Mega-Zine was a teletext page showcasing viewer-submitted content that began on 3rd January 1993. It debuted on Teletext Ltd’s Channel 3 (ITV) analogue service but quickly moved to Channel 4, its home for over a decade.
‘Zine eventually migrated to Digital Teletext in 2006, and would be syndicated online from 2008. However, it was ultimately retired from all services in 2009.
Aimed at teenagers and kids of all ages, ‘Zine initially took the form of a teletextual fanzine that published reader reviews, top ten lists and short letters. As time passed, the latter became predominant, with a growing fanbase of ‘Ziners’ corresponding via the pages of Teletext.
“WLW stands for White Line Warrior. I wage war with words so wimps beware: worten letters and weak jokes will not wend their way to this zine.”WLW, 1993
Mega-Zine was moderated by a mysterious figure originally known as “Ed”, though they were soon given a new nickname: White Line Warrior (WLW).
A genderless entity representing one or more (likely several) Teletext editors, WLW would respond to each contribution below a white separating line, offering a snarky or chirpy two-liner depending on their mood that day.
The Digitiser desk was very near to the Mega-Zine desk. We believe that the letters replies were written by whomever happened to be there that day. And that could’ve been anyone, frankly; there was a higher turnover of staff than with Digitiser‘s continuity of drunks. Indeed, Digitiser‘s very own Mr Cheese often wrote for the teen pages.Mr Biffo, Digitiser Friday Letters Page 22/4/2016
‘Zine‘s capricious host resided at WLW Towers, which also housed a variety of Digitiser-esque characters over the years, including pet monkey Marcel, Davord the Monster, Mabel the Mop Lady and latterly, Cedric the Sea Monster.
Enchanted Rose: Hey WLW, are Cedric and Mabel Mop two of your alter egos?
Mega-Zine, 7th September 2005
WLW: We are one, big (fairly) happy family.
Pre-Teletext Ltd. (Before 1993)
Prior to Teletext Ltd’s takeover of the text information services on Channels 3 and 4, forerunners ORACLE ran a viewer opinion service called Write On. Also of note is 555 Magazine, a (much more colourful) page from ORACLE’s Kids section consisting of puzzles and jokes submitted by a ‘duty editor’, a viewer who would send their content via post.
Both of these could be seen as spiritual predecessors to ‘Zine, though the specific idea for a teletext fanzine was a fresh spin on the traditional correspondence page.
‘Zine is Born: Generator (1993-1995)
With the start of 1993 came new custodians of the Channel 3/Channel 4 teletext services, the appropriately-named Teletext Ltd.
Teletext’s kids and teens magazine Generator launched at the beginning of the year, with Mega-Zine first appearing on ITV page 342 on 3rd January 1993, before moving to Channel 4 page 443 as part of a major reshuffle in March 1993.
In those days, ‘Zine was more true to its name, acting very much like a teletext version of a paper fanzine with (primarily) music reviews, top ten lists and other assorted irreverence. In WLW’s own words, as seen in this capture of the ‘Zine from December 1993:
Fancy being famous for a few seconds? If so, this is the place for you! Why? Because this is YOUR magazine. We want your top 10s, letters, and reviews of gigs, TV shows and albums/singles. All contributions are welcome - though the wittier and more original they are, the better. Send all your stuff to Mega-Zine, PO Box 297, London SW6 1XT. Oh, and stay tuned! ——————————————————————————————————7/7—— It's all yours ^ above the white line
Contributors would often submit content under their real name, reflecting ‘Zine’s early role as a more conventional teens’ letters page. In this manner, it was broadly similar to its predecessors on the old ORACLE teletext service, which featured opinions on film, music, and pretty much anything suitable for broadcast.
However, as time passed, people would adopt humorous pseudonyms such as ‘The Fresh Prince of Luton’ or ‘Jon Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine’. This became common practice as early as December 1993, when pop superstars Take That scooped every single award in the ‘Zine yearly reader poll. One reader suggested it was particularly bittersweet that Mr Blobby had beaten said group to Christmas number one.
Curiously, very early editions of Mega-Zine would disappear at night, with the entire Generator section going offline, as seen in this capture from March 1993. This was due to Teletext having limited space to broadcast their service – magazines would alternate at different times of day or week.
Club 440 (1995-1996)
In January 1995, Generator was renamed Club 440 and ‘Zine‘s new home became page 442. Its icon also changed from a network of pipes to a yellow splodge, reflecting Paul Rose’s new lava lamp design on the Club 440 main page.
A chunk of content from Generator, including Turner the Worm and Frame-It, moved to a new Kids section on page 390. This was aimed at under-13s, whereas Club 440 was meant for teenagers.
At the start of 1995, ‘Zine published the results of their 1994 poll that, among other things, ranked the most popular ‘Ziners. Take That had been relegated to #3 band of the year, with Blur and Eternal taking the top two spots.
By this time, a regular staple of ‘Zine was a single page containing numerous short letters, phone messages and faxes truncated to a few lines at the beginning or end of a carousel. Here, WLW often summarised entries and offer a cautionary word or two, such as in the 30th July 1995 edition:
DIZZY INDIE DANDELION sends in some letters to be printed, then insults me in the first one! Don't waste your money on any more stamps, dear.
Much like an Internet forum or pen pal correspondence, contributors were now conducting drawn-out conversations via Zine‘s uniquely teletextual format, sometimes debating particular topics for weeks and even months.
A popular ‘thread’ related to WLW’s true identity – exactly who, or what, were they? From the start, ‘Zine ‘moderators’ remained anonymous, uniting under the WLW moniker. This naturally bred speculation, which WLW was all too eager to fan the flames of.
The author recalls a particularly witty exchange in which a certain ‘Ziner claimed to have pinned down WLW’s identity when they said they were ‘Sans little brother’. WLW’s comment was, of course, in jest – ‘sans’ means ‘without’ in French, and they were merely saying they didn’t have a little brother. Unfortunately, the lack of an apostrophe in the original message seems to confirm this.
Assorted topics from this era: The fight against ‘trendies’ and popular bands such as Oasis (‘Liam spat on the floor at the MTV awards’), frequently slating ‘commercial’ acts such as Black Grape.
It must be noted that ‘Ziners expressed a wide variety of opinions, and for every reader that despised the ongoing ‘lad culture’, you could be sure there would be someone who loved Oasis… even if their favourite band were beaten to the top of the reader polls by Blur. The Oasis-ites probably just forgot to vote or something.
Club 140 (1996-2002)
Between 28th October and 30th November 1996, Club 440 became Club 140 to accommodate another page move, with ‘Zine shifting to 142. This is perhaps the most well-known page number for ‘Zine, which would remain in the very same place for six whole years.
Mega-Zine might have shifted spaces, but WLW was just as discerning in their selection of letters for broadcast. On January 3rd, 1997, they wrote:
Sorry Twis, but this letter is boring! BE WARNED 'Ziners, as well as printing the best letters, now and then I am going to print absolute lemons. Public ridicule should keep you on your toes!
On a lighter note, Teletext canvassed opinion to find a new icon to replace the ‘blob’ in the top right corner for February 1997. The winning design, submitted by The Red Chipolata, was a creature with googly eyes and a long tongue. In time, it was widely accepted that its name was ‘Davord, Lord of Tharg’, even though a retrospective on the final edition of analogue Teletext (mistakenly) labelled this graphic ‘White Line Warrior’.
Davord would remain in situ until the end of ‘Zine‘s life, even making the journey across to Digital Teletext in 2006. This little creature became central to ‘Zine lore, puzzling newcomers as to their identity – maybe they were a cat or a dog? Were they breaking out of the TV or did they just have really long blond(e) hair?
According to Mr Biffo, Davord may have been translated to teletext by Steve ‘Horsenburger’ Horsley.
That looks like the work of Steve Horsley – who I knew from school. He followed me at Ladbrokes, then I got him into Teletext. He worked in the ad department, but did the occasional piece for editorial when I wasn’t around.Mr Biffo, Games of my Years Part 2
In actuality, WLW’s physical appearance is unknown, though it has been intimated that they are in fact a giraffe. This was referenced in WLW’s Microsoft Paint avatar for the soon-to-be-popular ‘Zine web forum Vegetable Revolution. (VR is known to have existed since March 2001 at the latest, originally as a Yahoo! Group and eventually a website of its own.)
Who cares? WLW is entitled to his/her/its privacy too! Anyway, we all know that WLW is probably some super-intelligent robot, feeling smug that we have all chosen to worship it despite having never met it.
Just a thought.The Little Silver Moonbaby, 1st March 2002
Such topics for conversation were a strong indicator of the fact that ‘Zine had moved far away from its musical roots, morphing into an avant-garde forum for offbeat and bizarre topics that only rarely involved ranking musical artists by their ‘trendiness’.
There was no doubting WLW’s creative talents – they were a true teletext polymath. Starting from 2001, they became a part-time artist, dipping their toes into teletext design on a handful of occasions. ‘Ziners would even request things for WLW to draw, though as the above screenshots prove, the artwork didn’t always meet contributors’ exact specifications! It was almost as if WLW was pinching those images from Teletext’s graphic archive…
Mega-Zine also developed a friendly rivalry with its Ceefax equivalent Backchat, as seen in these letters from late 2001 which humorously censor the competitor’s name (B*ckch*t). We can’t be certain if WLW was responsible for this, or indeed contributors were self-censoring in the spirit of postmodern irony.
A New Generation: Ace (2002-2006)
In 2002, the whole Teletext service underwent a vast swathe of changes that hit fellow magazines such as Digitiser rather hard indeed. But where Digi suffered a forced humour-ectomy, the comparatively ‘tame’ Mega-Zine rolled on into the 21st century (mostly) unscathed.
Between November and December 2002, Club 140 became Ace and moved to page 180, with ‘Zine at 182. A radical colour change saw the heading change from red to blue, forcing Davord to dye his hair cyan. And jumping ahead momentarily to January 2006, he was replaced (for one page only) by a cyan dog!
Those infamous three-line summaries morphed into short emails and SMS messages, as they had slowly overtaken paper letters and answerphone messages as the main method of submission. At this point there were daily updates, with submissions taking approximately one week to appear on the hallowed pages of ‘Zine.
It was also during this period that one of ‘Zine‘s biggest in-jokes escalated, namely WLW’s Jaffa Cake obsession. The tangy teatime treats would become a frequent topic of conversation above and below the white line.
Another popular pastime amongst the ‘Zine populace was the sport of ‘townie-bashing’ (or ‘trendy/hoodie bashing’), which Samurai Pizza Cat took particular exception to:
While flicking through the pages of Teletext, to my horror, I found that people using this service have been conspiring against townies.
I find this utterly unacceptable and expect a sincere apology to me and my sportswear clad friends.
Or jus send me a bottle of cider init.Samurai Pizza Cat, 3rd January 2004
Between August and November 2003, Ace moved to page 380. ‘Zine was now situated at page 382.
Powering into its second decade of existence, Mega-Zine had long established its characteristic anarchic style, moulded largely by its contributors and, anecdotally, the influence of Digitiser. Teletext and the Internet lived together in harmony, as for now at least, the latter posed relatively little threat to the former.
However, this was soon to change.
In November 2005, the Kids section was retired, with Teletext stating that “fewer children [were] looking at [the] pages” due to the impending digital switchover. Ace was moved to page 340 and ‘Zine to 345 – its final stop on the analogue teletext service.
As a welcome distraction, December 2005 saw ‘Zine reprint a selection of the best letters published that calendar year.
But in January 2006, WLW lost his ability to reply below the white line. See the previous images for evidence that he was now responding above the line with the plebs. Was this an indicator that ‘Zine would be phasing out?
Sure enough, just months later, Ace was brutally axed.
And that was it for the beloved Mega-Zine. No more gay giraffes, no more Mavis the cat. No more from the Brigadier, Lilac Leopard or Fluffy the Evil One.
…Or was it?
Mega-Zine Lives On! Digital Teletext (2006-2009)
So it was all over… but there was one last chance. WLW themselves appeared on Vegetable Revolution to announce that Mega-Zine could be saved. Their thread received dozens of responses within 24 hours, prompting WLW to say they would ‘see what [they] could do’.
… yes, due to your overwhelming messages of support, the lords of Teletext Towers have had a re-think and saved my (very long) neck. ‘Zine will live on, on digital TV.WLW, 6 July 2006
And so in 2006, much like a Clubcall striker, Mega-Zine made a dramatic move to page 839 on Teletext’s new digital service. Though it was originally slated to finish on 13th July 2006, popular demand saw ‘Zine immediately return on the new platform.
Teletext’s digital service was broadcast on compatible MHEG set top boxes and TVs, existing alongside its analogue counterpart. Depending on your hardware, it was usually slower than analogue teletext accessed through a relatively modern TV. However, contributors all agreed that it was a small price to extend the life of Britain’s zaniest teletext forum.
Another thing the old guard at Vegetable Revolution seemed to agree on was that the reboot should refrain from posting Jaffa Cake-related content. Presumably it had become stale by now… or maybe much drier, since we’re talking about cakes here?
It used to take around 13 days to get printed at one point. Now it’s about two!Junior Minister, Vegetable Revolution, 5th July 2006
At ‘Zine‘s new home, WLW sought to shake things up with a month of guest editors in December 2007. Over a dozen ‘Ziners were each allocated a day to step into WLW’s shoes. Teletext did intend to award the best guest editor a t-shirt, but due to an administrative error (WLW forgot about it), a poll to find the winner never materialised.
Mega-Zine went online in July 2008, offering hope the section might live on for a good few years. Thanks to the Internet Archive, we can see how purple it was:
However, the rising tide of world wide web telecommunications rendered it inescapable. Despite attempts to modernise, Mega-Zine was now a teletext relic in a world of fibre optic broadband and countless competing Internet forums. So it came as no surprise when, in February 2009, WLW announced that ‘Zine would be closing, this time for good.
It’s nothing to do with readership numbers or the quality of the ‘Zine. It’s just that there are some big changes afoot at Teletext – ones that mean there will be no place for WLW or Mega-Zine.WLW
The following month, Mega-Zine published its final edition. Exact details surrounding the closure will forever remain shrouded in secrecy, though we can proffer some very good theories – Captain Mal Reynolds of the Vegetable Revolution offered the following reason:
Mega-Zine (or ‘Zine) ended in March this year, due to the recession and the fact that the Teletext bosses actually read it one day and realised how much money they had been spending so teenagers could say to other teenagers “What do you get if you cross a sheep and a kangaroo? A dent on your bonnet!”Captain Mal Reynolds
Vegetable Revolution members voted the following letter as the final winner of ‘Saturday Showcase’, specifically the ‘bestest letter in March 2009’.
“WLW, it doesn’t have to end this way. You’ve pressed all my buttons in the right order over the years, and though we drifted apart after the disagreement over the answer to Question 11, please know if you ever want to come back, all you need to do is PRESS RED TO CONTINUE.”Bambler Boozler
Coming here and flaunting your ongoing employment. How tactless.WLW
Of ‘Zine’s closure, Vegetable Revolution forumer Topper said: “I do know the genuine feeling of excitement and pride I’d feel when I saw one of my letters printed, it quite emphatically made my day.” And I think that sums up the experience of most, if not all ‘Ziners.
Following the final closure of Mega-Zine in 2009, many contributors migrated to the aforementioned Vegetable Revolution, an online forum that archived many old ‘Zine letters and served to continue discussion after the demise of Digital Teletext.
A Wikipedia page for Mega-Zine once existed, but it was deleted for failing to meet notability guidelines in September 2008. A copy of the Wikipedia article at its time of deletion is archived here, while the page deletion discussion is here.
In essence, the Wikipedia page was removed due to the lack of third-party articles in reputable journals to support ‘Zine‘s inclusion. Despite its popularity among a select few, ‘Zine had largely failed to gain recognition outside its own Teletext bubble. Either that, or the articles that once existed have melted into the Internet ether or a cardboard box in someone’s loft.
Even though those third-party articles are presumed lost, there existed many fansites operated by fervent ‘Zine contributors.
Until the mid-2000s, the prolific Insane Jam Sow ran the Ziners List, which collated contemporary contributors. Listed alphabetically, the final name was ZZ Top Fan, who has confirmed he deliberately chose the name for that purpose.
…And how do I know that, dear reader? Because that sad little ‘Ziner was a 16 year-old me: the artist sometimes known as Batman’s Brother.
- The Mega Zine Museum, a searchable database of all ‘Zine letters that have been archived to date.
- Ziners’ interview with Mr Biffo. Digitiser’s Paul Rose was never an editor for Mega-Zine, at least not that he can recall. He didn’t even read ‘Zine, and by his own admission rarely even used teletext.
- Old ‘Zine Wikipedia page archived at Wikibin.
- Mega-Zine Shack fansite by Sam Got a Snorkel.
- The Ziners List (Internet Archive) by Insane Jam Sow.
- The Teletext Archive, hosting many captures of old teletext services – including Mega Zine – from domestic video tape.
- Lots more links here. Hardly any of them are still in operation, though some can be accessed via the Internet Archive.
Thank you to Alistair Buxton, Tim Bisley, Andrew Nile and Jason Robertson for their hard work capturing and restoring the teletext pages featured in this post.
Additional thanks to Vegetable Revolution contributor Rayanne Graff for some of the letters referenced, and Insane Jam Sow for their knowledge from the Mega-Zine Museum website.
And of course, thank you to everyone who watched, edited or contributed to the ‘Zine. I wouldn’t have been able to write this article without you.