Following a fair degree of demand, here's what happened next...
Within the office, we were tolerated - just. The humour we put into Digi's pages might've gone over their heads, but even they could see that whatever it was that we were doing had been chiming with our readership. At that point, in early 1996, we had a higher readership than either the flagship teen and kids sections, and brought in lucrative advertising.
There seemed to be resentment around that, and it felt like the knives were out for us. The section was too popular to kill completely, but our bosses were looking around for other ways to control the unruly Digitiser team. Splitting us up physically was to be their first attempt, presumably labouring under the - admittedly, wholly correct - assumption that we were a bad influence on one another. Our deputy features editor, Tamara Bowles, seemed to have it in for us, and for Tim - much less diplomatic than I - in particular.
I recall having a desperately uncomfortable progress meeting with her, where I expressed my frustration at being viewed as a "graphics bimbo". I stated that writing was what I wanted to be doing full time... and she did her best to assuage me that I could write as much as I want, because "People here like you". The subtext of that was "People here like you when you're not being led astray by Tim". In reality we fed into each other, and the more they tried to rend us asunder, the more I felt compelled to resist.
Around this time, Teletext was in the process of launching its website. They'd employed Leslie Bunder - a self-professed tech expert - to advise on all matters internet-related. He was also given, against our own wishes, a column on Digitiser, for which we Christened him "Bunderman". Leslie was a nice enough guy, but we never felt he had the writing chops - at that time - which would've made him an obvious fit for our pages.
Regardless, it stoked our paranoia. It felt like he was being groomed to take over the running of Digitiser. It wasn't Leslie's fault - I don't believe he had a scheming bone in his body, and it must've been a horribly awkward position to be in. We nevertheless treated him with suspicion, and his close relationship with our editor made him appear like a lapdog. A felt sense, which has served me well over the years, was ringing its alarm bells.
Then Tim stumbled across a memo on Leslie's desk, confirming that we were right to be paranoid. Leslie was being told to familiarise himself with Digi, with a view to taking it over when Tim and I were - inevitably - booted off it.
We knew our time was limited, and if we wanted to keep working together we knew we had to think beyond Digitiser.
Before Bunderman could remould Digi in his image, there was the small matter of driving a wedge between Tim and I.
I was dragged back into graphic design - and sent on a Photoshop course - so that I could design the Teletext website. The editor even found me a new desk. Which happened to be right next to his, in his office. With my back to him, presumably so there was no way I could write anything for Digitiser without him knowing.
I'm fast, when it comes to graphics, and so most of those days were a long, yawning, slog. I'd fulfill any graphics requests, and spend the rest of my time trying to fill the hours with... anything that looked like work. It was only during lunch breaks that I could write stuff for Digi. Since starting at Teletext, I'd learned that I enjoyed writing more than creating graphics. Taking that away hit me hard, and I filled any moments where the editor's eyes weren't on me by still writing Digitiser, or sitting back at my old desk, next to Tim. It built resentment.
They must've gotten wind of my struggle to hold onto my Digitiser role, because then news came down from on high that Tim was being sent away.
Following the end of his original employee contract (I was the only employee in the entire company - thanks to my since-lost negotiating skills - who had an ongoing contract), they employed him on a freelance basis - under an "information provider" deal. Off the back of this, they decided he should be writing Digitiser from home. With hindsight, it's easy to conclude that this also made it easy to fire him, and meant that Tim had barely a leg to stand on when he later took the company to court for wrongful dismissal.
Already they'd reduced the amount of time he spent in the office to just three days a week. Everything we'd enjoyed over the past four years - and Digitiser was built entirely around our relationship - was being eroded.
Before Tim left we were getting wind of their efforts to change everything to do with Digitiser.
We knew we didn't want to break up the writing partnership, and had begun exploring other options. We were offered other jobs. We had meetings about these under the auspices of "official Digitiser business" - running the text pages on Fox Kids, or providing a real-time, on-the-fly, script for some sort of animated CGI cat thing, which provided the between-show continuity on Nickelodeon.
What we really wanted was to write sitcoms together. And so that's what we started to do, in the office, the moment we finished our Digitiser or graphics commitments for the day.
We thought we'd start small, with a radio sitcom, about two vets. We called it We Two Vets, and we borrowed the name of one of the lead characters from one of our Digitiser pants-ohs - David Belt. We wrote it in much the same way we'd written Digitiser: each writing a section, then rewriting the other person's work, or watching over the other's shoulder as they wrote. Having that real-time audience of one had served us both well.
The concept of the show wasn't exactly high. Belt was a junior assistant in the Faustus Veterinary Surgery, the owner of which was involved in some vague and sinister goings-on in his "Red Cellar". The first episode featured a tramp with an invisible friend, a run-in with someone who was an animator on Hong Kong Phooey, and saw an entire herd of cows mown down by a combine harvester. We had a scene set in a magnet and lodestone museum...
It was very, very Digi, in that it made us laugh, but didn't exactly follow the rules of what sitcoms are supposed to be. We sent We Two Vets out to every production company we could think of, and every single one of them turned us down.
Though since swallowed up by ITV, Planet 24 was riding high in 1996.
As the production company founded by Bob Geldof, it remains best known for The Big Breakfast, though unbeknownst to us they were working to move into sitcoms. Tim received a call from someone called Robert Popper, who was a development producer at Planet 24. Robert invited us in for a meeting with himself and his colleague Mark Freeland. Suffice to say, we thought this was it; hitting gold on our first go. We were going to get commissioned. We were going to be rich and successful.
We simply didn't know how things worked.
Robert and Mark raved about the script. We were a little bewildered by the level of their enthusiasm - not least because some of the rejection letters we'd received were downright hostile. One referred to it as "Nothing less than a series of absurdist sketches".
Robert offered us an option deal, for £500 - to be split between the two of us. It wasn't quite what we would've hoped for, but it was the first time either of us had received money for scriptwriting. We were, from that point, professional scriptwriters.
Except: we weren't. That dream was a long way off.
And Tim was about to be fired, putting not only our writing partnership in jeopardy - but our friendship also.
GAMES OF MY YEARS