Saturday 1st October 2016
A look back by Dan Farrimond
The only certainty was that lovingly prepared crib sheets and schedules would at some point be ripped to a thousand pieces in favour of making things up at a femtosecond’s notice.
But this was (mostly) intentional, because it’s precisely how Digitiser itself was run. They might have been orchestrated chaos, but the pages of Britain’s foremost teletext video games magazine were never uninteresting.
Mr Biffo himself admitted he experienced night terrors in which not a single person attended Block Party 2016. But by the time he arrived at the real life venue in Cambridge, a six-strong team of dedicated helper chimps was already transforming the classroom area into a geek cave for daytime activities.
In this musty corner: a timeline of teletext video software loaded onto ageing BBC Masters and pristine Raspberry Pi microcomputers. In this dusty corner: two great towers of VHS-teletext recovery equipment piled with mildly jaundiced Betamax and VHS recorders.
In this crusty corner: panellists and punters munching their egg sandwiches in preparation for a morning of true teletext tech-ery.
After the big teletextfast came the first expert panel. Mort Smith, formerly of Ceefax, was teamed with Peter Kwan, currently of Raspberry Pi teletext system Teefax. Their combined experience of 40+ years working in and around the medium was a perfect database of teletext reminiscences.
Did editors really use Ceefax to send home secret messages? And did eager readers really phone the office to correct mistakes?
Next up was a demonstration of the magical VHS-teletext recovery process with digital (analogue?) archivist Jason Robertson. Who would have thought that the teletext signal hidden within off-air recordings could be read and compiled into a fully browsable service once more?
So far, so cheerfully predictable. But after a short break for bourbon biscuits, the first Digitiser-related guests made a panel appearance.
Though it was originally intended to be about the medium of teletext, conversation quickly turned to Violet Berlin’s real name and that time Tim Moore was dragged around Spain on his ass (it was a donkey, in case you’re wondering.)
But as mentioned before, this type of deviation was totally fine.
A nearby television recovering teletext from a recording of The Man With Two Brains provided a useful diversion when the host forgot which question he was going to ask next... twice.
There was barely time to discover what teletext pages Jason had been recovering that very afternoon, before all asses (of the non-donkey sort) were shifted to the deceptively spacious main gallery. This is where Mr Rose would shortly be infecting innocent minds with crude depictions of the Queen, Steve Jobs and Timmy Mallett.
The classroom area was finally vacated when an exhibitor’s BBC Master began to smoke like a Prohibition era detective – apparently the Block Party was just too hot for some. But don’t worry, folks, I’m told it’s an easy job to replace the cracked startup cap.
It was time for Biffo to take over. Not to fix the busted microcomputer, but host an absurdist Reeves and Mortimer-esque crescendo to the day’s entertainment.
Following the world premiere of some rather odd advertisements (Digitisements?), stand-up comedian Chris Coltrane compered a relatively sensible but still highly enjoyable History of Digitiser chat. This is where a startling revelation or three came to light, including the fact that Digi content was indeed made up at the slap of a thigh.
But Quiz-Me-Do was (at some points literally) crazed Nerf gunfire with illogical jokes, suggestive charades and grown men tossing slugs at Shigeru Miyamoto. Yes, really.
And I doubt many will have seen a boggle-eyed Peter Molyneux floored by a flying hot dog before. Or YouTube megastar Stuart Ashen fumbling under people’s chairs for bits of paper to feed Julian ‘Jaz’ Rignall’s gaping cake hole.
The raffle prizes were just as novel. One lucky gentleman, when asked how he would transport his new life size cardboard cutout of Mr T home, simply replied: “I don’t know”. The last anyone saw of our corrugated friend, he was being wheeled around the car park in a rubbish bin.
Many filtered out into deepest Cambridge as the chiptune Gamerdisco drew to a close, but a select few resilient hangers on remained until well after midnight. 1:15AM was declared the official cut off time, coincidentally just after all pizza and emergency biscuits had been exhausted.
With no more fuel to remain standing, the last bastion crept out in search of sustenance. Those that successfully navigated the unlit, non-pedestrianised roads of Cambridge Industrial Estate made it out alive...
…Until the goujons began to take effect, that is. That’s the last time I trust Joojon John’s catering!