Besides, I had Digitiser and freelance games writing to keep me occupied. Plus, my friend Steve and I had started working on a website that was intended as a sort of general pop culture version of Digitiser - Bubblegun. That was taking up most of my free time.
Regardless, We Two Vets continued its attempts to drag me backwards into the bleaker fringes of TV. Robert Popper remained a champion, and out of nowhere I got a call from a colleague of his, who was producing an upcoming Channel 4 topical comedy show.
I went and met with her. Putting it mildly, we didn't exactly click. I had no TV credits to my name, and was only there because of Robert's recommendation. Maybe I was all too aware of my lack of experience, but it felt as if she'd met with me only as a favour to Robert.
I pride myself on being easy to work with, and choosing my battles carefully. I can do a good job of getting along with almost anyone - or at least pretending I do, to the point of being a pushover. But just occasionally I meet someone who jars with me on a visceral, chemical, level. This was one of those times.
Or maybe that's just how I remember it, because of what happened next.
I went home, wrote up a couple of dozen ideas for the producer, and sent them over. I don't remember many of them. I do know that I struggled; topical stuff wasn't my strongest area. I think I suggested something absolutely hysterical about it being "Barbecue season".
One of the even weaker ideas I'd pitched was labelled 'What The Papers Really Say'. I'd suggested the hosts read out newspaper headlines, and then 'translate' them into what they really meant.
I got a brief call the next day from the producer, telling me - quite bluntly - that my ideas were not what they were looking for, and thanks, but don't bother submitting any more, because she wouldn't have the time to look at them. I think I was mid-sentence when I realised she'd hung up on me, just after she'd run down my list of pitches saying "No... no... no..." in a disinterested voice.
That series turned out to be The 11 O'Clock Show - which launched the careers of many who have gone onto much, much better things. Despite being turned down, I tuned into the first episode out of curiosity.
During which was a segment called 'What The Papers Really Say'.
Whether the ripping-off was accidental or intentional, or just plain coincidental, it had happened, and made me feel pretty cynical and angry.
I was struggling to get work in TV, and here - it appeared - was TV taking my idea, and not even giving me credit.
It was like looking in the window of a party you weren't invited to because you're not cool enough, and seeing everyone wearing your clothes.
Adding to my feelings of impotence, I was pretty powerless to do anything about it. I had no agent. Nobody to flag it up to. Mentioning it to my then-wife would've been a waste of time.
Instead, I believe I went on an ill-considered rant on a message board, no doubt making me look like one of those people who claim to have written Stairway to Heaven. Obviously, this wasn't a Stairway to Heaven-type injustice, but to a fledgling young writer, struggling to get into TV, it was a baseball bat to the groin. In fact, it was irrelevant how a feature identical to one I'd pitched had ended up on The 11 O'Clock Show - when I'd pitched it, I was told it was no good. That hurt more than anything.
This wouldn't be the last time people would take credit for my work; in my years of experience, plagiarism is utterly endemic in TV. It seems that the rewards for success are so great that many don't care about the feeling of a job well-done. They just want the feeling of other people believing they've done a good job. I've stopped even caring when it happens. Well... more or less. Like I say; I choose my battles.
I crossed paths with that 11 O'Clock Show producer many years later, when we worked together on one of my kids shows. Or, rather, didn't work together.
Of course, she didn't remember me. Unfortunately, I remembered her, and I was probably needlessly arsey from the off. I weighed up whether to tell her about our history together. Within a month of her taking on the producer job, the executive producer had to step in to stop her lead writer (me) mutinying over some of the producer's decisions and behaviour.
I ended up working directly with the executive producer, and never spoke another word to the producer for the remainder of the series. One of the few times since working in TV that I've ever thrown my toys out of the pram. Y'know. Sometimes it's "chemical". Like when you pour sulphuric acid onto a dog.
I'll let you decide who's who in that analogy.
Suffice to say, my 11 O'Clock Show experience had convinced me to give up when it came to TV. I was done. TV was a horrible place.
And then I got the call from Mark Freeland, now head of movie development at Sky. What happened next was bewildering.
Before I knew it, Mark had commissioned me to write a feature script based on my sitcom idea - North of Watford - that he'd read while still at Planet 24.
He'd written me a letter of recommendation to a pretty big deal agent, and he'd arranged for me to meet with David Green, who'd directed Phil Collins in Buster. David was going to be directing North of Watford.
I hadn't even written a word of the screenplay yet. I was grappling with the reality of how to turn a slightly silly sitcom idea into a sub-Guy Ritchie ganster movie, with elements of Whiskey Galore (as that clash of genres seemed to be the prevailing wind behind the decision to commission North of Watford). Mark decided to send me to Scotland.
Not permanently. Just for a week, to absorb some of the atmosphere of the Outer Hebrides.
I'd been there before; for my 18th birthday, a friend and I had decided to hitch-hike our way to the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis, under the mistaken belief that we were hippies. We never made it. Potentially, because we weren't hippies.
After stepping off the Stornaway ferry into a raging storm, we stuck out our thumbs and were picked up by an elderly couple who were "heading that way". What they didn't tell us was that "heading that way" didn't equate to the entire way. They dropped us in the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of some remote moorland.
Knees-deep in moss and mud, we trekked until we found a garage, which we broke into, and spent the night inside a semi-dismantled coach on their forecourt. When the staff arrived in the morning, they weren't best pleased to see us, but it had been that or hypothermia. We never made it to the stones. We were wet, muddy, hungry, and I insisted we went home.
This, and my time spent in Golspie - a small east coast town an hour or two north of Inverness, where my best friend's family had opened a chip shop - had fed into North of Watford. I loved Scotland. I still do. The week I spent up there researching North of Watford made me love it even more.
This time there would be no ferry or hitch-hiking. I flew into Stornaway via Glasgow, and spent the week being handed from tour guide to tour guide like a dirty sausage.
The Western Isles are like nowhere else I've ever been, the landscape changing every few minutes, from lunar landscape, to green plains, to marshland. The weather is similarly insecure, not so much Four Seasons In One Day, as Four Seasons In One Hour.
I'd prepared a week's worth of Digitiser in advance, but it still ended up being late that week, when I got stranded on Barra, the second southernmost inhabited Western Isle. The island's airport had one runway, which also doubled as a beach. The weather was so bad that it was keeping the tide in, and the plane from Glasgow couldn't land for two days. I had to call Teletext and explain what had happened; the only time Digitiser was ever late.
I even ran out of clean underwear.
North of Watford rumbled through my life for a few months. I read a lot of screenplays to wrap my head around the formula, but probably made the mistake of basing everything I did on Bruce Robinson's brutally poetic, but quite atypical, script for Withnail & I. I wrote three drafts, of varying levels of Withnail-ish-ness.
Despite being told by the brilliantly Hollywood David Green (he even said to me at one point - without irony - "We're gonna make a movie, kid!") that my first draft was "The best first draft I've ever read", I didn't really know what I was doing.
There was more writing on the wall than there ever was in my script. I got the call just after Christmas that they were going to be hiring another writer to take over North of Watford. Evidently, he didn't do any better than I did. Unless the film did come out, and I missed it somehow.
And that was more or less it as far as my screenwriting career went, for a year or two.
The next time TV came calling, I would be writing simultaneously for a talkative chicken and a mute bear.
READ PART FOUR