Paul Rose, aka Mr Biffo, is the mind behind Teletext gaming magazine Digitiser, as well as its modern-day reincarnation Digitiser 2000, entertainment website Bubblegun, and the short film series Mr Biffo's Found Footage.
His latest project is a gaming show branded under the Digitiser name, now live on Kickstarter. He's agreed to talk to us, because we somehow managed to convince him that we're professionals.
How the devil are you Mr Biffo?
Right this second… extremely not-with-it…! In the run-up to launching the Kickstarter I’ve not slept properly in three days, and it has been chaotic since it went live. I’m running on caffeine and adrenaline at the moment. So many emails, and messages, and questions to answer! It has clearly done incredibly well, but I’ve yet to have time to be pleased or excited about it, because there hasn’t been time. Too much to do! And, of course, today would be the day I’m three days late delivering a work deadline, which has kept me grounded!
Tell us a little more about Digitiser: The Show.
It’s the gaming show I want to watch. I want to bottle that golden age of gaming - basically from the dawn of games, up until around Digitiser ended in 2003 - and wrap it up in a show that is entertaining regardless of whether you’re a gamer. It’s a way to stick my fingers up at broadcasters who seemingly have no faith in games as a basis for an entertainment magazine show. We’ll have challenges, big, ambitious stunts, and lots of chat and debate. It’ll be mad, funny, and completely unpredictable.
We hear there are some special guests along the way, how did that come about?
Indeed! Aside from the core hosts, which include myself, Larry Bundy Jr, Gameplay Jenny and Paul Gannon, we’ll be having the likes of Ashens, Kim Justice, DJ Slope, and Nostalgia Nerd from YouTube, gaming TV legends Violet Berlin and Big Boy Barry, plus writer/presenter Danny Wallace, and comedian Iran Yusuf. And it doesn’t end there! We’re also going to be pitting 90s games journalists against Youtubers in a battle of old vs new media! But not in the way you might think...
I’m fortunate in that a lot of people remember Digitiser fondly that they want to be involved. Nobody has turned me down yet! In fact, we keep getting new people asking to be in it.
Can you explain Teletext to our readers who may not know what it was?
In a nutshell, it was essentially the Internet before the Internet existed, and you accessed it through your TV. It was slow and basic, but seems to hold a lot of nostalgia for people. We couldn’t have screenshots or video, so we tried to make up for it by being funny, and sort of poking fun at the inherent ridiculous of teletext as a medium.
Why do you think Digitiser still holds such a special place for so many people in a way other Teletext services don't?
Mainly, I hope, because it was good! It wasn’t quite like anything else that had ever been on teletext, and had a very distinct and unique sense of humour. Plus, we really liked our games and I hope that came across. Together it all made for a package that was completely its own thing. I used to think that maybe Digi wasn’t as good as people remembered, but recently a lot of the old pages have started to be unearthed… and actually… I’ve been surprised at how funny it was. Even if I do say so myself!
Did working within the limits of Teletext make things difficult for Digitiser? If so, what were they and how did they affect you?
Only in the sense that there were guidelines on taste and decency to follow, and we often pushed those to the limits. The humour was often so weird and obscure that they’d read things into it that wasn’t there. We eventually had a big clamp down on our humour towards the end - which lasted most of a year - before a letter-writing campaign changed Teletext’s mind. If I’d been in their position I’d have hated us too!
Puffy jackets have recently made a comeback. Are you pleased or mortified about this?
If I can still make jokes about them… then they’re welcome to return.
You're known for having a pretty non-sequiturial humour gland, is that something you have to work on or is it ad-libbed?
Well, it’s all coming out of my head. I wouldn’t say it’s all spontaneous, and that everything flows - I work hard on my writing - but yeah… sometimes I just get weird phrases or words that pop into my brain, and I have to write them down. Other times, I have the shape of something I want to write, and sort of have to bash it around a bit more.
Ultimately, I’ve just got a weird brain. It makes me laugh when two unexpected things butt up against one another, or something gets taken in a completely inappropriate direction.
How much of what you write is “Mr Biffo” as opposed to “Paul Rose”?
That’s a good question. I used to tell myself that Mr Biffo was a mask, but really… it was just another part of me, one that was a bit ruder and more abrasive than I am in real life. I’ve kind of reconciled it all now, and these days Mr Biffo is just me really. I think he’s a lot nicer than he used to be! That said, I do sometimes play it up when I’m writing - I’m never really quite as annoyed and irritated about things as I try to make out, so there is a degree of playing a character in my writing, and sort of dialling up the volume a bit on my opinions. It just makes for something that’s more interesting to read.
You've certainly not been afraid to voice an honest opinion over the years, did you ever get yourself in trouble from the execs or developers?
Oh, frequently. We were only ever confronted directly a couple of times, but I think it was more a general sense that they kept us at arms length because they knew we could be unpredictable and wouldn’t always tow the party line!
Is there anything that you regret doing/not doing in your time on Teletext?
Not really. There were ups and downs, and we certainly tested the patience of our bosses, but the Digitiser story played out beautifully really. It was an incredible time in my life, I was incredibly fortunate to have that job, and it’s testament to how fondly I remember it that I’m still writing about games today.
What's your game of the moment?
I’ve just finished replaying DOOM on the Switch, and loved it all over again. I want more first-person shooters on handheld. I bought Rogue Trooper Redux right after finishing, because I wanted more of the same, but… well, its age does show through rather.
How much productivity did you lose by playing Bamboozle instead of working?
Oh, I never played Bamboozle. Though I did sit opposite the guy who wrote it. He probably lost productivity being sat next to the Digitiser Naughty Corner.
Digitiser: The Show will be hosted by Biffo himself, alongside Larry Bundy Jr, Gameplay Jenny, and Paul Gannon of Cheapshow and Barshens fame. It's currently still live on Kickstarter so there's still plenty of time to back the campaign, and get yourself some excellet swag in the process, so head on over to Kickstarter if you want to join in the retro fun. At the time of writing, it's nearning £30k, at which point the crew will be launching a goujon into space.