Though I finally got to achieve the dream of writing for a BBC kids' show, the series in question - an adaptation of Eoin Colfer's 'Half Moon Investigations' - turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. It only lasted one series.
The middle of 2007 required me to spend three or four months locked in a room with Lenny Henry and David Quantick. Our task? Come up with some jokes for a BBC1 light entertainment show called 'Lenny Henry.tv', which was comprised of allegedly funny Internet clips.
I'll be the first to admit that harmless gag-laden light entertainment show links aren't my forte. This primetime shiny floor jamboree was well out of my comfort zone - but it was money, and I needed it. Also, y'know... who wouldn't be curious about working with Delbert Wilkins?
I got on well with Lenny, but he's far more intense than you might expect. I'd anticipated that he'd be constantly "on" - always showing off, always performing - but he wasn't like that at all. He was thoughtful and driven, and frequently quite grumpy. Only occasionally would he drop into a Theophilus P. Wildebeeste voice, and only once did he do a "Gwapple me gwapenuts" David Bellamy impression.
I think I met Lenny at a strange time in his life - shortly before his split with Dawn French - where he was very sensitive to what people thought of him. Within minutes of our first meeting he'd mentioned about the tabloids stitching him up - years earlier - over an alleged affair with a "mystery blonde".
A lifetime of criticism had taken its toll, and left him seemingly unsure of what he was; comedian, actor or presenter? Comic Relief figurehead or love rat?
He didn't seem to know, and Lenny Henry.tv was just another example of what looked to me like flailing, as if he was struggling to define himself. I tried to suggest that audiences would love to see him as a dad in a primetime sitcom, but at that point he seemed too desperate for credibility to do anything so populist. Ricky Gervais' mean-spirited gag in Extras had really stung him.
Whatever you may think of Lenny Henry today, the credibility he sought was once his to demand - the shows he made were required viewing when I was a kid, at a time when black faces just weren't that common on TV.
I had - and have - enormous respect for him, and I could see how raw he was feeling. More than that: I could relate to it.
I wish I could've done a better job on Lenny Henry.tv, but it just wasn't what I do best. It didn't help that a lot of the footage being provided to us wasn't very funny in the first place. I took it upon myself to look up some clips, which I passed on to the researchers, who passed them on to Lenny. He was appalled by my choices, which I will admit now that I never owned up to.
Apparently, people leaping out at kids, and scaring them to the point of hysteria, isn't funny. It's just sick. I neglected to mention the number of times I'd done this to my own children, but they turned out fine, probably...
Lenny Henry.tv was shot in front of a live studio audience in Edinburgh. I went up for the filming of the first couple of episodes. Excitingly, one of that evening's guests - the other being impressionist John Culshaw - was Lenny's old Tiswas colleague, Chris Tarrant.
Tarrant appeared particularly excited to be there, and certainly made the most of the hospitality drinks table. All the excitement must've tired him out, though, as he fell asleep on a sofa following the filming.
There were short bursts of development work here and there over the next couple of years; a sitcom for Bill Bailey and Jack Dee - and then Bill Bailey and Alistair McGowan (which went nowhere when Bailey got cold feet after almost a year of work on it).
I also briefly wrote on a football-based animated kids' series for a company that had never produced a TV show before. It had been inspired by an educational website, and the lead writer was a bloke who I felt had no idea how TV actually gets made.
Furthermore, he didn't have a clue about scripts, despite claiming to be a screenwriter of some experience. Unconvinced, and having never heard of him, I looked up his CV when I got home. As expected, he had next to no experience. God alone knows how he'd bluffed his way into the job.
I went to several meetings, and did my best to try and steer the show in a direction that was workable, but the amount of input I could have as a jobbing writer was limited. Especially with this utter idiot steering the ship. It was clearly heading nowhere, and the work began to feel like a waste of my time.
Eventually, I called them on the morning of a meeting saying I was ill - something I've never otherwise done - and wouldn't be able to make it. I then rang my agent and told her to get me off the show.
A few months later, I was having a drink with a mate who sometimes attended writers' gatherings in London. At one of these, he'd apparently got talking to the lead writer from the football animation, who warned him - not realising we were friends - never to work with me.
Apparently I'd been neglecting to go to important meetings, and not turning in work on time. I was unreliable and untrustworthy. None of which was true (I hope). I was irritated, briefly - and feared who else he was telling his scurrilous tales to - but then my mate told me that the guy's writing career had gone so well that he basically worked full-time as a minicab driver.
People in TV can be funny like that (which is true of people in general, I suppose), quick to see offence where none exists. There are many brilliant, loyal, creative people... but a lot of thin skins, fragile egos, and competition too. There have been points where I have had to watch my back, or fight for credit. Fortunately, most of the people who turn out to be trouble don't end up having particularly enduring careers.
Case in point: years before my encounter with lying football cartoon man, I went in to discuss working on the comedy series that was intended to be one of the flagship launch shows on E4. One of the producers asked me to have a read of the ideas they'd generated, and email them with what I thought. Which I did - assuming he expected some degree of constructive criticism, rather than gushing praise.
I received the following one-line response: "Well we think they're all great."
The biggest job I accepted during these sort-of-wilderness years was partnering with comedian Marc Wootton on a hidden camera show.
Marc and I had hit it off while working together on Now The Weather, and he wanted someone new to collaborate with on his biggest show to date - a co-production between BBC Three and US cable network Showtime. It would see him taking several of his characters - including the notorious psychic Shirley Ghostman - to Hollywood.
We spent the best part of six months coming up with stunts and pranks. I felt that part of my role was to steer Marc away from the darker, more disturbing, more offensive tendency that he had a natural instinct to gravitate towards.
The characters of his that I enjoyed the most were those who are child-like, almost innocent. Though he often portrays monsters on screen, in real life Marc has a sweetness that I felt he needed to convey. Not least because, by playing innocents, I thought he could get away with so much more.
Many of the ideas I came up with were in an effort to find ways to keep the scenarios playing for as long as possible. For instance, Shirley Ghostman is as broad a character as Marc does, but I had the notion of getting him to feign blindness for one stunt - I figured that those around him would forgive Shirley that much more, if the character displayed vulnerability. I was always looking for the element of sympathy.
Having said that, some of the series' darker pranks - such as accidentally driving a car over an endangered condor that one of the characters was trying to release back into the wild - were entirely my idea. Likewise Shirley retrieving his baggage from an airport carousel, only to drop it - revealing one bag to contain his dead dog.
It was fascinating to hear Marc talk about his process. When he'd filmed the series My New Best Friend - a mix of game show and hidden camera pranks, where a member of the public had to survive a weekend living with one of Marc's creations - there was a sequence where he had climbed under a contestant's duvet in the middle of the night, and wet the bed.
I'd assumed that Marc had somehow snuck a bottle of water in with him - but as it turned out he had actually wet the bed. When he explained it to me, it was clear he hadn't done it to shock; he really embodied his characters, and in that moment, in that bed, with that person, his character had felt sufficiently relaxed and safe to let everything flow. For Marc, it was a very tender moment.
Of course, the poor bloke whose bed it was had been utterly apoplectic.
Marc also had a tendency to try to unsettle people even when cameras weren't on him. He'd sometimes greet me by kissing me on the lips, or telling people I was an alcoholic. Another time I had to stop him walking round the corner to where my daughter worked, to play a prank on her.
Like some other performers I've worked with, Marc needed a degree of help in channeling what he did best. Or - I suppose - what I felt he did best. Something people rarely give actors or comedians credit for is how vulnerable they make themselves in performing. They often need people around them who they trust, who shore up their insecurities, and allow them to flourish as the best version of themselves that they can be.
But then... don't we all?
It was a similar role to one I'd adopted years before when paired with the comedian Ricky Grover, to help him write a sitcom centring around his Bulla character.
Ricky had taken too long to deliver the six episodes he'd been commissioned to write - in part because he suffered from dyslexia.
Ricky and I worked together for months on the scripts, though mostly it was just me transcribing Ricky's improvisations.
I adored his company. He is one of the most unique people I've ever met - a trained hairdresser and ex-boxer, from a family of travellers. In his youth he had been involved in various enterprises of the sort that I can't really discuss. He also had a strange fascination with dwarves, to the extent that he once invited someone with dwarfism to stay with him for a week, so that he could film him running around his house.
During our writing sessions, Ricky would pace the floor behind my desk, acting out Bulla. My dog, Finn, wasn't known for his aggressive tendencies - he usually just shivered in his basket, trembling, breaking wind, and looking guilty - but on one occasion he decided to bite Ricky on the groin. I was worried - Ricky is not a small man, and can be terrifying when he's being Bulla. Fortunately, he just laughed.
He later asked to borrow Finn for a short movie he was making. Presumably, about a neurotic, flatulent, lurcher.
An even more bizarre incident occurred when my cousin called asking whether any of my daughters had a Kylie Minogue CD she could borrow. I don't recall why. She dispatched her husband - who happened to be a policeman - to collect it.
Ricky and he nodded a greeting at one another, which I immediately picked up on as being strange - a bit like a predator and its prey who had both turned up to the same cocktail party, and were struggling to maintain their human disguises. Except I didn't know who was the predator and who was the prey.
They were left alone for a minute while I went to grab the CD, and then nodded a similarly loaded farewell. Once my cousin's husband was gone, Ricky breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn't told him what his job was, but somehow Ricky had instantly pegged him as a copper - and clearly my cousin's husband had gotten a scent of Ricky's background.
"He knew didn't he? They always do."
I had to make a decision: whether to stay with Marc Wootton's LA LA Land when it moved to Los Angeles for the six months of production.
I liked working with Marc, and loved spending time with him, but to a degree I was playing the role of his confidante and caretaker.
He trusted me, and listened to my instincts, but LA LA Land wasn't my show. In the last couple of years I'd been used to doing stuff over which I had creative control, where people had tried to coax the best out of me, to fulfil my vision. This was the opposite, and - in all honesty - nowhere near as satisfying as working on my pilots had been. I was back to being just another writer-for-hire.
I had a couple of other things rumbling along in the background - one of which was writing a travel book of my own, which was going to take me all over the world. The other was the news that I might, at last, be getting my own TV series...
Much as I wanted to live the Hollywood life for a while, I had to weigh up whether I could leave my kids for that long. They were proving to be the one thread of continuity and stability running through my life. As much as they needed a dad, I needed them too. Besides, while the location might've been glamorous, the money wasn't very good.
So, with that in mind, and with marital storm clouds gathering on the horizon for one final rainstorm... I stopped working on LA LA Land - which is why I'm only credited on some of the episodes (a lot of it was improvised once Marc and the team got to LA... and as suspected, without my influence, perhaps went in directions that I would've tried to steer it away from).
Instead, I accepted the job that offered the most money, which had been given a green light almost without me noticing: a CBBC show, called Dani's House, that would change the entire course of my career.
First though, I was off to Guyana to hunt monsters.
Oh yeah - and finally hit rock bottom. Took me long enough...
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