That they'd waited until I was on paternity leave made it appear - to both of us, I'm sure - that I was somehow more valued than him. They wanted me for my graphics skills, and Tim became expendable. I suspect they thought I'd be more malleable with Tim out of the picture. That I'd tow the company line, and fall into place. Be just another company drone. The irony, of course, was that I'd do barely another graphic for Teletext, and would go on to give them more headaches than I had ever done while paired with Tim.
I was keen not to let what had happened get in the way of our friendship, but that was easy for me; I wasn't the one who'd been fired.
Tim had a family to support, and had just had his income ripped away from him. I seemed to be favoured by those who'd fired him. The moment Tim was out of the door, I was asked to put Digitiser on hold for a week - and bill it that we were preparing "Digitiser Phase 2". When he saw this on screen, Tim rang me, upset and angry at my apparent betrayal.
I felt terrible. It was the only time one of us had ever lost it with the other. Well, apart from that time Virgin Interactive sent us to Los Angeles, and Tim's trousers got wet, and he took them off, and I made fun of him for walking around in his boxer shorts and shoes, and he snapped at me.
We got together to talk about the next draft of We Two Vets. Though there was some initial awkwardness, it didn't last long.
Tim had already started thinking about what he was going to do next, and the same day he was fired from Teletext he wrote a proposal for a travel book. I didn't think a great deal of it, other than "Good for you" (not in as patronising a way as that sounds).
We continued working on and refining We Two Vets for Planet 24, but after a time it became clear that it wasn't going to go anywhere.
The final shovel-load of soil was a sitcom called Sunnyside Farm. The similarities between our show and theirs - it ran for one series on BBC2 - were eerie, but entirely coincidental. Planet 24 had somehow managed to steal us a copy of their pilot script (the show was produced in-house at the BBC)... and our hearts sank upon reading it.
We knew that was it for We Two Vets. Though ours was more free-wheeling, more surreal, the characters in Sunnyside Farm - two farmers rather than two vets - the rural setting, the tone, even some of the dialogue... all were bizarrely similar to our script. In each a character even referred to someone else as a "stupid football".
We knew that there was no way that the writers could've known what we'd written. It was simply sheer bad luck.
The following year, another rurally-set pilot, co-written by Robert Popper, called You Are Here, also featured some similarities with We Two Vets, including a magnet museum. It further ensured our show would never make it to air. Not that there was any chance of that happening, as by this point our option with Planet 24 had expired.
The company briefly let us have a crack at a script for a sitcom set on a pirate radio station in the 1960s. Apparently it was the brainchild of Planet 24 bosses Charlie Parsons and Bob Geldof, but a previous script hadn't been liked. We never quite managed to wrap our head around the project - in part, perhaps, because we were never paid anything beyond the £500 option we'd originally been given for We Two Vets.
On our first attempt we felt we'd actually done pretty well. The enthusiasm of Robert and Mark Freeland encouraged Tim and I to continue writing together. At least, for now.
Teletext accepted my request to write Digitiser "full time" from home, which gave me more time to write scripts.
Tim and I penned another We Two Vets-style series about a pair of inept detectives, entitled Husk & Hornblower. We wrote a show about a washed-up celebrity attempting to stage a comeback (Bobby Carr Is Coming Back). We'd even had interest from a couple of agents - including the rather fruity representative of Dame Barbara Cartland, who practically threw us out of his office in a rage when he found out we wanted to talk to other agents before signing with him.
However, there was another threat looming over our partnership: Tim's sudden success as a travel writer. I was in the Teletext office the day his book deal was agreed - and he kept me posted with a running tally of the bidding war for his talents, being fought by two different publishers.
Not only was Tim going to have to write the book, but before he could put pen to paper he had to bugger off to the Arctic for months. I didn't begrudge him any of this: after the shitty hand that had been dealt to him by Teletext, it was the best revenge either of us could've hoped for. Tim's work deserved to be read and heralded by as wide an audience as possible. Preferably prefaced by an introduction which called out by name the two Teletext managers who'd fired him...
Working from home, I soldiered on. I wrote a script about a religious cult - after reading a book about the way they manipulate their members psychologically. And another for a sitcom about a gang of crooks, moving to a remote Scottish island, called North of Watford. Throughout 1996 and 1997, I wrote script after script. All photocopied, bound, and posted with a covering letter. I had some polite and encouraging rejection letters, but most of them were fairly dismissive.
Whereas Tim had found a new career - writing his first book, Frost On My Moustache, while working as a sub-editor for Esquire - I was finding it more difficult to break away from Teletext. I still loved writing Digitiser, but any respect for my editors had gone. They'd fired my mate. They'd broken us up. They'd put an end to the most fun I'd ever had.
I couldn't suppress the anger and bitterness that boiled away in me. That was only going to get worse.
Disillusioned by Teletext, and with my dream of being a TV writer seemingly going nowhere, I started applying for jobs. Proper jobs.
I was offered one working for an online gambling site, coming up with ideas for new games. I ended up turning it down when I found out it would involve nightshifts, and time spent in Belgium. I was also freelancing a fair bit; .Net Directory, Total Film, Arcane, PC Gamer, and assorted other Future Publishing mags.
Violet Berlin had given me her syndicated local newspaper column, which I was very happy to take over. Unfortunately, this ultimately landed me in trouble with Empire magazine. I'd written a review of the same game for both my column and Empire's gaming pages - and had stupidly cut-and-pasted from one to the other. One of Empire's readers had contacted them to point this out.
I got a call from Empire's Caroline Westbrook (who, bizarrely, also happened to be the girlfriend of by-then-former Digitiser columnist Leslie Bunder). She asked me how such an error had happened, and I didn't have a good excuse. She hung up on me without saying goodbye. Suffice to say, I never wrote for Empire again.
The prolific sitcom-writing that had consumed most of my time over the past year or two was grinding to a halt. It felt like a waste of time. The hope that We Two Vets had given me was diminishing, and I was fast coming to the conclusion that I'd never break into TV. It was, simply, something that other people did.
And then I got a call from Mark Freeland, who had worked with Robert Popper at Planet 24. He had left the company, and was now working for Sky Movies as their head of development. He'd taken with him a copy of my sitcom North of Watford, and passed it around his colleagues - and they had decided that the premise might make a good film.
Would I be interested in writing it?
Yes. Yes I would.
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART ONE: WE TWO VETS - BY MR BIFFO