happy’.
“I went in to Deepdale and said, ‘I had a meeting with Tom Finney at half past 12 – it’s now half past one. Do you have his phone number so I could phone him to apologise’.
“The person said, ‘There’s no need to do that, he’s outside on the pitch – he’s waiting for you’. I couldn’t believe it. I thought the person was winding me up.
“They took me outside and Tom was there still in his kit kicking a football around.
“I said, ‘Tom, I am so sorry, I’m over a hour late’.
“He just said, ‘It’s okay, you have come a long way from London – I can wait’.
“Tom Finney – he saved my career.”
The drawing of the PNE legend, alongside Millard, were published on the front cover of the newspaper on Friday, April 23, 1954 – the week before the cup final.
While he has gone on to sketch nearly every player of any importance from that time to the modern day, Trevillion – who is holding an exhibition of his work at the Strand Gallery, in London from June 18 to July 5 – will always treasure that very first meeting, and drawing, of Finney.
He is due to return to Preston on Thursday, June 5, as the guest speaker at the Sir Tom Finney Tribute Dinner, which is being held in the Invincibles Lounge at Deepdale.
A number of his original pieces of artwork will be on display on the night and the great artist admits it’s a night he is eagerly anticipating.
“I can’t wait to come up to Preston next month – it’s going to be a great night,” he said.
“I will never forget Sir Tom, not just because he was such a great player but he was also the perfect gentleman.
“I remember that day I met him for the first time at Deepdale, kicking a football about and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
“He would run with the ball and it looked like his feet never touched the ball – he would just do these little deft and subtle touches.
“I got a masterclass from Tom that day and I was only 20, I was that young I didn’t really appreciate what I was seeing.
“I remember Tom saying to me, ‘I wish it was the cup final today Paul’.
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’, to which he said, ‘It’s just one of those days when everything seems to be going right with the ball at my feet.Do you have days like that when you are drawing Paul? When you have a pencil in your hand?’.
“I said, ‘Yes I do’.
“That was interesting because as everyone knows he didn’t have his best game in the cup final and Preston lost 3-2.”
NEXT WEEK...Drawing Royalty, Winston Churchill and ‘You are the Ref’ – read the second part of the Paul Trevillion story.