It looked as if Digitiser was going to end with a whimper, hobbled and prostrate in a decomposing trough somewhere, forgotten, betrayed, and left to die through the resigned capitulation of its last standing custodian: Mollivan Parp (me).
But get a load of this: Digitiser's audience wasn't prepared to forget it.
The letters continued to pour into Teletext's vents - and phone calls and emails too. The more the complaints happened, the more Digitiser's viewing figures dropped off.
From a high of about 1.5 million viewers a week, we were down to around 400,000 (maybe less). Still respectable, but clearly... something was amiss. For reasons that we can perhaps speculate about, the editorial decision to exorcise the "obscure" humour, and reduce the frequency of its updates, had driven away a large part of the audience. This was undoubtedly troubling to a company relying on advertising sales to keep it buoyant.
It was almost as if Digi's "excluding" funnies - considered so noxious and obtuse that viewers shuddered furiously at their televisions, slipping and sliding around on the rivers of rage-inflected foam that issued forth from their beaks - were anything but.
Something that was theirs. Heck, it was almost as if loads of people had liked Digitiser exactly as it had been, and got pissed off when a bunch of narrow-minded Peter Principale-ers took it away from them.
Just as Teletext had taken it away from me, from Tim, and from its Panel 4 columnists.
The fight that I no longer had the will for was being taken up by its readers. There was never any sort of orchestrated campaign - these were the days before people started using the Internet to manufacture and mobilise pitchfork-wielding virtual mobs. Those who wrote in, or called, were simply motivated off their own backs. It was glorious.
Did I think all those complaints were going to make a difference though?
Not really. I mean, I appreciated it hugely. I felt vindicated - relieved almost - that the nearly 10 years of Digi hadn't been a waste of my time, and that it hadn't been secretly hated by everyone all along, as I'd been led to believe.
But I thought I knew how Digitiser was viewed within Teletext. As I've stated previously, I know that we pushed things, and arsed around, and, goshdammit, committed the cardinal sin of trying to enjoy our job (or - to look at it another way - the one life we'd all been given). We didn't want to conform to wearing a suit and a tie, and being as dull as possible, simply because that's what is expected.
More significantly, Tim, myself, Adam, Gavin... we believed that we'd done precisely what we'd been employed to do - provide Teletext with a video games magazine that was successful. In fact, we all felt we'd gone beyond that, and provided Teletext with a video games magazine that was loved.
We did it the only way we knew how... never realising that part of the brief had included the small print: "Do not include any humour that the management doesn't find funny, otherwise they'll get paranoid that you're laughing at them".
Yet, if they hadn't kept such a close eye on us - which, admittedly, we'd brought upon ourselves to a point - we wouldn't have had anything to kick against. The management, as much as us, created Digitiser.
As it turned out, Digitiser even had fans in the editorial department... and those combined with the continuing tsunami of complaints calling for Digitiser to return to its former gloryhole, coupled to the seemingly doomed spiral of the viewing figures, would cause a tipping point.
Against the odds, after all the years of Teletext doing its level best to bring Digitiser to heel... Digitiser would win.
Nine months or so after the previously fateful meeting, I was invited back into the office.
This time, the call had come from Teletext's Executive Editor - we'd met a few times, and I'd always liked her. She was down-to-earth, no-nonsense. She seemed to lack the all-consuming ambition of other managers there (it probably speaks volumes that in due course she left the company, and moved into NLP and hypnosis).
Over the phone, I could hear the warmth in her voice.
Unless I was part of some elaborate deceit... something had shifted. I was cautiously optimistic.
Unfortunately, also due to be at the meeting was the Evil Deputy Features Editor - the one who had been almost comically discourteous to me earlier in the year. However, throughout this meeting he barely said a word, just sat there scowling, squirming, and occasionally pushing out a thin smile, in the face of my unflinching niceness. But then, most of us would have done the same in his position.
You know those videos where Internet trolls are made to meet their victims and explain their actions? Yeah, it was like that.
The Executive Editor explained about the complaints from the viewers, and how Digitiser was clearly loved, and how they would like it to go back to being a daily page again. Admittedly, they didn't offer me more money, but by this point I didn't really care. I'd started earning just enough from TV writing, and I was just happy for the opportunity to salvage something from the mess of the past year.
There was no apology, no admission that they had gotten things wrong, but as I was leaving I was shown out by the Evil Deputy Features Editor, and he muttered something...
"I'm sorry?" I said, not quite believing that a grown man had just spoken to me in the manner of an admonished toddler.
"We also want you to bring back the charactersandthehumourifthat'salrightandyeahokaythenbye."
And he was gone. No doubt to have a bit of a cry, and choke on all that humble pie he'd just been forced to inhale.
So Digitiser went back on itself.
It had a new look. The red-and-cyan wasn't as fun and warm as the old blue-and-green, but to all intents and purposes it was the Digitiser everyone wanted - even by Teletext itself, astonishingly.
Much as we hadn't announced the axing of the humour, so its return simply happened. Sadly, there wasn't the money to bring back the columnists, but everything else was there. The Man, his Daddy, the Snakes, Mr T...
I went all out. There was no need to sneak anything past them - they'd asked for it. For the first time in Digi's history I had a mandate for stupid stuff.
But... it wasn't quite the same. Something was missing for me. It's like being dumped by someone... and then trying again. Somehow there wasn't enough distance between me and Digitiser, and everything that had happened. After Digi had been de-funnied, I'd as good as left; doing it with the absolute minimum effort, and taking the reduced pay I'd been offered, and just figuring - hey; at least I get free games!
Putting Digi back the way it had been, I realised that I was still nursing my wounds. I couldn't forgive and forget. For as long as I stayed, there would always be the threat of them taking it away from me again. I couldn't trust them.
Shortly after Digi's resurgence, I was contacted by Ste Curran from Edge magazine, asking if I'd be interviewed for a feature on Digitiser. I was flattered - not least because Edge was so highly respected. Plus, it had always covered games, not other games magazines, so this was a rare honour.
I had a good few hours in the pub with Ste, talking through Digi's history, its recent humour-cull, and return. I tried to be as diplomatic as I could.
As I headed home, I reflected upon the past ten years, all that had happened, how much I still missed working with Tim, and with Adam. Gavin got Digitiser, but he was already spending much of his time working on the sports desk, and it just wasn't the same working from home. There wasn't the camaraderie that I'd loved. I felt isolated.
I thought about how Digitiser's readers had campaigned for its return. And I thought about how I'd feel if Teletext tried to kick it out of my hands again. If I was ever going to go out on a high, I was unlikely to get a better opportunity.
But still, that was a big decision... quitting Digi would mean walking the tightrope without the safety net for the very first time, and somebody was going to need to push me out onto the wire first...
So, I got this call from Gavin. He wanted to warn me that I was going to be hearing from the Evil Deputy Features Editor again, and he didn't think it was going to be good news.
In fact, he was pretty certain they were about to axe Digitiser.
I hung up, feeling heavy and weary. I may even have groaned "Not again..."
Before I had the opportunity to take it all in, my phone rang. As forewarned, it was the Evil Deputy Features Editor: could I come in for a meeting as soon as possible?
I said fine, and ended the call... but something had broken irreparably. I felt angry. I'd done this dance too many times. For the past six years I'd lived with the threat hanging over my head that at any moment they could pull the plug on Digitiser, taking my income with it, taking something I loved with it. I couldn't do it again. I was no longer prepared to let them have that over me, to be able to detonate my life on a whim.
So I called him back. Immediately. And this is how the call went:
"Yeah. Uh, actually, I don't think I want to come in for a meeting, because I'm actually quitting Digitiser."
He sounded genuinely shocked, rattled: "Er. Oh. Really? Er... well, actually... we were going to ask you to expand the section."
"Right. I see..."
"I'm a bit surprised by this."
"Yep. Me too. Well, I still want to quit."
"Are you sure?
I called Gavin straight away, and pointed out his mistake; rather than axe Digi, they were going to expand it. Of course, it wasn't quite an "I've seen the new trailer for Jurassic World a year before the rest of the world" scale of error, but it was still a pretty big mistake, which had just cost me my job. Nevertheless, it was ok. It was fine. It was time to go, and I knew it.
Would I have quit Digi if Gavin hadn't called telling me they were going to be axing it? Almost definitely, sooner or later. The way I was feeling, it was inevitable.
I was done with other people holding my life, my happiness, my security, my stability, in their hands. Whether in work, or in relationships, or at school, or at home, I'd always given too much power to others. That conclusion might sound empowering written down, but if manifested in the wrong way can be hugely messed-up...
I was going to suggest to Teletext that they change the name of Digitiser - whatever followed was going to be exposed to intense scrutiny, and keeping the name would've only made it worse.
And if they kept the Digitiser name, whomever took over - it turned out to be Edge Magazine's Tony Mott, beneath the banner of Game Central - would be expected to retain the humour and the characters.
They beat me to it. Whether they just wanted to bury Digitiser once and for all, or whether they realised the same things I did, Digitiser was going to end when I stopped writing it.
I'd given them a generous four months to find a replacement, and said I'd leave for good in March 2003; ten years and just over two months since Teletext launched.
Of course, I was also buying time by doing that; I needed to get used to the idea of not writing Digitiser anymore. I needed to make sure that I could find enough other work to keep a roof over my head, and feed my daughters.
It also gave me scope to ensure those final four months were to be the most Digitiser-y Digitiser had ever been. They couldn't touch me now, and the only time I can recall anything being sub-editted out towards the end was a reference to the Tin Man swinging his rusty chopper around so hard that the head flew off. I tried it again a couple of days later, and got away with it.
The last press event I attended for Digitiser was the launch of Nokia's ill-fated N-Gage. They'd gone all out - a champagne reception on the London Eye, followed by a party attended by the latest Lara Croft model. It was hardly me leaving on a high; I'd previously been to launches for Ocarina of Time, Starwing, Sonic 2, Halo...
I knew that the N-Gage was going to flop, just as I knew the Jaguar, CD-32, 3DO, 32X, and Dreamcast were going to flop. I'd reviewed probably thousands of games, and knew the video games industry inside-out. I could sense its currents and eddies. But the failure of the N-Gage would be for somebody else to report on.
In all honesty, Teletext were good to me in the end. The company seemed to accept that Digi was popular, even if they didn't understand why, and that I wasn't the anti-Christ. That, actually, I was more or less quite nice.
Looking back now, I don't have any resentment towards anybody I worked with at Teletext. Except, perhaps, the second Evil Deputy Features Editor. I can't quite let that go.
Everyone else was just doing their job, and Digi must've felt like it challenged their ability to do it. Plus, it must've frustrated them that it was popular in spite of that. I owe a lot to those who gave me the opportunity. It changed my life.
Some years ago, I got an email from Teletext's Editor-in-Chief.
He'd once been the sub who'd taken such issue with "finger the index", and delivered the humour/character cull from on high. He was inviting me to a party to commemorate Teletext closing down, as - in his words - I'd been an important part of the Teletext story. His email was civil and friendly, and acknowledged that things hadn't always been easy between me and the company. It was a nice gesture, and much appreciated.
I said I'd go along. Of course I didn't actually go...
TURNER THE WORM IS UNWELL
The final graphic I ever did for Teletext is the one that seems to be most fondly remembered - if anyone can have fond memories of a recently ejaculated phallus masquerading as a children's cartoon character.
I wish there was more of an anecdote behind it, but there's honestly not a lot to say. As with most of the things I ever did on Digi, I didn't really give it a second thought (which was half the problem...). I kind of had to go out on a high, with potentially the most controversial thing imaginable. Something which summed-up all of the past ten years... and which somehow even included Turner the Worm; my other major contribution to Teletext.
I knew there was a chance it would get removed. At the same time... in the previous couple of weeks so much scarcely-concealed innuendo had gone out on Digi that somebody was clearly letting things through that would have previously set off the alarms.
I was later told that there had been a brief discussion between the sub-editors about whether to allow the "worm" to air. The final decision rested with the Chief Sub, who cleared it. As far as I know, Teletext never got any complaints.
The telling of this story has been one-sided. You only got to hear how I experienced it.
I've tried, as much as possible, not to be clouded by my own 'stuff', but it's inevitable that some of it would've gotten in the way.
Describing people as "evil" - as I did two of the players in the tale - is obviously highly subjective (not to mention tongue-in-cheek).
Ultimately, everyone is the hero (sometimes even the villain) in their own story. Every person mentioned in this tale has their own movie playing out around them. Sometimes I'm a main character. For others I might be the antagonist, or just appearing in a scene or two. For some I'm merely a non-speaking extra fannying about in the background... And that's the same for all of us.
The story I've told has a beginning, a middle, and an end... but it's just one story. Life isn't like that.
I wish I could say that after Digitiser my life was all rainbows and skipping through meadows. Certainly, I could tell a version wherein I became a relatively successful TV writer, and won some awards, and collaborated again with Tim Moore on a TV pilot that - true to form - we loved, but was hated by the people who had commissioned it. But, sadly, the stuff that sticks from the years immediately after Teletext isn't always happy.
In all honesty, leaving Digitiser ungrounded me for a while. It happened at the wrong time, when I no longer had the assurance of a stable home life. I went a bit mental, and sometimes when you're flailing around looking for solid ground, people get elbowed in the face.
Mercifully, I rediscovered stability in the end. If my story were to conclude today, it would have a happy ending. A very happy ending. Although, if my story did end today, it would have to end with me dying, which would be less happy for those around me, probably.
And as you know, because you're reading this, I found Digitiser again - or Digitiser2000 at least - having turned my back on Digitiser and Mr Biffo for a long time.
Sometimes you can't see something because it's too close to your face, or you're standing right on top of it; the observation deck of the Empire State Building is the worst place in New York to take a snapshot of the Empire State Building. I had to take a step back, and get some perspective, and I'm glad I did, because I can finally see how important Digitiser has been to my life.
Earlier this year, I got asked to give a talk at the PlayExpo in Manchester.
I'd expected a handful of people to show up, but it was standing room only. Twelve years after Digitiser ended, eight years after Mr Biffo had vanished off the face of the earth, people were still interested.
There was a brief Q&A section at the end of the panel, and I got asked by an audience member what I considered to be the meaning of life.
I'm sure he was looking for a funny answer - "Shoes filled with prawns and dentist poo!" I could've said to uproarious laughter - but I could only think of something sincere.
Wincing at my own profound earnestness, I told him that the most important thing in life is to be with people who let you be you. Whether it's your other half, a best friend, colleagues, your parents, your children, or simply yourself... you deserve to be celebrated - not pressured to conform to the ideals of others. For the most part, I've got that today, in spades; an amazing partner, great kids, good mates - and people I've mostly never met who support my writing. I'm blessed.
It's too easy to fall into roles, or relationships, or jobs, where your unique you-ness is suppressed, or not valued. It doesn't matter if you're crap at DIY, or hate football, or you're messy, or scruffy, or clumsy, or have a weird sense of humour, or like video games - find places in life where all of that is appreciated. Or, at least, not beaten down. Don't compromise on this.
Because that's what Digitiser always gave me. It gave me a place, an outlet, where my weird sense of humour, where my geekiness - which has always been such a part of me, since I played my first arcade games, since I came downstairs on Christmas morning to a brand new ZX Spectrum, or spent my first pay cheque on a Sega Master System - was accepted, and allowed to be, by its readers.
I could talk video games, and I could make stupid jokes that made me laugh. How could I ever compromise when what I was doing was apparently being appreciated by so many?
I may never have understood it at the time, may have not been able to find the words back then... but I've come to realise that Digitiser showed me who I am - and that it was ok-me-do.
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART TEN by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART NINE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART EIGHT by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART SEVEN by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART SIX by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART FIVE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART FOUR by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART THREE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: 16-BIT - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: 16-BIT - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ARCADES - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ARCADES - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART TWO by Mr Biffo