Alright, somebody had broken into our games room and stolen a load of Nintendo games and our Super Scope 6 (thank goodness that we had Sean the security guard protecting the premises, making sure nothing else got taken!!!!!!! He was so interested in that Super Scope 6, he must've been gutted when it got pinched!!!!!! Do you see? DO YOU, SEAN?!!!!!)... but life was, on the whole, pretty fine.
Every day we'd arrive at work to find a big pile of video games, invitations to launches, weird promotional items, or messages from games companies asking us to pop in and see them. One of us would go down and check the post room, and there'd always be a stack of mail for us.
We'd have so many letters that I was even able to stop writing in as Danny Boyd (Luton area); he had only ever been a device to provoke a response of outrage from the audience. However, made-up opinion columnist Fat Sow - The Furious Pig - continued to be employed as a sort of porcine demagogue. It worked, and good or bad we loved hearing from our readers.
We had our regular corresponders - Stuart N Hardy (who wrote to every other magazine in the country, admittedly), The Girl With The Golden Gameboy, and somebody going by the name Dantendo... who we eventually had to report to the police after he started sending rambling, faeces-smeared, diatribes which accused us of spying on him through his TV...
Best of all, the PR departments were warming to us; we managed to do a quite exciting tie-up with Dixons, where we gave away Mega-CDs and CD Walkmans pretty much every day for what felt like a year.
The top prize was a police car used in Robocop 3; we got to pose for photos with it outside of Teletext HQ.
Quite why the industry was starting to like to us is anyone's guess. Maybe we were just getting too big to ignore, but our behaviour remained as shockingly unprofessional as ever.
Feigning diarrhoea, we snuck out of a Konami screening of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and never returned. We sniggered like stupid children during a demonstration of FIFA Soccer, when the PR guy asked a graphics artist if he could give one of the players "A white face and brown legs".
We disrupted a Nintendo party by deliberately crashing into an enormous polystyrene N, knocking it over. And, recreational phamaceutical-phobe that I am, I succumbed to peer pressure, and had the closest I'll ever get to an interesting drugs story; I spent an hour examining the edge of a biscuit in a private box at an Ocean Software-sponsored outing to an Oasis gig.
On another occasion, admittedly outside of Digitiser business, myself, Tim, and Tim's girlfriend, were escorted from Windsor Castle by armed police, after semi-accidentally stumbling into the Royal dwellings.
And then we were asked if one of us would appear on GamesMaster as a reviewer.
We'd already done a tie-up with them, where we broadcast viewers' comments as subtitles during the show. Some of those comments came direct from Dominik Diamond himself; it was, basically, Twitter long before anybody knew what a Twitter was.
We'd asked if Tim and I could appear together in some capacity, but that got knocked back. For some reason, it was me who ended up on screen. And - yes - it was horrible. Utterly horrible. And to make matters worse, I ended up recording my disastrous appearance over my infant daughter's baby videos.
I was nervous as anything, to the point where I had a peculiar meltdown on the morning of the recording; I blow-dryed my hair into a bizarre, floppy quiff, and put on a lovely white shirt, topped off with a tasselled leather jacket.
I was at my most bloated at that point, having taken to eating two dinners every night (one on the way home, usually from KFC, because I was hungry... and a second one when I got back, which I ate so as not to appear ungrateful for the meal that had been prepared for me).
For all my nerves, I felt ready; they'd given me a list of games that I would be reviewing, and I made sure I knew exactly what I was going to be talking about. I'd practised those reviews in the mirror for a week, and got them down to a T.
The tiny Soho basement where they recorded the reviewers' pieces was hot and cramped. In one alcove they'd set up some games; early review code of the sort that Digitiser rarely got its hands on. I started to get concerned when I didn't see any of the games that they'd asked me to review: these were all games that I'd never played before.
I got even more worried when the other reviewers showed up: various employees of EMAP magazines, including Mean Machines editor Steve Merrett. For some reason, Future Publishing loved us unconditionally, and we loved them, whereas EMAP's mags hated us. This was a bit of a shame, as I'd been a big fan of CVG and Mean Machines before becoming a games journo.
Alright, not all of them hated us. Paul Davies was always friendly, and I chatted to Radion Automatic a few times, who seemed to see the funny side of the feud. But there were others who appeared to take it far more personally.
The EMAP mags started the war, printing letters slagging us off, along with snide editorial jibes.
One time, they ran a viewer's comic strip, which showed "The idiots who write Digitiser" being fed toxic waste, and jabbering about feeding onions to owls (this was a reference to a character that had appeared on Digitser; Onion Owl - who worked at the zoo feeding onions to the owls, of course).
I'm not sure how we first decided to strike back, but strike back we did - and were treated the following month to a needlessly barbed diatribe from Merrett, calling into question our readership figures.
We wrote him a personal letter, in the most childish language imaginable, starting it "Dear Fishback"... and calling him other nonsensical names throughout (including "Biscuit-skin"). We did, nevertheless, present him with solid proof of our audience data.
The letter was never printed, but he did publish a begrudging acknowledgement of our viewership in response to another reader.
We were also hated by Paragon Publishing - home to bandana-wearing GamesMaster and Games World commentator Dave Perry. In an inexplicable move designed with nothing more in mind than alienating us further from our peers, we'd begun a regular feature reviewing other games magazines (presented by "Smokin' Glen Miller - The Mag Monkey"). In one of these we had described Paragon's Mega Power as "mostly irrelevant".
Later that day, the magazine's deputy editor rang us up in semi-coherent, foul-mouthed rage, threatening to sue us, and demanding a print-out to show to their lawyers. We duly changed the text on air to "mostly irreverent", faxed over the screenshot, and never heard from him again.
Now... hold onto these paragraphs, dear reader, for they shall prove to be the seeds of our downfall. We were soon to reap what we had sowed...
So there I was in a dingy Soho basement, surrounded by people who I presumed hated me - looking like a cross between Elvis Presley, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards - terrified about appearing on camera for the first time. BUT! At least I was prepared.
And that's when I was handed a list of the games I was going to be reviewing; it was all the games in the alcove, and I hadn't played a single one of them. Not even a bit.
There was one person recording his reviews before me, which took about fifteen minutes, and that was all the time I had to quickly play half a dozen or so games, and form an opinion on them.
I was horrible. So very horrible. I was a rabbit dazed by the blinding glare of a juggernaut, and it mowed me down.
On the plus side, I ensured I never did my hair like that again, ditched the glasses and lost weight. On the down side, Mr Biffo was no longer a name I could hide behind: they insisted on showing my real name on screen, which slightly rankled given that "Radion Automatic" got away with it.
The PlayStation launched in Europe on September 29th 1995.
The games industry had strode lewdly into the era of CD-ROM, but we'd been struggling to build a relationship with the lewdest of the striders: Sony.
Their PR representative simply didn't return our calls and we were becoming exasperated. We were calling several times a day for weeks and leaving messages, and being ignored. We were getting not a hint of acknowledgement. We'd been getting letters from viewers asking us to cover the PlayStation launch, and were starting to look a bit rubbish; we were the only media outlet not reviewing Sony games.
Out of sheer desperation we vented our spleen on screen, and topped it off with a direct address to Sony's PR guy, Glen O'Connell: "It's just bad PR, O'Connell".
Almost immediately, the phone rang; Glen O'Connell wasn't impressed. In the least. He was even angrier than the guy from Mega Power.
In fact, he was even angrier than the man from Pot Noodle; we'd run a competition to give away some Pot Noodle "hand spiders" - puppets, which we tried to pass off as "gaming gloves". We'd described the product as "The found-down-the-back-of-the-fridge-style snack", which the man took offence to. However, even he struggled not to laugh after asking me "Where did you get this information?".
Mind you, trying to find a way to link our competitions to video games had never bothered us; early on, we gave away signed photos of ITV weather readers to anyone who wrote in.
But, yes, O'Connell was properly angry. To calm him down, we removed the bit about "Bad PR O'Connell" - but made the grave mistake of not running this by our bosses first. One of the most important things you never do in journalism is accept liability before you have to. You stand by your story, and you stand by your sources, until the bitter end. Removing content from air, as far as Teletext was concerned, was the worst possible sin.
So when Glen O'Connell rang the editor after speaking to us, and it was found that we'd removed the offending phrase without clearing it first, we were in the biggest trouble we'd even been in.
We were summoned to the Deputy Editor's office, with our evil Deputy Features Editor looking on and loving every second of it, and given a proper, old-school, bollocking.
It was the moment they'd been waiting for, and we'd handed it to them on a plate.
I hadn't been told off like that since I was 8 years old, and got arrested for breaking into an abandoned vicarage (a thing so terrible that my friends' parents banned them from seeing me again - meaning I had to find newer, nicer mates... which steered my life onto a very different path). In fact, remembering it now, I can't recall whether it was the Teletext Deputy Editor who told me to look at him when I was talking, or the policeman who dragged my mates and I off to the station; that's how linked those two events are in my emotional tummy-tumm.
Tim and I were given written warnings - we had committed "gross misconduct" - and told in no uncertain terms that if it ever happened again we'd be fired.
On the plus side, Glen O'Connell started sending us review copies.
This had all happened on a Friday, and the following Monday I had to attend a staff training day. Tim was - technically - a freelancer, so he got out of it.
The weekend was spent in full-on depression, and I started to question all the risks we'd taken. Was having that much fun really worth it? I had a mortgage, a family; I'd been putting it all in danger by arsing around, being unprofessional, and enjoying myself. Terrified, I wrote a letter to the editor, apologising for my part in our mistake.
Before he got it, I still had to get through the staff training day. The afternoon was going to be some absurd treasure hunt across London - during which I split my trousers (I was still in the process of losing weight) - but the morning was a journalism training session.
One of the questions asked of the class was "What would you do if it was announced that a member of the Royal Family had died in a skiing accident?"
The first answer given - with an entirely straight face - was "Check Digitiser to make sure they hadn't put up any jokes about it". Everyone agreed, and noted it down; checking Digitiser was absolutely the first thing any of them should do in such an eventuality.
I sat there shellshocked and fuming; alright, we'd broadcast innuendo and surreal and irrelevant stuff, and wrongly removed a thing off the back of a complaint, but such was our reputation that my colleagues actually thought we'd go out of our way to mock the death of a Royal, given the chance. It chimed with other whispers we'd been hearing; that new sub-editors were instructed to keep a particularly close eye on Digitiser, as we were "troublemakers".
Adam - Mr Cheese - was well-liked. He had always kept his nose clean, and was being groomed for a journalistic role elsewhere in the department.
Tim and I, however, were inching ever closer to the edge of the cliff... and we only had ourselves to blame.
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