I remember the first moment I was introduced to Tim Moore; smart shirt, braces, long hair, loads of earrings. Our features editor once described him as "Teletext's style guru". He was trendy and I wasn't. He was a bit posh, and I wasn't. He was cool, and I wasn't. He was well educated, and I wasn't. I'd been a teenage dad, and he hadn't.
Initially, I found him a bit stand-offish, if I'm honest. I was only 21, and Tim was quite a bit older than me. I wanted him to like me, not least because we'd been forced together to write the new Teletext video games section that I'd proposed.
On paper, we shouldn't have been mates, but we shared a compatible sense of humour, a similar outlook on life, and it's probably fair to say that neither of us were terribly well-suited to the structure of office work. Neither of us were particularly ambitious either I don't think; we just wanted to enjoy what we were doing.
At some point in those first couple of months at Teletext I started to consider Tim a mate. Though he wasn't as avid a gamer as I had been, I know he shared my feeling that we were incredibly lucky to have landed a job writing about games. We both really appreciated our good fortune.
In some respects, we were the worst possible combination of people. In all other respects... without Tim and I working together, Digitiser would never have happened in the way that it did.
One other thing Tim and I had in common is that we also really liked Teletext's first editor John Holme, and it was probably the end of John's time at Teletext, and the nature in which it ended, that turned us from being - relatively - loyal, well-behaved employees, to getting labelled as "trouble-makers".
Thinking about it now, we never quite forgave John's successor, and the rest of his senior management team, for the way in which John was sent packing; we never even got a chance to say goodbye. One day he was there, and the next he was gone. The shock of that, the injustice we felt - on my part at least - simmered inside me, and has likely coloured my view of careerist management trajectories ever since.
John was incredibly posh, a proper old-school Fleet Street guy, who chain-smoked in his office. He was straight-talking, his language florid and fruity. He was incredibly charismatic, and earned respect because he wasn't a game-player. Also, I always thought he looked a bit like Bruce Forsyth.
It was John who told me that I'd be writing Digitiser, and - unlike later Teletext managers - John was very much on our side from the off. There was something warm and approachable about him. I felt safe with John.
Safe enough that - by digging my heels in during my interview - I ended up as the only member of Teletext staff with an ongoing contract. One day, I also told John that Tim and I needed cash every two weeks to go and play arcade games. He signed off on that without second thought.
When John was "let go" a year or so later, I was gutted. We'd lost an ally, and the shock felt around the office was tangible. Working at Teletext, after that point, ceased to be as freewheeling and enjoyable. In some respects, the loss of John was as significant as when Tim was booted out, years later.
The first two games I can recall reviewing for Digitiser were Bart's Nightmare and Greendog The Beached Surfer Dude, both of which I'd picked up second hand. I've written before about how my writing style was influenced by the games mags of the day; I didn't really have anything else to base it on.
I'd enjoyed writing when I'd been at school, though my imagination had usually outstripped my actual ability. My short-term attention-span didn't help; in English, I was forever getting work sent back to me to "complete", because I'd gotten bored halfway through and ended a story abruptly. A term-long project based around a fictional island was meant to be an assessment of the geology, flora and fauna, but I'd turned it into a report about sub-Rambo mercenary mission. My teacher had been appalled.
I wasn't particularly confident about my ability to write game reviews. Tim had already been a professional journalist, and I was a graphic designer who had been press-ganged into writing. I don't know if Tim ever felt I had no place writing with him on Digitiser, whether I was muscling in on the single page of game reviews and news that he'd originally been lined up to write for the teens section, but the fact we got along well probably saved me from any resentment.
In those early days I would write things and then show them to him for approval. Tim never said anything negative, but it didn't take long for my writing to improve - and to realise how awkward he must've felt about those tentative requests for feedback. For a while, he would subtly rewrite my stuff without saying anything; correcting the grammar and spelling, and making everything a little bit funnier.
It's weird now, to remember not being able to write. I honestly thought that the plural of monkey was "monkies", and I failed to understand why Tim had been so amused when I'd written about "pouring over some books".
Unfortunately, for every thing that I remember clearly from around that time, there are more things that are a bit fuzzier. I don't recall exactly how we came about doing a deal with a games importer to provide us with review copies. It was becoming clear that getting PR departments to take us seriously was proving difficult, and we might've raised this. It might also be that the Teletext marketing department had arranged the deal.
I do remember the first time we visited Video Games Ltd, and came away with a couple of boxes full of games, and a Game Gear. I got to keep most of it, while Tim later went home with a brand new PC that he'd managed to blag. Which was fair enough.
I can remember writing a list of potential names for the games service. I don't remember any of the others, but Digitiser was a clear stand-out, not least because it made it feel like a sister section to Generator, the teens section. I can even remember designing the first Digitiser index page, and showing it to John Holme.
It's not a case of boasting when I say that Digi's format was all mine; I was the gamer, I read games magazines, and that's where I took my inspiration. However, the style, the quality of the writing, was all Tim. I had to learn how to write - fast. I mean, it wasn't that what I wrote was bad... it just wasn't on that same level as what Tim was capable of, and I knew it. It wasn't sufficient to just be good enough, to continue aping Computer & Video Games.
It wasn't so much that I was intimidated by Tim's writing, but more motivated by it. He's an exceptional writer, and I wanted to be as good as him (I don't think I ever quite achieved it, but I did at least improve). Tim had - and still has, if you've ever read one of his books - a way with words that's utterly unique. Simultaneously high-brow and low-brow.
I think that without him leading by example, I'd have stayed writing in the style of CVG and their ilk. Or maybe not; maybe I'd have found some other way, but I do know that Tim's style and talent, coupled to my ADHD, is what made Digi what it was. Even long after Tim left, I was still trying to write like him.
He was more precise than I, able to combine words together in a way that would surprise, and be funny just by their sheer, unexpected, juxtaposition. My approach was more chaotic, scattershot; "Oh, I'm bored... let's put a man with a long chin on the letters page... let's change the index page graphics... let's put a reveal under the answer to that letter..."
The Digitiser characters were usually my creation, because I did the graphics, and the graphics were essentially me doodling. I'd always doodled; my school books were covered in scrawls of odd characters.
In fact, that's a connection that I've only made now. I was once stopped in the corridor at school by my History teacher, who wanted to talk about the elaborate "torture machine" I'd drawn on the inside cover of my history book. I'd expected to get a bollocking, but he told me it had made him laugh.
The back cover of the book had also featured a "hypnotising machine" - a series of concentric circles, with the instructions to "1. Lift flap up and down... 2. Congratulations, you are now hypnotised".
Not needing much in the way of encouragement, I challenged myself to make him laugh. I've still got some of my history books; an illustration for the effects of the Industrial Revolution is a particular highlight. A "wealthy landowner" is depicted with absurdly long arms, while the caption "many unemployed" is accompanied by an illustration that resembles a group of amoebas.
You've probably got Mr Moison to thank for Digi's characters as much as anyone; my work was often returned to me with big red ticks next to the pictures.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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