I have a very strong memory of me always checking out Digitiser on teletext just before I left for school as a teenager…
Okay, so perhaps some context before I really get into this one. Teletext was a ‘on demand’ (I guess?) service we had here in Blighty on our telly-boxes before on demand services really existed. You’d press the ‘teletext’ button on your TV remote and be presented with an on-screen world of information, news, weather, sport, holidays, interactive games, daily magazines and so on. It was like an early internet before the internet took off proper… with a slightly lower abundance of midget porn.
There were literally hundreds and thousands of pages crammed with info. Different TV channels had varying versions of the service, each with their own pages. Each page would have to be inputted manually via the TV remote using a simple three-digit system. Popping in page 370 (though it did move about a bit) would take you to one page in particular I loved to read on a daily basis, Digitiser, or Digi for short, was a daily (except Sundays) video game magazine and was crammed with gaming news, reviews, opinions, readers letters, tips and so much more.
A Very Brief History Of Digitiser
Originally starting out on the channel ITV on the 1st of January, 1993, before moving over to Channel 4 later that year. Digi fast became hugely popular, bringing in 1.5 million readers weekly. That fanbase mostly came from the fact Digi was honest in it’s journalism (unlike a lot of paper published gaming magazines at the time) and how the main writers behind Digi had a wicked, irrelevant, Python-esque and often very near the knuckle sense of humour… which often landed them in a lot of trouble. The two main guys behind Digi were Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose and Tim ‘Mr Hairs’ Moore. Of the two, it was Tim Moore who was the established journalist, having written for and been published in a few magazines previously. Paul Rose was originally working at Teletext as a graphic designer but had no real experience as a writer, but he did have a vast knowledge of gaming. Between the two, they birthed Digitiser, Tim’s more professional journalistic approach, mixed with Paul’s more rough and ready writing, coupled with his graphical skills is what really formed the backbone of Digi. Between the two, they crafted weird and wonderful characters, off the wall scribblings, and pissed off plenty of gaming magazines and gaming publishers along the way too.
See, real paper publications relied on advertising to bring in some coin, ads funded by the game publishers. To secure ads and keep publishers happy, most (if not all) print magazine publications would not necessarily be entirety truthful when it came to game reviews. As an example, a poor game could get a very reasonable review in a print mag as this would keep game publishers happy, because their terrible game looked pretty decent off a review. This would mean that game could sell more copies despite it’s awfulness. In turn, publishers would be more likely to pay for more ads in the magazine, which would bring in more money for the publishers of said magazine. But Digi didn’t rely on ad space, so they didn’t feel the need to keep game publishers happy… so they could be much more honest, often brutally so. It was Digi’s honesty that really made me want to read their reviews and listen to their opinion’s more so than your typical gaming magazine. This did rub some publications up the wrong way as caused some friction between Digi and some print magazines.
In 1996, the duo of Paul Rose and Tim Moore were broken up. While Paul was away on paternity leave, Tim ran a news story about well-known and respected gaming magazine editor, Dave Perry (yes, that Dave Perry). The story claimed that Dave had gotten into serious trouble from his bosses for poor sales of their magazines, a story that Dave threatened legal action over. Tim was ordered to the editors office and was told to disclose his source for the story. Tim refused and so he was escorted from the building, sacked leaving Paul Rose to do Digi on his own.
The latter years of Digi were brilliant, but a slow death. Instead of calming down now that Tim was gone, Paul actually pushed things to be far more mad-cap and irrelevant. I could go on and on here, but I’m supposed to be looking at some of the more memorable moments of Digi. There’s loads of backstage stories of friendships, betrayal, controversies and so on, someone should write a book (I write books). This was just meant to be a quick explanation of what Digitiser was, and I’ve gotten a bit carried away with that. So…
Digitiser ran from 1993 to 2003, there were a few reasons why Digi eventually ended. In 2002, Teletext gained a new editorial team. This team began to lose patience with Paul as he continued to push and push was was acceptable to be shown on the service. His double entendre, risqué jokes, questionable characters and so on. The editors didn’t want to get rid of Digitiser and Paul Rose completely, just try to control him. They reduced the Digi output from six days a week to just three. They took control over the humour and edited jokes and even removed entire paragraphs of writing in case they had any hidden naughty jokes in them. The much loved characters were removed too. It just stopped being Digitiser really and became just another gaming publication, it lost it’s identity. Then there was also the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yes even that affected Digi. See, Teletext as a company made a lot of revenue from their holidays and when those planes hit the towers, people didn’t much fancy flying for a while. This downturn of of holiday makers put a massive dent in Teletext’s holiday side of the business, they had less money to spend and Digi was one (of many) of the pages in teletext that saw massive cutbacks.
Digitiser’s viewing figures plummeted due to the changes, and Teletext began receiving weeks and weeks of angry emails of complaint from fans. The suits panicked and asked Paul to bring back all they had told him to remove, but for Paul Rose, it was already over and done with, he handed in his notice at the end of 2002. But just as a thank you to the fans, he did bring back Digi to it’s former glory for a four month run before he left. Digitiser officially ended on the 9th of March, 2003.
And with that rather meandering introduction to what Digitiser was, on to some of my favourite memories of its (slightly over) ten year run. However, memories can fade and people tend to misremember. I mean, I started this very article by stating that I have a very strong memory of me always checking out Digitiser on teletext just before I left for school as a teenager. But here’s the thing, I left school in 1991, Digi started in 1993. So memories may not always be 100% reliable, I must have read Digi before leaving for work not school. I guess what I’m trying to say is that what follows it how I remember Digitiser, and it may not be entirely factual.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think back on Digi is just how to the point Paul Rose and Tim Moore really were. Not being bound by the bondage of advertising revenue mean they didn’t have to be loyal to game publishers. If they didn’t like a game, then they really let you know. There was no pussy-footing around here. This in turn added a lot of validity to what they did. When they posted a positive review, you knew it was because they generally liked the game an not because the publishers of said game turned the thumb-screws to get that prise.
This honesty also came across when they would cover big gaming events like E3, or replying to readers letters and so on. There was just a whole sense of quality with their journalism that coated any and everything they wrote, serious or not.
My own humour taste is really quite broad. I like very dry and even dark humour, but then I also like completely irreverent and silly humour too. It’s the latter that was the style of Digi. For me, Paul Rose and Tim Moore were one of the great comedic double acts. Laurel & Hardy, Pryor & Wilder, Reeves & Mortimer, Morecambe & Wise… Little & Large?
They just had this completely non-sequitur and surreal style that I found hilarious. The little quips in reply to reader’s letters, fake adverts, April Fools, the Amiga bashing, crazy top-tens. Every page of Digi was crammed with jokes, comments and jibes that kept me laughing through the day at
school work. And let’s not forget some of those reveal-o gags.
See, teletext had a feature were text or an image would be hidden on the screen, and when you pressed the ‘reveal’ button on your TV remote, whatever was hidden would then be shown. Most pages didn’t really make much use of this feature, or of they did, it was poorly implemented. But Digi was different. They used the reveal gimmick to full effect. From just showing a Digi catchphrase to parodies of films and TV shows to mocking celebrities and even some of the most bizarre but wonderful randomness on TV at the time.
These were perhaps one of the most famous elements of Digi. Now, Paul and Tim created dozens and dozens of characters over the years. I’m not going to sit here going through all of them, I’ll be here for weeks of I did. But I do want to just look at some of my favourites. These characters were used for all sorts of reasons. Replying to reader letters, popping up in fake ads, just completely random moments and comments or even for long running features.
Fat Sow was a rather brutal pig who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, often creating controversy along the way.
Gossi The Dog was the one who broke big gaming news on Digi. Remember how Tim was sacked for that Dave Perry story? Well it was Gossi who ‘really’ broke the news to the public.
The Man With A Long Chin or The Man for short was Digi’s main mascot. He became so popular that he started keeping a diary of his crazy antics.
Mr & Mrs Nude were… well nudists. The Nudes hosted the tips page of Digi and would often disagree and get into arguments. But they still remained very much in love and their relationship remained in tact.
Phoning Honey spent his time on Digi making prank phone calls to game shops to annoy the staff. He would make complains about broken consoles, faulty games and the like with hilarious results. The phone calls were actually genuine too, often made by Paul or Tim, then transcribed and displayed on Digi under the Phoning Honey character.
The Snakes, oh how I loved The Snakes. They were a couple of teenage serpents who created ‘the bantz’ before it became popular. Streetwise, beat-boxing snakes who were very likely to cuss you and your mum bad.
Mr T would appear on the Digi pages and offer some questionable advice on all sorts of topics and issues. He even had his own agony aunt style problem page. Just don’t mess with his bins! Crazy Fool.
Zombie Dave was one of the more sneaky characters on Digi. If there was one thing Digi loved to do, then that was getting very risqué jokes past the editors. Using an zombie to deliver cleverly hidden swearing was just the ticket. All Zombie Dave could so was moan and groan. However, his lack of vowel speech hid words that really shouldn’t have been published on teletext.
Every gamer knows what Mario Day is. It’s a time when the gaming world celebrates one of the most famous gaming mascots in the world, Mario. The celebration is always on March the 10th… Mar-10… Mar10. Now, you’d think that given Mario is Nintendo’s biggest and most famous mascot, that it was the Big N who came up with Mario Day, but it wasn’t. As I said, everyone celebrates it, even Nintendo themselves.
But the whole thing actually started on Digi…
And there’s actual photographic proof too…
Yes it was a fan of Digi who wrote in and pointed out that, with how the date was written at the top of the teletext pages, that March the 10th read Mar10. From that day forward, Mario Day was born. Personally I think Al_Hine should get on the phone to Nintendo and ask for royalty payments, covering the last two decades, because they’re using his discovery.
Digitiser Still Lives
Even though the teletext version of Digitiser came to an end in 2003, the brand itself is still very much alive. Paul Rose secured the rights to the Digitiser name and still uses it today. Digitiser 2000 is a website set up by Paul Rose where he carried on that Digi crazy irrelevance. Yakking on about games, readers letters, lengthy but interesting opinion pieces and the like. And yes, still with that trademark Digi humour and its characters.
Then the site has its own spin-offs too. First there was the YouTube show. Digitiser: The Show, which made its appearance in 2018. Yes, even in person, the show was just as mad-cap as it’s text-based counterpart. Hosted by Paul Rose himself and featuring a host of famous and popular YouTubers… and Paul Gannon (love him really). Digitiser: The Show was just brilliant, stupid but brilliant. That off the wall humour was there, the fan favourite characters (now in 3D) where there and it made many a Digi fan very happy indeed.
Of course, it had to happen. The spin-off from the spin-off and in 2019, the unthinkable happened. Digitiser Live. Over two hours of Digi goodness and laughs with Paul Rose, more famous and popular YouTubers… and Paul Gannon (support his new book!). The live show was a huge success and another one was planned for this year, but then that there Covid-19 thing put a kibosh on that plan. So it has been postponed until next year instead.
Paul Rose has kept the Digi name alive for the fans over the years, and we very much appreciate it too. Now, Paul has very recently re-branded his YouTube channel from Digitiser to Biffovision. He’s not necessarily turning his back on Digi and gaming, but just that he wants his channel to be about more than just Digi. Paul also makes short comedy films and all sorts of videos well worth checking out. I recommend his long running, very funny/strange Mr Biffo’s Found/Lost Footage series.
But it’s not just Paul Rose who has been keeping the Digi name alive over the years. Thanks to some amazing work by Chris Bell and a lot of Digi fans. There is the most exhaustive and comprehensive guide to Digitiser on the interwebs called Super Page 58. Chris has helped me out on a few things for this very article and most of the images used have come from the Super Page 58 site. If you’re a die hard Digi fan like me, then there simply is no better place to get your Digi fix from in terms of its history.
You know, it’s only now as I write this that I realise it was reading Digitiser that encouraged me to start this very blog. I always wanted to write about games, but back then, never believed that could happen. Writing just wasn’t something I thought I could do. Thankfully, modern technology allows pretty much anyone to create their own blog and yak on about anything they want. I started this blog because I wanted to be like Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose and Tim ‘Mr Hairs’ Moore, I wanted to tell people what I thought about games. Share my views and memories, and it’s this blog that has allowed me to write even more, to the point of writing books… actual real books. Everything has even managed to come full circle as my book MICROBRITS even featured on teletext itself… kind of. See, part of the previously mentioned Digitiser Live event of 2019 gave teletext a rebirth of sorts via what was called Chunky Fringe.
Chunky Fringe was a warm-up show to the main Digitiser Live event and featured several specially made teletext pages offering a variety of oddities and curios, including my book (thanks Alistair)…
Yes, I the long time Digitiser fan, actually finally became part of Digitiser in 2019…. though I do want to quickly add that I have since updated MICROBRITS and it’s a much better book now than it was then. Yes I am ending this retrospective look at Digitiser promoting my own work, that’s the great thing about having your own blog, you do whatever you want.
Anyway, I have to say an absolutely gargantuan thanks to Paul Rose and Tim Moore. Thank you for all the work that went into Digi, all the irrelevant humour, the honest reviews, the crap you had to put up with from the suits. Thanks for everything and inspiring me to write myself.