The next few years would be packed with tumult. New domestic arrangements, new relationships, somehow acquiring three step-daughters, while the last of my own three kids strode into adulthood, leaving me with a bad case of empty nest syndrome. No longer living on the side of an active volcano, however, meant I was better equipped to deal with it all.
I still craved that long sought after job stability, though. For a year or two I toyed with becoming a teacher, but would've needed to get a degree first. Instead, I applied for various proper jobs - including, just for shits and giggles, speechwriter to then-Idiot Mayor of London Boris Johnson. I got turned down thank God. As I did for every other job I applied for, without even being invited for an interview. My weird CV, age, and lack of any actual qualifications, seemingly disqualified me for any conventional role.
That sobering wake-up call was partly why I ended up training to be a psychotherapist; I foolishly thought there might actually be a job at the end of it. What I hadn't realised at that point is that most psychotherapists are out of work, or work voluntarily, or have second jobs, and mostly just have other psychotherapists, or trainee psychotherapists, as their clients.
Also, that most psychotherapists are terrible at their jobs, and shouldn't ever have received a qualification, And that the entire industry seems mostly set up to facilitate the training of other psychotherapists.
To say I became disillusioned by would be a grotesque understatement. With hindsight, I'm astonished I managed to make it through my two-and-a-bit years - just long enough to receive my Fitness to Practice certificate - without throwing a chair at somebody.
There wasn't any one reason I walked away - it was a mounting catalogue of small ethical breaches by the students and tutors, and a growing feeling that the model of therapy we were studying - Person-Centred - isn't especially effective. Not to mention the cult-like mentality that the course inspired in its acolytes.
Also, I became exasperated with the whinging, the whining, the bitching, gossip, victim acts, self-pity, and endless rescuing and enabling from some of my fellow students.
That might seem like a terribly un-empathic thing for an ex-psycotherapy trainee to say - but I like to think my empathy is actually finely-tuned. I'm usually pretty spot on at knowing what people are feeling, and whether it's genuine. I was very good at it.
Yes: I KNOW ALL YOUR SECRETS.
Oh, and I also found out that my own therapist - who had been recommended to me by one of my tutors - was the wife of the screenwriter Paul Mendelson, who'd written the superhero sitcom My Hero.
Though this made her uniquely qualified to understand when I whinged about my job, my tutor's decision to reveal this fact to me was a massive breach of the ethical contract we'd all signed up to. Therapists and their clients should never have what are known as dual relationships (ie; you can't be the therapist of a friend, relation or colleague).
Paul Mendelson and I had undoubtedly been in the same room as one another. And of course I Googled him to try and recall if we'd ever actually met, and found out all sorts of stuff about his wife that I should never have known as her client.
I took two amazing things from that course though: a commitment to sorting myself out... and my wife-to-be Sanya - who was the only other person on the course who saw through everyone's bullshit, but understood what real empathy and compassion is. We've been inseparable ever since, and I credit her with helping me rediscover myself. I owe her everything.
By the time I ended my counselling training, I had come to realise that my career was in the most stable place it had ever been.
Writing for TV still felt scary and insecure at times, but somehow I slowly found a degree of job security in becoming a full-time kids' TV writer. Consequently, stability means less drama, means the next eight or so years of my life are going to be compressed into the next few paragraphs.
Dani's House ran for five series, plus another three of its spin-off, Dani's Castle - filmed at Killyleagh Castle in Northern Ireland. My other co-created show, the musical comedy 4 O'Clock Club (originally the idea of comedian Doc Brown, I helped develop it with my executive producer Connal Orton), has just been commissioned for its seventh series. It has won many awards, and remains something I'm deeply proud of.
CBBC offers less creative freedom than I had on my sitcom pilots - the shows I've worked on tend to be executive producer-led, rather than writer-led - but what I lose in overall creative control, I make up for in feeling safe. The money isn't as good as in adult TV, admittedly, but I find it a genuine privilege to write for a younger audience.
Without realising it was happening, I'd sort of become one of the most successful writers of kids TV in the country. Which, of course, brings me onto the dancing dog...
In all honesty, there's no massive story behind Pudsey The Dog: The Movie. Pudsey and his trainer Ashleigh had won Britain's Got Talent, and happened to share an agent with Dani Harmer.
I'd been recommended by the executive producer of Dani's House and Dani's Castle.
I was sent the rough outline for the movie they had in mind - a classic British kids' film - and went in to pitch my own tongue-in-cheek take on it: Midnight Express meets Lassie.
That was good enough for them.
I started writing it. I finished writing it. Then it got made. There were very few potholes during the writing process. Perhaps if there had been a little more drama - and a few more notes - it would've been a better movie. I dunno.
As it transpired, the emphasis was on me writing it quickly, because they needed a script in order to secure financing. The most troublesome note I ever got was over the inclusion of the abbreviation "OMFG". For some reason, the development producer was intent on including it in the script, and I resisted. I lost the battle, and put it in the draft... but quietly removed it from a later one, without her noticing.
I'd been aware of Pudsey's victory on Britain's Got Talent, but never watched the show. I had a meeting with Ashleigh and Pudsey, and was impressed at the dog's skills... but without the context of this being - ostensibly - a Simon Cowell project, hadn't anticipated the amount of scrutiny it would be under.
People wanted Cowell's cinematic aspirations to fail, and Pudsey was set up as a failure from the off - the latest in a string of dreadful, low-budget British movies based on existing properties. In reality, Cowell had absolutely nothing to do with it. He didn't even return a request to provide a voice for one of the animal characters.
All I wanted was to write a fun, old-fashioned, movie for kids. I didn't want to reinvent cinema, or write something cool and post-modern (though I did get in a gag/scene about Pudsey rescuing a boy who'd fallen down a well... which was taken at face value by most reviewers). Pudsey was mostly loved by young girls, and that's who the script was aimed at. Not Mark Kermode, or Pete Bradshaw in The Guardian, for pity's sake.
Once the director came aboard, there were changes to the script.
Some I agreed with, some I didn't - he was particularly keen to insert as many references to sausages and poo as any movie could conceivably contain, and some of the more surreal elements were removed or toned down - but overall, the entire experience of writing the thing was sort of lovely. Everyone involved was really nice to work with.
I still stand by the script I wrote. Before the film came out, it opened a lot of doors for me - people seemed surprised that it was as good as it was, given the source material. I was even considered as a writer for Paddington 2. All those doors slammed shut once the film was released, of course.
The problems started during production. Pudsey is not a movie dog. He was trained by his owner. He hadn't been trained to perform on screen, which takes a particular set of skills.
Consequently, he couldn't do half of what was required of him. Nor could any of the other animals - certainly not with the limits imposed on the production by the minuscule budget, and relatively brief shooting schedule. A cat, Faustus (a name taken from We Two Vets, the first script I ever wrote with Tim Moore), was intended as a major character, but appears in just one scene - after it took a strong dislike to John Sessions, who was playing its owner.
Further issues arose when Ashleigh took a similar dislike to the voice David Walliams wanted to use for Pudsey. I'd written the character with Ray Winstone in mind - and Walliams was going to be doing a sort of Winstone impression... until Ashleigh heard it and apparently said: "Pudsey doesn't talk like that."
Walliams instead was forced to deliver all the lines with a sort of breathless, youthful enthusiasm, which simply didn't work.
For me, perhaps the weirdest aspect of the entire Pudsey experience was that they ended up filming a lot of it at the bottom of my road. I was living in Bushey - just outside of Watford - at the time, and we'd drive past the crew and production base on the way to take the kids to school. We had to explain to them that this wasn't how life normally works; you don't usually get to write a film, and then have it made on your literal doorstep.
The production issues meant that the footage in the can was a bit of a mess, and Pudsey's story arc had been decimated. He had no real journey; he was just sort of... there, occasionally making inane comments about sausages.
The director called me in to help write some dialogue to patch up the gaping holes in the story. I watched the current edit of the movie, and my heart sank. For reasons I'll never quite understand, the director had allowed the editor to rewrite large portions of the movie himself - improvising dialogue for Pudsey and the animals as he edited (he's still in the movie as Ken the pig).
It was pretty apparent to me that the movie had major issues - some of which were going to be virtually impossible to patch up with new dialogue - but I was prepared to give it my best shot. We tried riffing in the edit room - but mostly all we came up with was more of Ken laying his "eggs", farting, and my least favourite line in the entire movie... which I hate mostly because I came up with it.
I asked if I could take a copy of the movie home, so that I could write some new material. Which I did, and duly emailed over, satisfied that I'd managed to piece things back together, and include some good dialogue for the animals.
I returned to the edit room a week or so later, having been involved in a three-way collision in my car en route (it was later revealed to be a failed insurance stitch-up). I was sufficiently rattled by the car crash - the one in the car, as well as the one I watched unfold on screen - that I dropped a cup of coffee over my laptop, killing it instantly.
Not a single line of my dialogue had been used. The director had chosen to stick with the editor's many, many, improvised lines. I should've probably kicked up a fuss, but I really liked them both as people, and I'm a terribly weak and ineffectual human being...
Plus as my first movie, I didn't necessarily feel it was my place. Not when the director had already been responsible for classics like Horrid Henry: The Movie.
Yeah, yeah. I know...
The hate for Pudsey The Dog: The Movie started long before it had even been released.
The Twittersphere was willing it to fail. In the face of the vitriol online, the only way we'd have been a hit was if Pudsey had been a classic. Obviously it wasn't. It was aimed at little girls, and had been kicked into little pieces during the production and editing improvisations.
Would Pudsey The Dog: The Movie have been a better film if they'd been able to film my original script? Most likely. But by the same token... there's enough of my work, my structure, still remaining in the finished product that I'm absolutely one of the architects of its ultimate fate: a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite that, some of it I even really like - Mr Thorne's speech about hating dogs, for instance - and I honestly don't think it deserves even a fraction of the grief it got.
Oddly, none of the bad reviews really got to me. The level of spite directed towards it was so extreme that the only response I had was to laugh. I briefly wondered if it'd damage my career - though that hasn't seemed to have happened, mercifully - but on the whole it sort of washed over me. It was a job for which I was hired, and got paid, and walked away from.
Pete Bradshaw's review in The Guardian said it was "A shame for everyone involved", inexplicably judging it by the same criteria as, I dunno, Citizen Kane... but that just said more to me about what a massive twat he clearly is, than the film itself.
The editor and the guy who wrote the music weren't as fortunate as me. The thicker skin I'd built up in recent years allowed me to shrug off the crticism, but they were both badly affected by it. The director had called Pudsey's agent, Jonathan Shalit, and told them how upset they were, and he fired back with an email saying "Tell them that if they can't handle it then they should get out of the business".
Fair enough. Thanks for the empathy, mate.
I kept a copy of some of my favourite tweets from before the film was released. Here's a small selection:
- "Why has mother fucking pudsey the dog got a movie I deserve a movie more than fucking pudsey the rat dog"
- "Pudsey The Movie? You are fucking kidding me??!"
- "I used to fancy Pudsey's minder a bit but a film about him is beyond the fucking pale."
- "Good grief - do we really need a whole movie? Scraping the barrell I think."
- "Truly a golden age. A golden Brown age of dog crap."
- "On July 18th 'Pudsey the Dog: The movie' is being released?!?! IN CINEMAS?!?! Seriously there is no fucking God. #Seriously #NoGod"
- "Pudsey movie will be shit"
- "Mrs Browns Boys D'Movie. Pudsey the Movie. Please can shitty TV stay on TV channels I don't watch, and keep out of my cinema"
- "who is funding these low budget movies?? mrs browns boys, postman pat now this they can't possibly make any return on these films"
- "They've made a film about that Pudsey the dog? Christ it's a dog that can dance it doesn't need a bloody movie"
- "The fact there's a Pudsey The Dog movie, is every that's wrong with our film industry in a neat little package. #ItWillBeTerrible"
- “Just having that parent/child talk. The one when you explain why going to see the new pudsey film is never gonna happen!!!”
- “pudsey the movie, i couldnt think of anything worse”
- “Everyone involved in Pudsey the Dog: The Movie should hang their heads in shame.”
- “No way has pudsey the dog got a fucking film out, what a tit”
- “Pudsey the dog movie???..........oh fuck off”
- “That Pudsey movie is probably the worst film ever created, who would waste energy going to watch it”
- “Pudsey The Dog will definitely be the worst film ever made.”
- “They're making a Pudsey film with David Walliams as the main character? I don't want to live in this world any more”
- "The Samaritans've only just talked me down off a ledge over Mrs Brown D'Movie and now there's a Pudsey dog film? Where've I left my cyanide?”
- “Just seen the trailer for Pudsey the movie and done a sick in my mouth. Why would they even attempt to make such a film”
- “If you pay money to see the pudsey the dog film, we can't be friends”
- "Pudsey the movie is an all time low for motion picture #forshame”
- “Because British cinema isn't quite dead yet, there's something called Pudsey: The Movie coming out July 25th.Enjoy!”
- “Idea - a Mrs Brown/Pudsey crossover movie, where Pudsey contracts rabies & bites Mrs Brown. #MakeItHappen”
- “I'd rather drink toilet water than watch a whole fucking film about pudsey”
- "If anyone actually pays to go and see this pudsey film, then they need to be sectioned!”
- “WTF are they bringing a film out for that stupid dog Pudsey #shit#sackwhoeverisincharge”
- "Just seen a trailer for a film with that dog from BGT in, called 'Pudsey: the Movie'. And it has genuinely upset me that the film exists”
- “There is a film about Pudsey?!?!? You fucking serious?!? Where has film gone wrong these days?!”
- “They have made a film about Pudsey the dog off BGT...seriously. what a waste of money”
- “The "Pudsey the dog" trailer makes me want to hurt people. What on earth would watching the film do.”
- “They made a film about pudsey?? Does the dog die at the end??”
- “Pudsey the dog movie? Hang on while I rip me face off”
- “Awww, Pudsey The Dog. The Movie. Fuck Pudsey The Dog. The Movie!”
- "Pudsey. The Dog. The Movie. I am officially over this planet."
- “Pudsey the fucking movie. Fuck off”
- “Please tell me I haven't just seen an advert on the side of a bus for Pudsey the Movie, dog voiced by David Walliams.”
- “So Pudsey the Dog now has his own movie. This might be what actually causes me to become a full-on supervillain. I hate everything forever.”
- “Pudsey has it's own fucking movie?! FFS..I'm done!”
- “a bloody pudsey movie?? kill me now”
- “Pudsey the dog the movie' kill me now”
- “The trailer for "pudsey the movie" makes me want to kill myself”
- “Pudsey the dog has his own movie... that's it I give up on life”
- “Never will I ever watch Pudsey the dog movie”
- “Pudsey The Dog: The Movie looks like the worst thing since they invented AIDS”
- “Pudsey the dancing dog has a movie? Now I understand why the bear tried to gouge its own eyes out.”
- “If anybody goes to see Pudsey the movie they are blocked. No exceptions.”
- "Pudsey the movie ?? Get me a bucket Ffs”
- “still so confused why that dog pudsey has a movie out. who is funding this”
- “I thought it was a sick joke, but having seen an ad on a bus I now know PUDSEY: THE MOVIE is a real thing that exists.”
- “Pudsey 'The Dog' the movie. How. Why. Actually I kinda want to see it now. Just to see how bad it is.”
- “Pudsey the dog movie? PUDSEY THE FUCKING DOG MOVIE?! What the fuck?”
- “Niquita is cryin on the phone to me cos I told her to YouTube pudsey the movie”
- “I've just seen a trailer for Pudsey the Movie - starring the dog that won X Factor. Hell's gates “Pudsey the movie? Mrs Browns Boys the movie?
- "Think I would rather throw myself in front of a bus........”
- “'pudsey the movie' what is the world coming to”
- “Oh...my....god. Pudsey the dog the movie. Pudsey the fucking dog??? What is the world coming too #madness”
- “sweet shit in a bucket i've just seen the advert for the movie about pudsey the dog. what is the world coming to?”
- “'Pudsey the movie' what is this world coming to”
- “As if Pudsey the dog now has a movie... what the hell is wrong with the world?!”
- “I get to work and Lorraine Kelly is fucking talking about Pudsey The Movie and I hear Jessica Hynes is in it. I feel betrayed”
- “Mrs browns boys 'da' movie ? ashleigh and pudsey the movie? I'm emigrating. To Mars.”
- “*snaps an old nun's neck and pisses on the burning corpse* Sorry!... Sorry, I saw an advert for Pudsey the Movie and red mist took over”
- “Because every talent show winner must become a SyCo cash cow, Pudsey the dog now has a movie coming out. Fucking hell.”
- “I'd rather eat glass than watch Pudsey the Movie”
- “there is going to be a movie about that pudsey dog that won britains got talent ahahah wtf is this country”
- "Pudsey the dog has got a fucking movie. A fucking dog”
- “Why does pudsey the dog have his own movie? That bitch jumped through a hoop and got a contract and there's me forking out 9k for a degree.”
- "That Pudsey movie looks awful! Obviously David Walliams is voicing him just cos Simon Cowell owns both of them thanks to BGT!"
Still... my mate Anthony genuinely thinks it's a classic. Plus I got a bunch of Marillion references in there, which pleases me immensely.
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART ONE: WE TWO VETS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART TWO: HUSK & HORNBLOWER - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART THREE: NORTH OF WATFORD - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FOUR: KNIFE & WIFE - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FIVE: SOOTY - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART SIX: CROSSROADS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART SEVEN: EASTENDERS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART EIGHT: IS THIS IT - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART NINE: TOO MUCH TOO YOUNG - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART TEN: NOW THE WEATHER - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART ELEVEN: BIFFOVISION - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART TWELVE: LA LA LAND - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART THIRTEEN: LAST OF THE MONSTER HUNTERS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FOURTEEN: MY FAMILY - BY MR BIFFO