Many years ago, in the dark ages of the last years of the twentieth century, this “internet” thing was starting to catch on but was still largely the domain of tech-enthusiasts navigating a sea of “Under Construction” messages via primitive search engines, not the first port of call if you were after up-to-date news, weather, live sports scores, share prices, TV schedules or recipes to accompany cookery programmes. For those, we had Ceefax and Teletext. Imagine a World Wide Web of 999 pages, squished onto screens of 40×24 characters, accessed by typing in a three digit number and watching the page counter tick, tick, ticking along… A smidge primitive compared to almost instant access to the sum total of all human knowledge (or as close as the ‘net gets to it), but a fine and useful service, and free (as long as your television could display it), an important consideration when ISPs had a monthly fee on top of the cost of phone calls (for you crazy kids who don’t remember the olden days: you used to have to “dial” “up” by getting a lengthy bit of cable and running it from the computer to the telephone socket in the hallway, then you shouted “cssswwsswwswswwwwww WEEEEEEoooooWWEEEEEooooooWEEE ccsssssswwwwwsswwswww”, and hoped nobody would trip over the cable or want to use the phone until you’d finished downloading a Metallica song from Napster).
As well as the aforementioned news, weather etc., there were subtitles on page 888 (turning Top of the Pops into instant karaoke), quizzes like the classic Bamboozle!, even a textual soap opera. Most pertinently, though, there were pages about games. On the BBC, as I recall, rather staid reviews, infrequently updated. On Channel 4, Digitiser, a magnificently anarchic array of madness that was only about games as much as Jaws was a book about a shark. Accompanying the previews, reviews, and hints and tips were a whole cast of regular characters, spoof adverts for German metal albums, Mr T admonishing kids to stay away from his bins and, best of all, nonsensical anti-jokes (Q: What do you call a man with bread and butter pudding on his head? A: Pudding Gentleman Type B!) and incredibly laboured sort-of-puns (Q: What do you call an android adjudicating officer who decorates the sycamores in his garden with girls’ toys? A: Ro-Judge Doll-Tree (Roger Daltrey)!) I had no idea of the ructions behind the scenes, I think I’d drifted away from Teletext in general by the time it finished, but have retained a fondness for blocky cartoon snakes ever since.
Good news, though! Mr Biffo’s back with a whole Twitter of words including Man-tastic jokes, and Digitiser rides again as one of those ocelot-come-lately “pages” on the “web”. The future is uncertain as Biffo & Hairs grapple with both the issues of sustaining a site in an atemporal zone of content production and a greased tramp riding an elk (the elk isn’t really an elk it’s a metaphor for a moose), but even if it’s only a fleeting return of Insincere Dave it’s good to see him back again!!?!?!?!!!!!!!!!