Yeah, what's that you say? "I hear you're a Communist now, Mr Biffo..."
Aside from being stopped once for speeding, many years ago, and another time in Norwich, because I got confused and drove into a bus lane, I've only ever been in proper trouble with "the po-po" once. I was 8 years old, and I'd broken into an abandoned vicarage across the road from my house.
My mother was, ostensibly, the caretaker of the place, and I assumed this made it a sort of extension of our garden shed. After being caught, myself and two friends were driven off in a police car and taken to a police station where we were told, in no uncertain terms, that - caretaker mother or not - we had no place being there.
I was hardly Ronnie Kray, admittedly, but this early brush with "The Fuzz" served to instil in me a lifelong fear of being sent to The Big House. Which was, I suppose, their intention with all the unnecessary shouting. Honestly, the way they were bellowing you'd think we'd thrown a nest full of endangered bird eggs at The Cenotaph.
It worked, though, and certainly contributed to why I didn't never do no computer game piracy not never.
Partly, my aversion to software theft was also down to being a complete luddite, and not really knowing what I was doing with computers. Additionally, I've always liked the ritual of opening the packaging on a new game, and giving it a sniff. I wanted the pretty covers, the inlay booklet - it's one of the reasons I prefer a physical product to a download. It's also why I despair that game artwork is now so homogenised, and that they've done away with manuals.
However, I'd be lying if I said I never played a pirated game. I was, on one occasion, given a C90 cassette by a mate at school, which was loaded up with a bunch of ZX Spectrum games. To be honest, I never played them all, and while there was a slight frisson of illicit excitement in firing them up, it paled next to the thrill I got from legitimately, legally, owning something.
Piracy was rife at my school, back in the 80s though. While I might've kept out of it, everyone else was embroiled, and some of my peers - the nerdier ones anyway - were doing it on a pretty industrial scale.
For them, the efforts of ELSPA - the European Leisure Software Publishers Association - and their anti-piracy ad campaigns had little effect. Even the threat of the F.A.S.T. - Federation Against Software Theft - hotline did little to discourage their contemptible behaviour.
Here's a brief gallery of some of ELSPA's print-based efforts to stop the scourge of software baddery..
Also, I doubt there was a teenager in the country who believed anybody would go to the effort of calling the F.A.S.T. hotline. Nobody wants to be a grass.
I remember when Gary Samuels told the teacher that I was passing notes around the class saying he "sucked teacher's bums". Which I hadn't been; I'd merely passed the note between two other students. Still, he soon came to rue the day when the name "The Sucking Leech" was appended to the many other titles by which he was known.
Not if the one on the left is having anything to do with it. Look how tightly he's got a grip on that floppy. He's not letting that go for love nor monies. So to speak.
Also, how do we know that Righty isn't just stroking the disk, or isn't about to shove it back towards Lefty, rejecting his criminal intent? This is all circumstantial. A photograph is a snapshot in time. There's a reason Instagrammers don't take selfies while they're wiping their bottoms... but perhaps they should. Maybe then we wouldn't all be peering at these perfect artificial moments, making us feel wretched about our own lives.
Where was I?
Oh yes. The biggest problem suffered by all of the ELSPA ads is that they just weren't scary enough. Nobody I knew ever believed the threats, never truly believed they were going to get into any kind of trouble.
If they'd wanted to have any real impact they should've backed up their menace with action, otherwise it's rather like an ineffectual parent who keeps telling the kids they're not going to get any Christmas presents, knowing full well that they'd never go through with it. Kids aren't stupid. We knew full well we weren't getting coal. Parents are idiots!
Couldn't ELSPA have made an example of a few selected children? Instead of making abstract threats, they could've gone round and beaten a few of them up, or spread rumours about them having micropenises, or something?
Unfortunately, the euphemistic phrase only serves to dilute the threat, like when an old person refers to sexual intercourse as "A bit of how's-your-father", whatever that's even supposed to mean.
If ELSPA wanted to undercut their authority then job done. If they'd wanted to put the fear of God into kids then they failed utterly. You could say they "a bit of how's-your-father-ed" it up.
Presumably, John was intended to be a regular sort of boy, someone the readers could relate to. Unfortunately, he came across more like the Viz character Jack Black - obsessed with his righteous cause, determined to uphold the letter of the law with little in the way of flexibility. John saw the world in black and white. There were no shades of grey. He likely grew up to be deputy leader of the UK Independent Party.
Look at John's face in the second panel of the above ad. Look at how utterly disgusted he is, how furious. John's friend could've received those pirated games from a schoolmate, but John doesn't care. He doesn't want details. As far as John is concerned, a crime is a crime, and he's straight on the phone to the F.A.S.T. Secret Police.
We're shown that John doesn't much like his maths teacher Mr Jones. Unfortunately, judging from the information in this strip, his dislike of Mr Jones - described here as a "rotter" - is due entirely to the teacher's practise of allowing students to copy games in his computer club, rather than because he lingered a little too long in the changing rooms after PE.
See how John revels in his efforts to get Mr Jones arrested. See also what I assume to be a continuity error in the final panel, where John's friend offers to share the reward with him. He's either hugely presumptuous that a raving authoritarian would even consider sharing his glories, or somebody got the speech bubble around the wrong way.
"You should't be selling stuff like this," whinges John. "It's against the law! And I don't like it!"
The final panel adds a twist in the tale. John isn't, as we might've been led to believe, motivated entirely by moral indignation, but the promise of cold, hard, cash. We can speculate that John probably intends to spend his reward on a remote listening device, so that he can spy on his family members with the intention of catching them in the act of software piracy.
No doubt John and friend will be there at the trial, watching proudly from the public gallery, teeth clenched in rictus grin, tumescent and proud as another of their prey is sent to the gaol.
Children: the ones you should fear are not the po-po. It is not authority, or the shadowy figures behind the F.A.S.T. hotline. Beware the enemy within. Beware the "Johns".