I love working in kids' TV. I've got a home. My health - more or less. I've had an interesting and varied career. I'm proud of what I've achieved. I've had adventures, and done things that I could never have imagined. Most importantly to me, I'm a good dad, a good step-dad, a good partner, and - I think (I hope) - someone I can look in the eye and say is a good person. I'm even a good ex-husband; for all the tumult when together, I get on well with my kids' mother.
I wish my mortgage wasn't so eye-watering, and that I had saved a bit more over the years; I'm still playing catch-up from taking my eye off the ball, and not being great with money during all the tumult. Nonetheless, for all that, my life these past several years has been close to what I've always wanted it to be. And yet, something was missing - and I didn't know what it was.
I just knew that there was some part of me that wasn't being satisfied. I felt I needed a hobby, something beyond eating and watching telly. I just couldn't think of one which felt right. Collecting toby jugs wasn't me.
Back when I was doing my psychotherapy training I had to give a presentation with a group of my fellow students. While everyone else gave a pretty standard presentation, maybe with the help of Powerpoint, we put on a version of Cinderella - complete with costumes and scenery - which outlined the fundamentals of Person-Centred Theory.
Pity those working with me; I was a total control freak. I got completely carried away, but I loved doing it, so excited and fired up at the opportunity to be creative. The course gave me other opportunities to express myself through art - at one point, I was requried to depict the Person-Centred model of the "self-concept", and I drew a painting for the first time in years.
That was what I had missed: being creative in a way that was uniquely personal to me.
There's often a gulf between using art - for want of a less wanky word - as a job, and for myself.
Don't get me wrong: writing for kids' TV is great, but often it's about writing to a brief, pleasing producers or broadcasters, fitting into a box. Often it's fitting who I am into the personal vision of others, doing an impression of someone else. Essentially, always trying to second-guess what they want.
Rarely can it be a pure expression of self, because there are always, always notes from people who aren't me. Which is fine: that's the job. And it's great when, within that job, I can find an expression of me... but usually that's not the point of the job. My needs are sort of secondary to getting the work done well and on time. Which I know I can do.
I got lucky years ago, when I took a job at Teletext. Digitiser gave me an outlet for self-expression. For all my complaints about the editors and sub-editors over the years, I - and before it was just me, Tim and I - had pretty much free reign to do what we wanted. There was something incredibly pure about Digitiser - an absolute blast of unfiltered id.
Before I had Digi, I painted. Before I painted I would draw cartoons and make stupid fake newspapers to show to others. I put on shows at school, or made absurd videos with my mates.
I was always creating - never to a brief, never to please other people, but to first and foremost please myself. And then, I suppose, to show other people what I'd done. If something made me happy, I wanted to share it - not because I ever needed the validation, I don't think, but just because I liked that sense of sharing. A sense of community. I quite like my own company... but there's also part of me that feels safe in a crowd.
I don't know what most people need, but I know I have that creative urge within me, and I have to share it with others.
For a long time, when Tim and I got together over a beer, we'd end up reminscing about Digitiser.
For all that Tim talks of not remembering stuff from that time, he clearly remembers enough to recall it fondly. We're proud of creating something that so many people liked. And for both of us, I think, working on Digi together was a tough act to follow. It was certainly never the same for me after Tim left. I still miss working with him.
So it was that we began discussing doing something Digitiser-related, most likely a book of some kind. We thought about maybe crowd-funding it, but I didn't know how it would be accepted. I mean, it had been a long time ago. Would the audience still be there? I'd had a few people tell me at various TV industry events that they'd been a fan, so I knew they existed. We had a feeling that Digitiser still mattered to people.
I was pretty certain, however, that Mr Biffo wasn't remembered with rose-tinted goggles by everyone.
After coming home from seeing Tim one time, I looked online for Digitiser and my name - or "Mr Biffo's" name - for the first time in years. As expected, there were plenty of people who thought I'd gone mad (slightly unfairly, but it wasn't a million light years from the truth). There were others who'd noticed that I'd written Pudsey The Dog: The Movie - and were enjoying its terrible reception all the more as a result. On the whole, though... there just wasn't that much out there.
Which was good for me... not so good for any potential Digitiser project. After I vanished, any momentum I could've brought to bear had ground to halt.
STALK OF THE TOWN
After I disappeared, former Digitiser columnist Stuart Campbell had acquired a stalker... and he felt pretty certain that his stalker was one of the people who had driven me away.
In Stuart's words, on his Wings Over Scotland political blog, his harrassment involved "creepy, highly detailed rape/murder threats, sustained harassment over a period of months, a dedicated blog many tens of thousands of words long (including all manner of truly vile sexual stuff involving family members and ex-girlfriends), abusive phone calls to our home and far too much more to describe."
Said individual had been arrested, and a few years before, Stuart had asked for my help in securing a prosecution. Unfortunately, any evidence that I once had was buried on one of several old hard drives, and wasn't easy to get hold of. Plus, in all honesty, I wasn't sure I was willing to go there. It had been five or six years since it all happened, and I'd done my best in the interim not to remember any of it.
Ultimately, there was no prosecution for said individual - despite "a report by Glasgow police to the Procurator Fiscal recommending prosecution, which to everyone’s surprise was declined, after a very long delay and for unclear reasons."
Nevertheless, the arrest had, ultimately (I hope) seemingly put an end to Stuart's harassment, and the accused person had - by the time I was thinking of sticking my head up in public again - stopped.
With one of my harrassers out of the picture - or potentially scared off of harrassing me for fear of what could happen - I was starting to feel a little more confident about returning.
I mean, I knew I was feeling strong enough to take any grief online. Whereas once, I crumbled beneath the weight of it, I was a different person.
Doing something with Tim also - I felt - took the focus away from it being all about me. Doing it under the Digitiser name also felt like another barrier to hide behind. But I needed to test the water.
When everything had happened years before, I signed up to Twitter - primarily to stop anyone else pretending to be Mr Biffo (there had been numerous blogs and message board comments posted in my name). I'd never used it. I browsed Twitter from time to time, and for a while Sanya and I ran a stupid little account, where we posted up spurious health whinges, but I hid away on there (though that hadn't stopped people sending Mr Biffo follower requests).
And then one day, I stumbled across a news story about the journalist Liz Jones, who had recently declared herself bankrupt (there but for the grace of God, I always feared). She'd received a groundswell of support on Twitter for her honesty, and there among the people who had expressed their support was somebody called Brad Burton.
I recognised the name immediately. He was the former video games journalist upon whom we based the Digitiser character Cyber-X.
I never met Brad. I've no idea what he's like as a person, but he came to represent - for me - the epitome of the Look-At-Me games journalism of the mid-90s.
In whichever magazine it was that he wrote for, he had a photo column in which he detailed his various nights spent clubbing. And that's how Cyber-X - with his flailing attempts at being cool, and talking about anything other than video games (I'm a fine one to talk) - came to be.
From there I learned that Brad is one of the UK's leading motivational speakers, according to his website, and had written a book called Get Off Your Arse. Which I bought. It's one of the most remarkable books I've ever read.
Here's Brad's bio, from Amazon:
"1973, born, Salford, Dad left, primary school, BMX bikes, roleplaying games, computer games, class clown, no qualifications, shop boy, girls, chalet cleaner, nightclubbing, pothead, more girls, games journalist, became a Dad, shot at, moved to Somerset, depressed, dole, more pot, shop manager, blagged CV head of marketing, dole, Director, Oxford sucked, dole, 3 days away from bankruptcy, Dad again, depressed, maisonette above a chippy, married, employed, shove job up arse, self-employed, depression, skint, skint, skint, whinging wife, Dad again, 4Networking, stopped smoking pot, bluffing, struggling, speaking, author, still skint, skint, skint, Dad yet again, 5,000+ events a year, uh oh, UK’s #1 motivational business speaker, bought dream Range Rover Sport, still waiting to be found out, sold dream Range Rover Sport, author again, people are buying them, scratches head, stabbed in the back. Twice. Burned out, near divorce, crisis averted, just, snapped up by top publisher for 3rd book, still waiting to be found out, Dad again, a daughter this time – uh oh, Audi driver, BradCamps, Ferrero Rochers, buzzing, blue tick, blue tick, more 5 stars on Amazon, still UK’s #1 motivational business speaker.
"Time to quit? Now What? 4th book, no longer skint, no longer depressed, actually quite balanced and happy. Wife still whinging. FFS."
That hopefully gives you some idea of what you can expect from Get Off Your Arse. Immediately after reading Brad's book, I wrote the first piece of prose I'd written since deleting my blog, years before - bringing Cyber-X bang up to date (if Brad ever reads this, I'm sure he'll see the funny side, and takes it in the way it's intended...).
I didn't write it for anyone other than myself, and I loved doing it. Imagine the hottest day of the year, and being stuck in a car trying to squeeze the last few drops from a bottle of Buxton: that was me for years. Then, suddenly, I was dipping my head in a trough of ice-cold water. My girlfriend read the piece I wrote, and she told me that I needed to do more, I needed to stop hiding away, and do what she felt I needed to do; write... and write for me.
And so a few days later, I accepted a ton of those Twitter requests, and started posting up stupid jokes. Things went a bit mad. My phone didn't stop dinging with follower requests for days. At one point I almost had a full-on panic attack - going from the relative safety of my little cabinet of obscurity to sudden public glare was, I confess, terrifying. I feared the worst.
However, even in the scarier moments, I didn't consider slamming the door on it again. Aside from anything else, I didn't want the abiding impression of me to be that I'd gone mad, and disappeared. Let alone gone mad and disappeared again.
There were a few people who I'd stayed in touch with, who double-checked it was really me. A few others followed me, hoping for a front row seat when Mad Mr Biffo inevitably had some sort of meltdown.
Many had no idea about the dramas which had consumed me years before, and followed me just because they remembered Digitiser fondly.
I bought the domain Digitiser2000.com, I put up the Cyber-X piece, and slowly started adding to it. All of this was, I thought, in service to some sort of Digitiser annual that Tim and I would write. I hadn't anticipated the strength of feeling for some sort of daily Digitiser again - not only from those who'd remembered it from years before, but from me too. I'd missed this.
Once I started writing in that way, I couldn't stop.
Those early months were a champagning of stuff - once the cork was out of the bottle, I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. You know that scene in Forrest Gump, where young Forrest is being chased by the bullies, and runs so fast that his callipers break and fall off him. Yeah. Well... that.
That's what happened to me. That's what it felt like.
For all my concerns, the grief I'd received before didn't resurface. They still haven't to this day.
In fact, I even made peace with several of the old Board of Biffo people. As sour as it went in the end, we were once all part of a community that was pretty damn great. It helped, of course, that I was able to accept my own share of responsibility... and that I was intent on building bridges, rather than keeping up walls.
Everyone - even harassers, stalkers, trolls, and shitposters - is trying to get some need met. I'm a firm believer that acknowledging that is the first step to forgiving it, understanding it, and resolving it. And some people do just want to be forgiven, and accepted. Yeah, alright, there are some who are beyond redemption too, but we're all just trying to survive, and do what it takes to feel safe (even if the methods are sometimes misguided, and focused on, y'know, ruining days, weeks, months, or lives).
Digitiser2000 became a daily thing, supported by a lot of you via PayPal and Patreon. I did more podcast interviews than I can remember - including One Life Left, who I had turned down years before at the height of all the grief. That was a symbolic step for me.
Two years on, we held Digifest, as part of Block Party 2016 at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge. Not only did I get to reunite with one of my oldest, bestest friends, Violet Berlin - someone I lost touch with when everything went tits-up - not only was I happy meeting many of you face-to-face, not only was I happy to be on panels, but I hosted a sort of silly comedy quiz show thing.
I'd gone from hiding in the shadows to being front-and-centre of a spotlight. I don't crave that attention, but I enjoyed doing it - and the fact I could get up and do that without any nerves, felt like reaching a destination that had once felt impossible. To cap it all off, I'm now working on Mr Biffo's Found Footage, a show which many of you funded - giving me the scope and space to create something that has none of the restrictions which need to be imposed on me in my day job.
I am beyond blessed. Thank you, for all of this.
If writing these memoirs has taught me anything, it's the interconnectedness of things. I hadn't expected them to go on for so long, but once I started writing it became impossible to not tell the broader picture.
I certainly hadn't expected to write so much about my marriage... but hiding in work was a direct consequence of the things that went wrong. I was manic, a borderline workaholic, and that never comes from nowhere.
I mean, there was stuff I left out - I'll save that for if and when I ever expand all this into a book - but I tried to at least write about the underpinning emotions behind everything. Our behaviour as human beings, our actions - every single one of us - is driven by our emotions. And our emotions don't just come from nowhere. We all have a capacity to be bad and good, to be honest and to lie, to be kind and cruel.
It was enlightening writing this, to realise how one area of my life can affect another, which can affect another, which can lead directly to one thing, then another, then another. How so many decisions in my life were the consequence of trying to compensate for other areas, even if those decisions weren't conscious - were an emotional reaction. Or that they were an emotional response dressed up as a conscious decision. Doing this has taught me a lot about myself, about what I need, and about what drives me.
What I learned as a psychotherapy student, as a writer of stories, and as a person who was dragged through the mill and back again, is how to make sense of it all - how to see it in linear terms, rather than just a big, confusing, ball of life stuff.
I've glossed over a lot of the past six or seven years... and that's mostly because life reached a place where, frankly, less happened. Or, at least, less drama happened. I'm sure you don't want to hear about my holidays. Although I do have a very good story about being accosted by a lunatic, while getting my hair cut.
Life goes on. It's not the end of my story - unless I'm hit by a lorry today - but it feels like I've reached the end of this story.
Thanks for sticking with it.
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
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FIFTEEN: PUDSEY THE DOG THE MOVIE - BY MR BIFFO