It was the year I released a book, and had a relatively unprecendented three comedy pilots all go into production, one after another. It was also the year I reunited with Tim - we'd floated the idea of us working together again, and been accepted onto the writing team for The Armstrong & Miller Show (in the end, only one of our sketches was used).
I was also asked by Peter Serafinowicz to submit ideas to his forthcoming sketch show (they got rejected for being too dark - although a couple of them ended up being used in Biffovision).
I had few ambitions when it came to my career. It had happened without any great degree of planning or forethought. I did, however, want to work for the BBC, and that - ideally - I'd write a primetime BBC1 sitcom for them. What I didn't know, is that nobody ever wants to write a primetime BBC1 sitcom, because a) They're virtually impossible to do well, and b) They're about as high-profile a gig as it's possible to get, and your career will probably never recover once it flops, as it inevitably will.
For me, the BBC1 sitcom was the holy grail. I was never much interested in being cool, or edgy, or the next Chris Morris. I'd never had much in the way of credibility, so cosy domesticity was far more comfortable. Or that's how it feels to me.
Therefore, for all my lack of ambition, I did like the idea of writing something that was popular with a mass audience. Something which united people, Only Fools And Horses-style. That could be watched by the entire family.
As seemingly the only person in the entire industry who felt this way, any idea I had to this effect was a shoe-in.
And so it was for Too Much Too Young.
Too Much Too Young had been commissioned by Hattrick off the back of Is This It.
Almost immediately, there was interest from the BBC. The premise - young parents with older kids - appealed because it felt, to them, fresh... but also mainstream and domestic.
My Family had been rumbling on for years, and received little love within either the BBC or the wider industry. It continued to be popular with audiences, but nobody seemed to understand why it was popular. They wanted a replacement. Almost immediately, Too Much Too Young was groomed to be it.
Getting the pilot commission was relatively straightforward. Casting the pilot seemed to happen a lot quicker than it had with the Is This It readthrough. I knew who I wanted to play the mum: Maxine Peake. The dad was suggested as a piece of strategic casting in the shape of Dylan Moran.
Maxine came in to read for the part, but stressed that she didn't want to do comedy. She'd liked the script, and - because she is a lovely sort of person - basically just came in to say that. Of course, she read the part and absolutely nailed it.
Hattrick boss Jimmy Mulville then proceeded to wear her down until she agreed to do the pilot. Which she eventually did on the basis that she wouldn't commit to a series. In fact, she ruled out doing a series altogether. However, Jimmy was confident that, if we got the series commission, he could convince her to change her mind.
Dylan never read for his role, but he was keen to do something a little more mainstream after Black Books. He had a family by that point, but felt that Too Much Too Young had just enough of a quirky edge that he wouldn't be betraying his roots by doing it.
We were all excited by the thought of Dylan Moran on BBC1. So we took a trip to Wolverhampton to watch him perform a gig, and meet with him after the show.
Obviously, I'd loved Dylan in Black Books. I'm not quite as big a fan of his stand-up, which seems to me to be a lot of mumbling, followed by him shouting "WINE!", then some more mumbling.
Nevertheless, I'd enjoyed the show and was looking forward to meeting him. We gathered in his dressing room, before heading out for pizza. Pretty much immediately there was tension between us. I likened it to a couple of alpha gorillas sizing one another up. Dylan very much saw himself as a writer, and here was another writer encroaching on his territory.
Things relaxed a little over pizza, following interminable smalltalk. Eventually we got onto Too Much Too Young. Dylan committed to doing the show, without fully praising what I'd written. He'd had "some ideas" about the script. Hattrick's head of development - Mario - later told me not to worry about that; Dylan wouldn't be allowed to touch the script. I wasn't confident, but Mario would prove to be true to his word.
Auditions turned to the other members of the cast - we found three brilliant young actors to portray Dylan and Maxine's kids, with Steve Edge and Juliette Cowan as their best friends. Dates were pencilled in for the recording of the pilot - location stuff would happen in the run-up to a recording before a live studio audience at the old Granada Studios in Manchester. The prospect of the latter was faintly terrifying.
Furthermore... I had another pilot commissioned by this point - and sod's law it was going to start filming the day after Too Much Too Young. It never rains...
I spent the week shuttling back and forth between Manchester and London, performing last-minute rewrites on both shows. After rehearsals for Too Much Too Young, it was felt that there was a major issue with the last couple of scenes.
A crisis meeting was held in a restaurant between myself, Mario, the producer, Dylan and Maxine. Oh, and Dylan's wife, who he'd insisted be given the role of script editor.
Tensions boiled over.
I've tried to be as transparent and open as I can with this series, but there have been some aspects or anecdotes that I've needed to leave out.
The telling of this story will be one of those times.
Suffice to say, the week running up to the recording of Too Much Too Young was insane. Several people told me it was the most stressful thing they'd ever worked on. One member of the production team had a breakdown. There was so much riding on it, for everyone involved.
Regardless, I liked Dylan. I think he liked me. We both felt sort of slightly apart from the whole entertainment industry thing. Nevertheless, it felt to me as if there was an unspoken friction between us. Had I been the sort of person who threw toys out of the pram, I doubt we'd have avoided clashing. Unfortunately, me being a bit placid and too-nice-for-my-own-good didn't give him an outlet. I think he liked me, but didn't want to like me.
Without going into detail, I believe there was a lot riding on Too Much Too Young for Dylan. For whatever reason, he'd never had a follow-up to Black Books, and being in a primetime BBC1 show, where he played a doting father and husband, appealed to him. Plus... being a star, and me being nobody... he probably reckoned on nudging me out of the picture.
He chose to test this during our crisis meeting, by reading out a potential solution to the aforementioned troublesome scene, which featured an exchange between his character (Angus) and Maxine's character (Shell) along these lines:
ANGUS: We should do something to celebrate. What about a takeaway? Fancy a duck?
ANGUS: No - a peking duck!
There was silence around the table. My two producers said nothing. I abhor a conversational vacuum at the best of times, and tried to fill it, but all that spilled from my lips was a tight squeak, while I kept my eyes focused on the table.
Dylan seemed embarrassed and angry. I was just confused how the star and co-writer of Black Books had written something so utterly... y'know.
"No - a peking duck!"
I was heading to London the following morning for the readthrough of my other sitcom, and returning that same evening to Manchester.
I was concerned that - in my absence - Dylan would take control, tear up my script, and appoint himself emperor. Mario had assured me before I left that this wouldn't happen. And I was determined that it wouldn't happen: I rewrote the tricky ending on the train back, and nailed it.
I got a cab from Manchester Picadilly station to the studio, where the cast had been rehearsing. The second I walked in, I could tell something was awry.
Dylan was pacing like an angry bear, and Mario was clutching the script to his chest like a shield. He took me aside, and said that Dylan wasn't happy. Mario had needed to speak with him about sticking to the script, and he'd since mumbled and grumbled his way through rehearsals. He was being uncooperative and difficult. I chose to keep my distance.
Eventually, Dylan left, and I was roped in to be his hand model stand-in for a sequence in the opening credits; one of only three times I've appeared in anything I've written.
Still, for all the stresses around Too Much Too Young, I don't think I've ever been so excited. The scale was bigger than anything I'd written before; we'd rented out a cinema for a scene, and booked out a car park... though it was virtually ruined by an over-eager extra, whose inability to tone down his Chuckle Brothers-esque double take became the focus of every shot he was in.
The studio sets were amazing - I thought they might cut corners, it being a pilot, but I later learned that the BBC had so much faith in Too Much Too Young that it was the most expensive comedy pilot they'd ever made at that point.
The recording went as well as I could've hoped. I spent most of it watching from the back of the audience; the laughs landed where they were meant to land. Dylan behaved and performed like a trooper - fuelled by having a live audience responding to him. The kids were brilliant. Maxine was everything I knew she'd be.
That said, how a half hour sitcom - with a big chunk of it already captured on tape - can sprawl into a three hour recording I'll never know. By the end, much of the Sunday night crowd - lured in no doubt by the draw of Dylan Moran - had drifted away. Nevertheless, it was declared a success. I got very drunk, even though I had to be up at 5am the following morning, to get the train back to London, for the filming of Now The Weather.
Too Much Too Young was edited, and I was very pleased with the end result. It was exactly what we
wanted it to be: a mainstream sitcom, which didn't feel old-fashioned. We anticipated the green light.
And then the problems really started.
Maxine was true to her word, and confirmed to Hattrick that she'd had a lot of fun, but didn't want to do a series; she wanted to focus on dramatic roles.
We suddenly had to recast the mum, a task made all the more difficult because Maxine had been perfect for it. Due to the delay, the BBC thought they might as well use the time to focus group-test the pilot. Word came back that audiences didn't like Dylan. He came across as too grumpy and cruel, apparently.
For all the tensions, I'd loved Dylan's performance. I didn't much relish the thought of butting heads with him when we went to series, but nevertheless... in my eyes he was exactly as I'd wanted the character to be. Not in the eyes of the focus group, or - now - a nervous Peter Fincham, controller of BBC1.
The message was passed onto Dylan's agent that he wasn't going to be part of the series, who fired back with the news that he had hated working on the show anyway, and didn't like any of us. I still refuse to believe that. I think he did like me, at least, and had enjoyed working on the show.
Whatever the case, we now had to recast our two lead roles. But it was okay - because we were still going to get a commission. Consequently, Hattrick set me to work on the remaining episodes of the series, while the recasting took place.
Somehow... this took the best part of a year. By which time the kids were too big to play their parts - so then we had to recast them too.
We eventually settled on Dean Lennox Kelley - ironically, Maxine Peake's on-screen husband in Shameless - and Jesse "Kat Slater" Wallace, as Angus and Shell.
They were very different performers to Dylan and Maxine, but as close as we'd come to matching the chemistry and type of delivery they'd given.
We held a read through for Peter Fincham, who gave us a verbal green light the next day: Too Much Too Young was a go. We were going to make a series!
And the following day Peter Fincham resigned, for upsetting Buckingham Palace, after misrepresenting The Queen by claiming she'd stormed off in "a huff" during the filming of the BBC's documentary series A Year With The Queen.
Commissioning at the BBC was put on hold. BBC1 wouldn't get a new permanent controller for a year, by which time all momentum had been lost, as far as Too Much Too Young went. In the interim, Hattrick had been developing a show called Outnumbered, which was an immediate hit, and - I admit, begrudgingly - did a far better job of updating the family sitcom than Too Much Too Young did.
Even so, Hattrick boss Jimmy Mulville was furious that the re-casting had taken so long. "We had an open goal, and missed it," he was reported to have fumed to Mario.
The BBC still wanted a show like Too Much Too Young, though. Once commissioning resumed, they ordered In With The Flynns, which had an almost identical premise, and the also-a-bit-similar Life of Riley.
I later bumped into Life of Riley's creator, Georgia Pritchett - who I'd worked with on the CITV show Barking - at the readthrough for another show we were both writing on. She asked me what the status was with Too Much Too Young, as she'd seen the pilot and really enjoyed it.
"Where did you see the pilot?" I asked, baffled.
"Oh. BBC Comedy showed it to me. They said it was exactly the sort of show they wanted, and told me to go away and write something like that..."
To be fair, she felt terrible about it. Her and me both.
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART ONE: WE TWO VETS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART TWO: HUSK & HORNBLOWER - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART THREE: NORTH OF WATFORD - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FOUR: KNIFE & WIFE - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FIVE: SOOTY - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART SIX: CROSSROADS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART SEVEN: EASTENDERS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART EIGHT: IS THIS IT - BY MR BIFFO