"Hello, dude. I'm Doctor How, brother of the famous Timelord, Doctor Who - from off the telly and that - and I'm here to introduce you to this stupid Digitiser timeline thing. Sometimes people ask me, if I'm Doctor Who's brother, why do I have a different last name to her? And the answer is that sometimes I forget I'm dyslexic!!!!!!!??!! Or maybe she does, stop going on about it, yeah?
"Other things that people ask me include: am I also a Timelord? The answer to that is: probably! I must be on this page for a reason! The final thing people ask me is: what am I doctor of? And the answer to that is: your mum.
The following timeline has been put together with the indespensible guidance of Mr Biffo, without whose help we might never have been able to piece events into a coherent order.
Now time it-up, guy:
A young Paul Rose reads an issue of short-lived adventure comic 'Speed', which features a multiple choice quiz about the events of the story that had just been read.
In it, a question asks what mode of transport the protagonist used at one point in the tale. One of the multiple choice answers, a misprint, reads "A handsome crab" – fate has intervened, and the furious laughter this causes in the future-boy Biffo shows that his future is set…
At age 16, Paul Rose produces his first teletext graphics. Joining Ladbrokes out of school, his job is to create graphics for their in-store displays, as well as their teletext adverts to be broadcast on Oracle.
11 OCTOBER 1989
Paul Rose's graphics work appears on TV for the first time – in the opening episode of Michael Palin's TV travelogue 'Around The World In 80 Days', which airs on the BBC. In the episode, Palin goes into a branch of Ladbrokes to get odds on him successfully completing his quest – an animated Monty Python-style foot drawn by Rose comes down and crushes the odds.
16 MARCH 1991
Oracle, the long-running teletext service which currently broadcasts on ITV and Channel 4, successfully campaigns to be able to bid for a teletext franchise in the upcoming auctions under the Broadcasting Act 1990. Broadcasting Minister David Mellor says that he was impressed by the levels of public support shown for Oracle during their campaign.
Paul Rose now works at Wembley Stadium, producing graphics for the electronic scoreboard. The night Bryan Adams plays in July, he brings the house lights up early and inadvertently cancels the encore that Adams had intended to play.
20 APRIL 1992
Paul Rose has his second ever graphic appear on TV while working at Wembley Stadium. The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert - shown live on the BBC and around the world – opens by showing the stadium scoreboard, featuring a Rose-drawn graphic. He is very proud.
30 APRIL 1992
The Independent Television Commission announces that Oracle has failed to win the franchise auction to provide teletext services on ITV and Channel 4 from 1993 onwards.
Teletext Ltd. is awarded the franchise, winning the auction with a bid of £8.2m to Oracle's £6.7m. Other bidders were: TV-am Cable TV (£6.4m), Carlton/Intelfax (3.6m), Update (£3.6m).
The ITC states that it can see no reason not to award the franchise to the highest bidder.
Paul Rose joins Teletext as a graphic artist. While still at Wembley he gets a call from John Holme, Teletext's first editorial director, who had been given his name by someone who shared a flat with an ex-colleague of his at Ladbrokes.
A month after Rose joins Teletext, a suggestion box is put out for ideas for new sections. Tim Moore, an experienced journalist who had first made his name writing for 'Record Mirror' and 'Melody Maker', had been assigned to write the single games page on 'Generator', Teletext's teens section. Rose talks to Moore and suggests that the page should be expanded into a full section - Moore shrugs and thinks it's a reasonable idea, but doesn't do anything about it. Rose writes a proposal memo and puts it in the suggestion box.
Paul Rose's proposal breaks the section down into news, reviews, previews, letters, tips and charts. It includes a review of 'Bart's Nightmare' for the SNES. John Holme, editorial director, asks Rose to tell him more, so he describes his love of games and how much money a games section could make for Teletext. Holme likes the idea and says Rose can write it with Tim Moore, to which he replies: "...what?"
The first game Rose reviews for Digitiser is Green Dog for the Mega Drive – though this is merely as a dry-run for the pilot edition of Digi before the Teletext launch, and it never airs.
24 NOVEMBER 1992
Digi had been green-lit by Teletext's editors, and Paul Rose and Tim Moore attend Sega's massive 'Sonic 2sday' launch for Sonic The Hedgehog 2 at Hamley's toy shop. This sees the start of their long-running game of stroking the backs of celebrities hard enough that they turn around, and then acting like nothing had happened.
Rose and Moore start sending out their own press releases promoting Digi's launch, which are picked up by a number of games mags, who run stories announcing its debut in their news sections. Mean Machines Sega fail to get an obvious joke and ridicule it, foreshadowing the antagonism to come between them and Digi.
31 DECEMBER 1992
After nearly 20 years providing teletext services to ITV and Channel 4, Oracle goes offline at 11:59pm on New Year's Eve 1992.
1 JANUARY 1993
Teletext, the new service provided by Teletext Ltd., goes live just after 12.00am on 1 January 1993.
Digitiser launches on New Year's Day 1993 as part of the brand new service provided by Teletext Ltd. Located on ITV page 370, it's initially written uncredited by Paul Rose (aka Mr Biffo) and Tim Moore (aka Mr Hairs).
The first reviews in the first edition of Digitiser are Chuck Rock on the SNES, and Kirby's Dreamland for the Game Boy.
The introductory pages of the newborn Digi explain their plans for running reviews. While the consoles of the day and PC are all listed as being covered, the Amiga is conspicuous by its absence (at the time due to the fact that neither of the writers owned an Amiga). Amiga owners immediately inundate them with phone calls and letters lobbying to have them sacked. This continues long after Digi relent, acquire an Amiga, and start publishing reviews for the machine.
Digitiser is an immediate hit with viewers, generating more correspondence than any other section, even being described by the features editor as the 'saviour of Teletext'. The first ratings to come in are strong, eventually climbing to 1.5 million viewers per week at their height.
Digi acquire stacks of signed photos of ITV weathermen from an unknown source, which are given away to everyone who writes to the letters page. They last for about 3 months, and readers are able to request a specific meteorologist.
Viewers continue to write to Digi wanting to know who the mystery men behind it are. Seeing the trend for games journos being treated like pseudo-celebrities as tasteless and best avoided, the Digi writers finally do reveal their identities to the readers – but instead of their real names, they dub themselves 'Mr Biffo' (Paul Rose) and 'Mr Hairs' (Tim Moore).
Biffo had got his name from the Digi team's recent inclination of describing things that are good as being 'Biffo The Bear', and 'Corky The Cat'. Hairs' name is presumably inspired by the Johnny Marr-style haircut he sported at the time.
At no point in Digi's history would the writers ever be referred to by their real names – even after Biffo's true identity is revealed following his appearance on GamesMaster later in the year.
LATE JANUARY 1993
The Man With A Long Chin debuts on the letters page – the first character to appear on Digi. He encourages readers to write in by offering mysterious gifts from his 'secret pocket' as a reward for the best letters. This was in fact PR tat that Digi were trying to get rid of.
Readers begin writing in about The Man With A Long Chin, wanting to know more about him and his life, prompting Digi to start publishing a daily diary talking about his exploits. It is… unusual.
He quickly gains fans, including enthusiastic groupies The Girl With The Golden Game Boy, Fruitbat (Miss), and Poppy, who all declare their love for him, and a desire to rub Vaseline on his chin.
1 FEBRUARY 1993
Digi launch their first competition, where readers can win a copy of the Amos game-creating software for the Amiga. In order to win the prize, viewers must submit a limerick which contains the words 'Amos' and 'milk'.
28 FEBRUARY 1993
Digitiser moves from ITV p370 to Channel 4 p470 as part of an editorial shake-up – this would be the first of many page moves over the years, but it would remain on Channel 4 for the rest of its run.
Adam Keeble joins the Digitiser team as Mr Cheese, initially as the Amiga games reviewer, and inputting the tips and charts. A member of Biffo's weekly roleplaying game group, he had won a Digi competition by writing in under the alias 'Mr Cheese'.
In one of the first of many controversial moments in Digitiser's life, a viewer writes in about Digi's representation of short-lived EastEnders pub singer Danny Taurus - a character that spent early 1993 attempting to 'woo' Pauline Fowler.
Known for his slightly absurd wig, the Digi depiction of Taurus appeared regularly one week, with the drawing of his 'wig' becoming increasingly phallic every day.
The viewer draws a sketch of what they see – the face of Taurus, with a prominent protuberance of hair, and an arrow pointing to it with the question: 'possible cock?'
Rumbled, Digi promptly shelve Danny Taurus.
Maverick Magazines' Super Control SNES title begins a link-up with Digi, publishing the Lard Challenge and a Man With A Long Chin comic strip. The Man's comics would appear in the magazine for the rest of the year.
Biffo and Hairs attend their first ECTS, and are introduced to Bad Influence presenter Violet Berlin, who reveals herself to be a big fan of Digi. They meet up at the aftershow party and a friendship is cemented over talk about Abba.
A review of SNES Street Fighter II includes the comment 'now you too can develop epilepsy', in reference to current tabloid hysteria around video games. This prompts the British Epilepsy Association to call and lodge a complaint. After the BEA rep had seemed to be placated on the phone, Biffo later reads the headline 'Teletext rapped for sick video game joke' in the next day's issue of The Sun, the rep having immediately spoken to them about it.
As a result, Teletext's features editor makes Biffo go through the weekend edition of Digi line by line to check for any epilepsy references. This happens to be the first time that Digi had run an 'all-stupid' feature – it claimed that Noel Edmonds had manifested from the top of faulty Mega Drives. Biffo was asked if this was true, and had to explain that it was 'just stupid' – 'so it's like satire?', the features editor asks. 'I suppose', Biffo replies – which seems to be enough to placate her.
It is revealed that The Man With A Long Chin has been embroiled in a tabloid scandal, when transcripts of a lascivious phone conversation between him and Dad's Army are published – this comes to be known as 'Mangate', or 'Chinnygate'.
22 NOVEMBER 1993
On the 30th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Digi break the news that The Man With A Long Chin has been shot dead by an unknown assailant from a grassy knoll. An election is then held to find his replacement on the diary page, which, amid allegations of vote tampering by Digi, is eventually won by the DJ Pat Walker.
16 DECEMBER 1993
Biffo appears as a reviewer in series 3 episode 15 of GamesMaster. He also goes on to appear in episodes 16 and 21. These appearances reveal his true identity, as the show refuses to credit him as 'Mr Biffo', insisting on giving his real name. With Biffo's Teletext kids comic strip, 'Turner The Worm', also being credited to his real name, Digi fans now knew that Paul Rose was the man behind the mask.
Biffo later recalls that, when filming his segments, none of the games he was asked to review had yet been released, and that he quickly needed to play them enough to think of something to say to camera. He encounters Mean Machines Sega staffers Steve Merrett and Jaz Rignall in the studio, and though they don't speak, they would soon be locked in an inter-publication war of words.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1993
The Man With A Long Chin – Digi's mascot
DIY "Kelly" – The Man's brother
Duncan – The Man's pet jar of prawns with a collective intelligence
Chapman – The Man's aunt, and reader's charts host
The Man Who Taunts Fear – The Man's nemesis
Pat Walker – The Man's replacement
Dr Derek Doctors – sinister, scheming mad dentist
Nurse Tina – Dr Derek Doctors' assistant
Onion Owl – worked at the zoo feeding onions to the owls
Danny Taurus – phallus-haired EastEnders rock 'n' roll lothario
In a wilfully obtuse move designed to do nothing more than alienate themselves from their games journo peers, Digi begin running a regular feature where they 'review' other magazines. Hosted by Smokin' Glenn Miller - The Mag Monkey - in one column they describe Dave Perry's Sega Pro as 'mostly irrelevant'. The deputy editor of the Paragon mag phones in a rage threatening to sue, and demands a print-out of the offending page. Digi promptly change the text to read 'mostly irreverent', print the page, fax it over, and never hear about it again.
In a hitherto unprecedented multi-page diary story, Pat Walker describes how he stood too close to a radiator and his face melted to such an extent that he now resembles a man – a man with a long chin. The Man was back – custodian of the diary page once again, seemingly his old self, with no sign of the Pat Walker personality within him.
24 FEBRUARY 1994
Sonic 3 is released for the Mega Drive, and Digi cause an earthquake across gaming by giving it the legendary (and fair) review score of 72%. Readers are outraged and start accusing Digi of bias against Sega in ever higher volumes.
Mean Machines Sega prints a reader's letter complaining about Digi – and a none-too-complimentary reply. This is only the first of many.
The same month, the official Sega Magazine (sister title of Mean Machines) prints a letter entitled 'I Don't Like Digitiser Much' – which was indeed accurate – where the reader rants about Digi's 72% review score for Sonic 3.
1 APRIL 1994
Digi start a tradition of playing April Fools on their readers every 1st April. They would have a lot of fun with this over the years, and on this occasion Digi sported a straight-faced prank review of 'Mario Fighters' – which they claimed was a Mortal Kombat-style beat 'em-up, with digitised graphics of Nintendo's most beloved characters beating the realistic crap out of each other.
Leslie Bunder is hired as a technology writer, and to advise on the Teletext website. A memo from management is later found telling him to 'familiarise' himself with Digi's output, as, baffled by Biffo and Hairs who were raising eyebrows in the office, Teletext are grooming him to take over the running of Digi from them. He would eventually be given a Panel 4 column as a way of gradually integrating him into Digi, only for viewer complaints about the standard of his writing to see him removed.
16 MAY 1994
Sci-fi series Babylon 5 starts airing in the UK on Channel 4. With its CGI being created on an enhanced A1200, Amiga owners soon take it up as evidence that the Amiga is still alive and relevant, frequently – and tiresomely – writing to Digi stating such.
Now an established friend of Digi, Violet Berlin starts writing a weekend column. This would eventually become Panel 4. She also puts them in touch with well-regarded Amiga Power writer Stuart Campbell.
Digi launch their grandest competition to date, wherein readers are encouraged to pose with signs that read "Digitiser = Filth" in as funny or exotic a location as possible. They receive a great number of entries, and it is eventually won by Alex Garland, whose friend is pictured atop a Buddhist temple in Thailand while holding aloft the requisite Digi sign. Garland is unknown at the time, and eventually becomes a high-profile Digi advocate.
20 SEPTEMBER 1994
Channel 4's GamesMaster returns to TV screens for its fourth series, featuring a special link-up with Digi. Viewers could send comments on the show live as it aired to Digi, and by bringing up one of their teletext pages, the comments would be overlaid on top of GamesMaster as subtitles - in a sort of early version of live-tweeting. The Digi team did not enjoy this development, as they had to stay late at the office and type the comments up live while GamesMaster was being broadcast. Dominik Diamond, who had returned as presenter after Dexter Fletcher's stint as host for series 3, would contribute, and Biffo had to speak to him over the phone before the show for some reason. In the end the plug was pulled on this service after Digi started making sarcastic comments on adverts during the commercial breaks.
A Mean Machines Sega reader well and truly ignites the bubbling feud between Digi and EMAP's Sega magazines, sending them an A4 cartoon strip ridiculing Digi. MMS show it prominently on the editorial pages at the front of the mag. Seeing this, Biffo decides that it's time to step up the feud.
A whole host of anti-Digi letters are printed in Mean Machines Sega, including an (alleged) poem. In their replies to them, MMS call into question Digi's readership figures – prompting an irritated Digi to send MMS editor Steve Merrett a fax slapping them down in bizarre fashion, calling him a 'fish-back' and 'biscuit skin'. Digi also provide evidence to prove the readership levels they had claimed. MMS begrudgingly issue a climb down the following month.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1994
Inspector Morse and Lewis – police procedural double-act
Phoning Honey – the Ring-sir! telephone prankney
Mr T – refuse-obsessed A-Team street-tough
Gossi The Dog – the awfully discreet news pooch
Fat Sow – angry pig commenting on the week's events
Dr Triv – trivia-loving robot from the future
BW – faceless, genial quiz host
Mr Nude – nudist colony owner and Chips & Teats host
Mrs. Nude – nudist spouse of Mr Nude
Chart Cat – the urbane sophisticate who was custodian of the charts for around 4 years
DJ Ice Hockey – aggressive host of the arcade reviews
Puckles The Cuckold – the businessman with the desperate life
Wyatt Earp and Josef Engels – cheeky schoolboy tipsters
Mr Hurlie and his Curly Pearlies – a funnee guy with real bad dental problems
Balls For Eyes – a funnee guy with real bad optical problems
Soccerman 2001 – plays upon a ladle
Smokin' Glenn Miller – the Mag Monkey who reviews rival games mags
Turps – world-famous star of The Thompsons cartoon: "Thompson-non!"
A popular comedian called The Man's Daddy graces the Digi letters page with his surreal jokes for the first time. Readers are initially perplexed, but he's a surprising hit, and eventually goes on to be regarded as a classic among Digi's regular characters.
16 SEPTEMBER 1995
Having seen various other Teletext sections change their names, Digi muse about the possibility of doing the same. They run a Hot Topic asking what their new name should be, and are deluged with suggestions along the lines of 'Cyber-Show', 'Games 2000', 'Astrohobby', and 'Bandwidth'. The winner? 'Iron Wrist' (or perhaps it's 'Gamma 7'…?)
They of course declare that they're in fact so well-known that they are now 'simply unable' to rebrand, and, mercifully, the Digitiser standard continues to fly.
29 SEPTEMBER 1995
Sony release the PlayStation in Europe. Digitiser is the only major games mag not to be provided with review copies by Sony – who then refuse to return Digi's calls. After much chasing, eventually Digi put a message on air aimed at Sony's PR Glen O'Connell, accusing him of "bad PR". O'Connell calls Teletext in a rage, and at his insistence, the offending text is removed from air - but because this is done without consulting the editor first, the Digi team are seriously reprimanded by management and told that any other transgressions would lead to their dismissal.
But they do now start to receive PlayStation review copies.
The following Monday, the Digi team are sent to a Teletext office 'away day', where various team building exercises take place. In one of them, the facilitator asks the assembled editorial staff what they would do in the case of a hypothetical scenario where Prince Charles is killed in a skiing accident. Someone replies 'Check Digitiser, to see if they've made any sick jokes about skiing'. Everyone nods and writes this advice down. Biffo quietly seethes at Digi being so misunderstood.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1995
The Man's Daddy – popular stand-up comedian
Prints – purple-headed pop funkster
The Funny Dancers - the greatest dancers around!
BW's Wife – quiz hostess
D. Hall The Best Man In The World – Chips & Teats guy
Mr Norman – another Chips & Teats guy
Clever – terrifying/arrogant font of information
Top Cat – the whistlin', lyin' report-o-skull
Cornelius The Monkey – financial adviser and star of Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H
Sensing that the knives may be out for them at Teletext, and keen to find a way of continuing to work together, Biffo and Hairs begin writing the script for a radio sitcom while in the office.
Entitled We Two Vets, it features veterinary protagonists David Belt (fresh from a Digitiser Pant-oh appearance in December) and Faustus, and details the extraordinary goings on at their practice. Its Digi-pushed-to-11 humour fails to win it many friends at the production companies they send it to, but Robert Popper (creator of 'The Timewaster Letters', 'Look Around You' and 'Friday Night Dinner'), then working at Planet 24, likes it enough to option the script for £500.
Encouraged by this initial interest, the duo go on to write further comedy scripts together – the detective sitcom Husk & Hornblower, and the tale of a light entertainer attempting a comeback; Bobby Carr Is Coming Back. None of them are picked up.
1 APRIL 1996
For this year's April Fool, Digi change their name to 'Gamma 7' on the index page (thus causing panic among viewers who were relieved that last year's mooted name change never happened). Digi also claim that Nintendo had bought the rights to Sonic from Sega, and that he would be teamed with Mario in upcoming N64 title 'Mario & Sonic' - to be trailed in the end sequence of Mario 64, which of course isn't out in the UK yet.
Violet Berlin's weekend column for Digi is reduced in frequency - instead of contributing a piece every week, she now shares a rotating line-up with three other established games and technology-related journalists, who all provide a column on a cyclical basis every one in four weekends.
Stuart Campbell of Amiga Power and Your Sinclair; Edge's Tony Mott; plus Adam Porter of Loaded (and friend of Mr Hairs) are welcomed to the team, and 'Panel 4' is born.
The format of a rotating line-up of weekend columnists continues until the 'Digigate' affair brings it to an end in October 2001.
27 APRIL 1996
Stuart Campbell has his first Panel 4 column published on Digi. He would go on to be a stalwart defender and friend of Digi over the coming the years.
WEEK COMMENCING 27 MAY 1996
While Biffo is away on paternity leave, Hairs publishes a Gossi news story about Dave Perry being reprimanded by his magazine's publisher for falling sales. Perry sees this and takes offence, ringing Teletext's editor and threatening to sue. The story is promptly removed from air, meaning that due to journalistic legal conventions, Teletext had admitted liability.
Teletext management are livid about this error, and use the incident as an excuse to fire Hairs – doing so with some glee. Hairs storms out of the office, throwing coffee over his computer in the process.
A deeply apologetic Dave Perry later confirms the story that started it all was true.
Biffo begins a 'caretaker' role in charge of Digi until a more permanent arrangement is found.
Teletext approach Stuart Campbell to take over the running of Digi from Biffo, but he declines out of loyalty.
Following a performance review where he expresses a wish to write more for the company, Biffo offers to run Digi entirely by himself from home – management accept.
He is told to rest Digi for a week to reflect on the recent changes, and come back for 'Digitiser Phase 2'. There is apparently no question of it being axed due to the amount of money it makes for Teletext.
Biffo no longer has graphic design duties, and starts writing Digi solo full time.
Biffo receives a phone call from a journalist at The Independent, informing him that he'd like to do a feature on Digitiser, as it's 'a phenomenon'. The journalist never calls back – because his novel had been picked up by a publisher. The journalist is Alex Garland, and the book is of course 'The Beach'.
The upcoming 'Digitiser Phase 2' is trailed in banners on Digi pages.
14 OCTOBER 1996
Alex Garland has his debut novel, 'The Beach', published – Garland sends a copy to Biffo and instructs him to turn to a certain page, where he finds a Digi-homaging chapter entitled 'Messed-up'.
28 OCTOBER 1996 TO 4 NOVEMBER 1996
As the post-Hairs 'Digitiser Phase 2' relaunch approached, Digi goes offline for a week and is relaced with a message saying it will be back on the 4th November. This is to enable Biffo to get set up working from home - he technically leaves Teletext at this point, becoming a freelance contractor, and on his last day is presented with a plaque dedicated to him for 'services to Teletext'.
The week-long Digi-less period comes to be known by fans as 'The Lost Weekend', with speculation taking place on the letters page as to what went on. Nothing is ever said on air about the internal changes.
4 NOVEMBER 1996
The relaunched Digi with only Biffo at the helm begins. He responds to Hairs leaving by going all-out weirder still on Digi, including bizarre multi-page reveal stories on the letters page.
Mr Toast (only identified as 'Sean') joins the team to provide support for Biffo, helping with the tips and chart pages. This had previously been the role of Mr Cheese (Adam Keeble), who had long since moved on to other sections by now, with Teletext even paying for him to do a journalism degree.
Digi run a series of interviews with games industry people under the banner of 'Invasion Of The Space Gents'. The Space Gents – led by Wally Bong – are on their way to enslave earth, and Digi's secret Cumbrian bunker is the only safe place to hide. The interviews are used to determine who gets to be admitted into the bunker. Nobody gains access - not even Biffo.
Digi coin the term 'puffy jacket' – sometimes shortened to 'puff jak' – to describe the surly youths who hang out at arcades wearing puffy ski or 'Kappa' jackets, and trying to look hard. A precursor to 'chav' or 'ned', they go on to inspire the characters of both Wired Child and The Snakes.
Regular Digi correspondent Dantendo sends a legal document to the letters page, which declares that he has in fact officially changed his name to 'Dantendo' by deed poll.
If this weren't warning enough, Dantendo eventually turns out to be a worryingly disturbed individual, and after receiving faeces-smeared death threats, Digi are forced to report him to the police.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1996
Peelbacca – the wookiee dude that resembles something…else
Wally Bong – flamboyant leader of the invading Space Gents
Digi launch Brown Trumpet – an ambitious competition, wherein readers are required to promote Digi in as attention-grabbing a way as possible. Unlike 1994's Digitiser = Filth competition, entries don't exactly come thick and fast, but it does inspire some historically significant moments.
The very first Digi fansite – simply named 'Digitiser' – is launched as part of Brown Trumpet, by Adrian Hon (who would go on to release the 'Zombies, Run!' mobile game as part of his Six To Start studio). Digi warn Hon when announcing his place on the leaderboard that they are 'not a franchise' and he is to turn it into a 'feeble fan-worship site'. It soon vanishes, and sadly there seems to be no archive record of it anywhere.
After a brief period helping with the tips and charts, Mr Toast departs Digi, and is replaced with Mr Udders (Gavin Lambert – younger brother of Mr Cheese's best friend). Udders remains the second member of the Digi team for the rest of its run, and is responsible for writing characters such as Wired Child, Strangelove The Tramp, Dennis The Man Of Zinc, and other residents of the tips pages.
The #digi IRC (internet relay chat) channel is set up on Dalnet by Adrian Hon. Biffo regularly joins the fan community for chats. The channel survives to this day.
9 DECEMBER 1997
Super Page 58 (i.e. this website that you're reading) goes live on the University of Brighton web server. It is the second Digitiser fansite to grace the web, following Adrian Hon's offering, which is no longer online at this point.
Adam Porter's Panel 4 column is cancelled by management amid rumours of late submissions, including his final, half-finished piece, being pushed through the letterbox of the Teletext offices an hour before deadline. Teletext's 'Online' editor Leslie Bunder is brought in to replace him, beginning an ill-advised and unpopular monthly column for Panel 4.
Commenting on the demographic shift in gaming seen with the arrival of the PlayStation, and how it has changed what now constitutes an 'average' gamer, Digi coin the term 'casual gamer' as a shorthand description.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1997
Chester Fisho – innuendo-loving aquatic news guy
Wired Child – a 'puffy jacket' hosting the charts
After being asked by a reader to draw a swan – formerly a common sight as a Digi reveal-oh, but now not seen for a number of years – Digi agree and instruct the reader to press reveal. Doing so shows a hideously mutated swan crying out the phrase 'Moc-moc-a-moc!'. This would soon be repeated for various other reveal-ohs, and quickly becomes established as a fan-favourite catchphrase.
18 FEBRUARY 1998
Following weeks of discussion on the Digi letters page about setting one up, the alt.digitiser newgroup goes live on Usenet.
Perhaps this will mark the end of its shit phase.
The newly-launched 'Page 170' Digi fansite begins its life with an open letter to Digitiser and Teletext from the website's creator, David Deans, and others, complaining about the standard of Leslie Bunder's Panel 4 columns, and demanding his removal from the feature.
1 APRIL 1998
This year's April foolishness comes with Digi claiming that the next Sonic game would be a Tomb Raider-style 3D adventure, with Chairman Mao as the villain. The review is the now-legendary Radiohead: The Creep.
9 APRIL 1998
For the first time, the Digitiser online community receives a spotlight feature on Digi. Called 'Praise Be To Us', the article gives a guide to the fansites currently on the internet – Peter FM's 'Digitiser' (now gone and not archived), David Deans' 'Page170' (the highest-profile Digi fansite at the time), and Super Page 58 (then still located on the Brighton Uni web server).
More Digi fansites would go on to grace the web, and at their height there would be five coexisting together – Super Page 58 (click to see what it looked like at the time), 'Page170', Mentski's 'Digi!', and 'Do You See?' came early on, and were later followed by David McCaffery's lovely 'Digi-Me-Do'. There was even a webring grouping them all together for easy access.
No other section on Teletext has inspired such a large collection of dedicated fansites before or since.
Following a number of complaints that he didn't understand the subject matter (not least from Stuart Campbell), Leslie Bunder has his final Panel 4 column published. He never writes for Digitiser again.
Teletext management realise that he is not a good fit for the section, and their long-running plan to have him take over finally comes to an end.
Leslie Bunder's Panel 4 column is replaced with a reader 'Your Panel 4' article, where viewers are able to submit their own writing for publication. Fans on alt.digitiser believe they will be paid for this work: "Hahahahahaha!" – Biffo.
Stuart Campbell has an article printed in .Net magazine describing the travails and frustrations involved in the setting up of the alt.digitiser newsgroup. The full piece is available for you to read.
Never ones to give up on a good idea, Digi launch another edition of Brown Trumpet. Slightly tweaking the formula this time, the Brown Trumpet format is mixed with the old 'Digitiser = Filth' competition from 1994 - now viewers are required to send in photos of themselves holding signs which read 'Digitiser Destroyed Me'. It turns out to be much more successful this time, and is eventually won by none other than Terry Pratchett in one of his trademark hats, bare-chested, up-a-mountain.
11 AUGUST 1998
A beatboxing snake is shown as a reveal-oh. Within weeks The Snakes are a new sensation, frequently being featured in multi-page weekend reveal-ohs, with viewers writing in demanding more.
26 OCTOBER 1998
A complaint to the ITC regulator about Gossi The Dog is upheld:
A viewer complained about animal cruelty being used as a subject for humour.
The Broadcaster's Statement
Teletext said that the Digitiser section prided itself on its irreverent and 'off-the-wall' humour and decisions about what might offend could sometimes be difficult. However, on this occasion, it felt that the borderline had been overstepped and the frame was quickly removed from air.
The BSC's Finding
A Standards Panel noted the Teletext page in question. It agreed that a reference to the beating of a dog, albeit fictional, would have been likely to have caused offence. The complaint was upheld."
15 DECEMBER 1998
A schism in the increasingly off-topic alt.digitiser newsgroup leads to the creation of a splinter group, alt.digitiser.snakes. It's slow to get off the ground, but eventually comes to be regarded by Biffo as the closest thing to an official newsgroup that Digi has.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1998
Zombie Dave – potty-mouthed living dead news-ston
The Snakes – cussingest Kiss FM-worshipping mandem
The Rapping Shoe – popular foot-based rhyme dude
Dennis, The Man Of Zinc – stunt-performing Chips & Teats guy
The Beatles – compulsive liars
Bob Sweezely – xenophobic American quiz show host
Smilin' Peter – the relentlessly happy chicken
The Nice Valentine Rusk – very naughty tips guy
A Man Diary lonely hearts column featuring a request from a 'fat woman' seeking a 'ginger man' to create 'ugly children' is pulled from air half way through the day following a viewer complaint.
1 APRIL 1999
The final Digi April Fool of the 20th Century features a review of the Dance Dance Revolution-aping Super Mario Disco. They also trail an upcoming review of Yoshi's Ballroom Island.
Tim Moore (Mr Hairs) has his first travel book, Frost On My Moustache, published. Within the acknowledgments, as well as thanking Biffo, he also 'thanks' the Teletext editor and deputy features editor responsible for his firing (describing them as an 'important Australian' and 'a big man, a brave man, and very much his own man').
Within the book Hairs also recalls sending a postcard back to Teletext management from his travels – which apparently depicted a seal being bloodily savaged by a polar bear, along with the words 'wish you were her'.
The book wins him the accolade of 'Travel Writer of the Year' - and not for the last time.
For the first time on Digi, The Man's diary page is not populated by a character describing the strange events of their life, but a spoof script. The script in question was a parody of the soon-to-be-released Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, and would lead to an entirely new Digi feature – Script-oh – which would appear at the end of the letters page about as often as Man Diary for the remainder of Digi's run.
26 JUNE 1999
Biffo launches pop-culture comedy site Bubblegun.com with friend and fellow Teletext graphic artist Steve Horsley. It's Digi in all but name, and along with Biffo's long-running Knife & Wife comics, it features many of the characters in various other strips. This includes The Snakes, which are a big hit, and are picked up by Fox Kids as a result. They're turned into sock puppets voiced by Phil Cornwell for between-programme segments, but ultimately don't air.
The Snakes' presence on Bubblegun also leads to Biffo being offered a writing role on CITV comedy My Parents Are Aliens, the executive producer of which having been a fan of them.
A writing gig on XFM's Christian O'Connell Breakfast Show also comes as a result of Bubblegun, with Biffo's topical jokes helping to gain the show a radio award (which he only finds out about after the event).
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 1999
Daddy Cool – super 70s disco hero
Batman and Robin – dynamic duo in domestic drudgery Insincere Dave – inspired by the writer of Ceefax's games page, David Gibbon. He means everything he says!!!!!!??!!
Enigmatic Pete – mysterious news commenter
Rollo Benny – Germany's answer to Noel Edmonds
Butch Jenkins – biker news tough
The Good Samaritan – freakishly good-natured news guy
The Evil Samaritan – freakishly bad-natured news guy
Chewbacca – the world-weary wookiee
The Pun-Meister – pun-spouting news guy
Strangelove The Tramp – philosophical tips vagrant
1 APRIL 2000
Strangely, there is no Digitiser April Fool edition this year, as 1st April falls on a Saturday - prompting Digi's bosses to refuse to allow it, for some arbitrary reason.
Now working at Channel 4, Robert Popper commissions Biffo to write an animated Knife & Wife pilot for the channel's 'Comedy Lab' strand.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 2000
Le Chef – Gallic food-maker-du-pompt!
The Digitiser Donkey – Digi's asinine mascot
Roth Drakewind – news-bearing Viking warrior
Doctor Heinous – bad luck-stricken evil overlord
The Sun – the relentlessly positive news-star
Quaker Jones – sombre news-gent
S. Arcasm – the bloodhound with the lowest form of wit
Socky The Sock – Digi website-promoting has-been kids entertainer
11 SEPTEMBER 2001
The 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon cause commercial flights to be grounded for some time. This hits Teletext Ltd in the pocket as much of its income is generated by the holidays arm of the business.
This brings about the notorious events known as 'Digigate' – with Teletext using the loss of revenue as an excuse to cut Digi back to three days per week and remove all traces of its personality.
Biffo is called into a portentous and highly adversarial meeting with management, where he is told that not only will Digi be reduced in size, but all humour and characters are to be removed. Print-outs of recent editions of Digitiser and its fansites are used as evidence that its 'Monty Python-style' humour 'isn't funny' and 'excludes people'.
Teletext's years-long battle to bring Digitiser to heel finally seems to have succeeded.
3 OCTOBER 2001
The last Man Diary before the humour cull comes into effect is screened.
4 OCTOBER 2001
Prior to the fateful meeting with management, Biffo emails Super Page 58 about word of suspected changes:
Gawd bless you, sir. Don't get too excited about Knife & Wife. It is - at this stage - very low budget, and it is a pilot, so we were all finding our feet with it a bit. But it should be OK. It's on next month sometime. And so are my Sooty episodes. Yes, you read that right: I've written Sooty.
Slightly less good, it looks like they're going to be cutting some of Digi. It's a budgetary thing - Teletext has had a bad year, apparently. Not sure what's for the chop yet, but it's going to mean less Digi. And, alas, I'm going to have to take a fairly painful paycut. But hey - such is life. End of an era and all that. But I'm bouncing back, daddy!
8 OCTOBER 2001
The Digigate meeting now having taken place, Biffo emails Super Page 58 again, knowing the full horrible details of the humour cull, and asks that the site be taken offline to help his cause in at least keeping Digitiser from being axed entirely. He makes the same request of the other Digi fansites. Desperate to help, they all comply.
Super Page 58 is taken offline, replaced with a holding screen message. It remains in this state for over a year.
Stuart Campbell posts about the news on his World Of Stuart site:
Digitiser - end of an era
Fans of Panel 4, the legendary weekly Digitiser column written by myself, T Mott and some idiots, will be inconsolably distraught to note that the column is to be axed by Teletext at the end of this month, along with most of Digi's other regular "characters" and all of its trademark humour. Mr Biffo has been instructed to produce a daily mag indistinguishable from Game Zone on Ceefax, itself the teletext equvalent of a bad issue of Playstation Max!, except less hard-hitting.
There will now be a moment's silence, followed by an extremely long period of silence. Then some swearing, and finally silence again."
9 OCTOBER 2001
Without any kind of formal on-air announcement, Digitiser is quietly stripped of all its humour, characters, and non-games-related features.
Upon realising what has happened, viewers immediately inundate Teletext with complaints and letters of support for Digi, which don't let up until the decision is eventually reversed nearly a year later.
Mr Udders brings many of the letters of support round to Biffo to show him the levels of backing he has, and that Digi's fans aren't letting it go quietly.
26 OCTOBER 2001
Stacks of letters and emails flood into Teletext decrying their treatment of Digitiser. An example of one emailed to Teletext on this day is available for you to read.
27 OCTOBER 2001
Stuart Campbell submits what would be his final, coruscating, Panel 4 column in defence of Digi, and lambasting Teletext management. Inevitably, it is not printed, and only serves to make matters worse for Biffo in the short term.
6 DECEMBER 2001
The Knife & Wife TV pilot airs on Channel 4's 'Comedy Lab' strand. It features the voice talent of Terry Jones, Jessica Stevenson, and Kevin Eldon – and gets the phrases 'Moc-moc-a-moc!' and 'Stay away from my bins!' broadcast on UK TV – but Biffo later states his disappointment with the result.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 2001
Cyber-X – well-sorted top games journo news guy, oi-oi!
Edward Lear – the limerick dude
"Virtual" Eric – computer-generated quiz host
Computer Boy – WaREz RuLEz!!!!!!
F. Zealot – Computer Boy's console counterpart
Gr'n M'chl - visiting friendly alien; not associated with "Kemp"
Don Palmer - really cares about your dental health
Anne Robinson – host of tiresome BBC quiz show
In a move intended to visibly break ties with Digi's former self, the section is redesigned and given a red and cyan colour palette, leaving the iconic blue and green in the past, along with the characters and humour. Unsurprisingly, Biffo declares himself to not be a fan of this move.
3 SEPTEMBER 2002
After an uninterrupted deluge of viewer complaints about the loss of Digi's humour, and ratings having dropped from 1.5M per week to below 400k, Biffo is called into a meeting with Teletext management. They admit that they made a mistake, apologise for the way things were handled, and ask Biffo to bring back the humour and characters.
He posts on the Edge Forums about the news.
22 NOVEMBER 2002
Biffo posts on alt.digitiser.snakes about the restoration of Digi's humour:
Hello chums. Well, it's been a year, but the suits have relented. Thanks to your unbridled support, and incessant complaining, Digitiser has returned to daily updates and stupidity - just in time for the 10th anniversary. Keep going with the support - to keep the pages alive, the powers that be need to know you're happy - and spread the word that we're back (on Channel 4 page 175 these days).
Firstly, big ups to those of you who wrote in. It wouldn't have happened without you. Secondly, to celebrate the 10th anniversary we're looking to run a series of viewer-led reminiscences on what Digitiser, in its most classic form, means to people. Anecdotes? General niceness? Stick it on an email, and send it to: email@example.com
23 NOVEMBER 2002
The weekend edition of Digi sees the trademark humour gradually return, without any formal announcement on its pages.
The online community begin to bring Digi fansites out of their Biffo-requested hibernation the same day.
EARLY DECEMBER 2002
Udders calls Biffo to warn him that Teletext want to bring him in for another meeting - Udders thinks Digi is being axed for real this time.
In the subsequent phone call with management, Biffo agrees to come in for the meeting, only to immediately phone them back and announce his decision to quit. The Teletext boss is startled and reveals that management were in fact proposing to expand the section. Realising that his time has come anyway, Biffo sticks to his guns and, even surprising himself, replies that he still wants to leave.
4 DECEMBER 2002
Biffo posts on the Edge Forums to break the news of his departure from Digi:
Yes, it's true, I'm afraid.
BUT before you all begin to weep, I'm not going straight away. I'll hang around until they find a replacement, which could take months. The upshot of that, of course, is that I shall endeavour to push things as far as possible while I'm still there. Go out with a bang. See the return of Zombie Dave, and all that... Like, what's the worst they're gonna do - sack me?! A-hahahahahahaHAH!
Let's love it while we can - and have a party! In fact... a Biffo/Digi leaving party? That sounds like a brilliant idea. Who's going to organise it? I'm frighteningly serious. Everyone's invited. Central London sometime before Christmas? It's a date.
Also, apologies to anyone who is upset by this news. For me, the planets seemed to align this week, and I officially got offered a writing gig on EastEnders (I know who the father of Laura's baby is AND what's happened to Lisa - nyah, nyah!), and a Channel 4 sitcom - on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Last week I was offered Emmerdale. And I'm developing a proper grown-up comedy drama for ITV, and animation for Granada, and writing more My Parents Are Aliens. And more Crossroads. See? See how busy I am?
With all that in mind, and the fact that it's Digi's 10th anniversary, and the fact that The Suits had to eat humble pie about the humour and the three-day week thing... the time felt right.
To be honest, I've been coming to this decision for a while, but it's still utterly terrifying for me - terrifying, but stupidly, absurdly exciting. I've been with Digitiser for 10 years, during which time I've literally grown hair on my knees. It would have been very easy to get complacent (and I have done), and just stick with it until they prise it out of my eerily clammy hands.
But my whole reason for leaving Teletext five or whatever years ago, and becoming freelance, was to try and make a go of it in telly writing. It's taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears - most of it due to certain figures within Teletext, cheers - but I finally reached that point this week where I had to cut myself free.
In the most genuine, sincere way possible, I want to properly thank those of you who have supported Digitiser over the years. Your faith in my stupid scrawlings gave me the confidence to try something outside of reveal-o-jokes and Mr T's bins.
I dare say you'll see me pop up in the occasional games mag from time to time. I've an open invitation from OPM2 to write more features, and I do still love my games.
But hey - the next Biffo telly-ganza is New Crossroads, Episode 16, January 29th. It's ridiculously camp. There will be more....
Love you all. And hey - how about that party?
The January 2003 edition of Edge magazine (published December 2002) includes a multi-page feature on Digitiser, written by Ste Curran – a rare honour, considering other games mags are not usually covered.
It includes an in-depth interview with Biffo, who, while being as diplomatic as possible, gives full details on Digi's history and recent troubles. The interview is conducted before Biffo announces his upcoming departure from Digi, but he notifies Edge of his decision before the magazine goes to press – meaning that the article ends with the news. This gives it a triumphant yet bittersweet tone.
1 JANUARY 2003
The war with management now over, Digi triumphantly celebrates its tenth anniversary on Teletext. Alex Garland writes a suitably poignant tribute to it, which is printed on the news pages.
Digi's humour now restored, the hallmark characters gradually start to return to its pages as well.
Digigate is now over, and Digi is back to its old, much-loved, self – but there are still only three new editions per week.
7 MARCH 2003
As the end of Digi approaches broadcast, Biffo hosts his Digi leaving party at the Glasshouse Stores, Piccadilly, where he is joined among others by the Edge Forumites, Teletext colleagues, Stuart Campbell, Tim 'Mr Hairs' Moore, Gavin 'Mr Udders' Lambert, and Alex Garland. Hell – even I was there! The evening is a grand Digi love-in that inevitably ends in alcohol poisoning for many attendees.
8 MARCH 2003
The glorious final edition of Digitiser goes out over the weekend of 8/9 March 2003, with a bumper crop of farewell material. It 'climaxes' in legendary style.
10 MARCH 2003
Digitiser is now gone from Teletext. For the first time in more than 10 years, there is a different games section – the Tony Mott-edited GameCentral – in its place.
Biffo launches his post-Digi personal website, mrbiffo.com, along with a blog, and, significantly, a message board – The Board Of Biffo. It becomes a thriving hub for the Digi community in exlie, but eventually ends in tragic circumstances.
14 JULY 2003
After Biffo mentions to Stuart Campbell that he misses Digitiser, they launch a unique teletext-style website to reincarnate Digi for the internet, retaining the familiar 3-bit pixel graphics.
Dubbed Digiworld.tv, the site is mostly written by Campbell, along with Kieron Gillen and Jonathan Nash (ex-of 'Your Sinclair' and 'Amiga Power'). Biffo provides columns at the weekends, but after a few editions the site comes to an end. Its content is currently archived on Stuart Campbell's website.
CHARACTERS TO DEBUT IN 2003
The Tin Man – Oz-dwelling metallic bearer of innuendo
Bryan Adams – FM rock star and Chinese stereotype
Morrissey - Smiths frontman and purveyor of withering remarks
Gary Barlow – eh-up, it's Take That's lead singer, by 'eck
26 MARCH 2007
BBC Three airs the pilot for a new Biffo/Hairs-written sketch show, Biffovision – a warped parody of Saturday morning children's TV.
This is the first time the pair had collaborated on a script since 1996, and features numerous Digi callbacks, including the puppet B.W., mad scientist Dr Derek Doctors, and an infamous Man's Daddy joke.
It goes tantalisingly close to being commissioned for a series, but sadly misses out. The pilot episode is available to watch in full on Vimeo.
4 MAY 2007
Biffo has his book 'Confessions Of A Chatroom Freak' published, which – in the tradition of Ring-sir!'s prank phone calls – sees him pranking amorous men in internet chat rooms.
Having written 66 columns for Edge, Biffo has his final Biffovision published in issue 186.
After being trolled on the Board Of Biffo messageboard, and even stalked by a certain member, Biffo becomes disillusioned with his alter ego.
Tragically at the point of breakdown due to the weight of these events and the end of his marriage, he decides to walk away from being Mr Biffo, turning his back on the name and disappearing.
Concentrating on his TV work, he vanishes from view as far as most people are concerned - it seems like the end of the road for 'Mr Biffo' and the Digitiser story.
Everything goes silent, until…
12 NOVEMBER 2014
Inspired by reading the self-help book inexplicably written by the real-life inspiration for Digi's repellent games journo character Cyber-X, Paul Rose writes a feature imagining where Cyber-X is now, having followed the same path. He posts it online to immediate excitement at his apparent return.
14 NOVEMBER 2014
Encouraged by the level of interest in the Cyber-X piece, Rose sets up the Digitiser2000 website and reclaims the moniker of Mr Biffo for the first time in more than six years. Unexpectedly, from out of nowhere, Digi is back!
1 OCTOBER 2016
The Block Party 2016 Teletext and Digitiser festival takes place at the Centre For Computing History in Cambridge. The first post-Digi event celebrating it, there are a number of talks and activities where former Digi contributors talk about its history.
Biffo uses the event to announce his latest project – Mr Biffo's Found Footage – a self-produced and Kickstarter-funded web sketch series firmly planted in Digi territory.
22 OCTOBER 2017
The final episode of Mr Biffo's Found Footage – a short film titled 'The Trojan Arse Protocol' is published on YouTube, capping the Found Footage series. A critical and artistic hit, it gives Biffo the confidence and a platform to plan further videos of an ambitious nature.
3 FEBRUARY 2018
Biffo applies for and is awarded the Digitiser trade mark. There is now no risk of Teletext Ltd. claiming ownership – Digitiser is officially all his.
9 MARCH 2018
The Kickstarter campaign for Biffo's latest project - Digitiser The Show - bringing Digi into the realm of live action studio TV as a web series on a grand (and suitably silly) scale, launches. One month later the fundraising campaign closes having raised a whopping £44,526 – more than double the amount raised for Found Footage.
2 JULY 2018
Studio filming for Digitiser The Show begins, to much excitement.
15 years after it breathed its last on Teletext, Digi is firmly back, surfing a resurgent wave of popularity, and in ruder health than ever.Moc-moc-a-moc!
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.