Children who grew up in the 1990s had hope because of one man. Dave Benson Phillips presented Get Your Own Back for 14 series. It had a simple but fantastic premise; kids competed to have an embarrassing parent or grumpy teacher of their choice dunked into gunge. It was the fantasyof playgrounds across the land, and presented with infectious manic glee by a born entertainer.
The show was a slimy success for the BBC and turned Phillips into one of the UK’s most recognisable faces. But then in 2009 he died. Sort of. His killers were cruel hoaxers who spread rumours of his demise online. And then his problems went from dead to worse.
“One day a mother came up to me in the street and short of almost slapping me in the face she said, how dare I say such hateful things,” Phillips recalls. “That’s the first I knew there was a problem.”
Before this point, the phone had stopped ringing and Phillips couldn’t understand why. He was patron of several charities and even up for being a Unicef ambassador but people had started to treat him oddly and work had dropped off.
“Imagine my surprise when this lady said to me, ‘Look, you have a Facebook page that says some awful things about children with special needs’,” Phillips says.
“I remember diving into Dixons. They had a computer connected to the internet. I said, ‘Do you mind if I take a look?’ The guy realised my distress and sat me down. We saw this page which looked like it was mine; pictures and posters of me, with all this information in between about what terrible people children with special needs are. It was a horrible thing to read.”
Phillips had become one of the earliest victims of trolling and fake news. “We had to retaliate by getting online and learning the hard way very quickly how to combat it,” he says. Phillips set up his own social media presence but the attacks only became more direct.
“The internet and social media is a great tool but in some cases it gives a voice to the cowardly and the hateful,” Phillips says. “People can get to you. One or two are OK; in my case it was tens of thousands.
“It gives people a direct access point. It’s a bit like you sitting in your home, having a nice time with your family, and someone walks into your house and says, ‘You’re a twat’.
“The police got involved. One particular person had set up an algorithm that would bombard me; we found quarter of a million emails from one source, and we couldn’t prove who it was. Despite the fact that we can see who’s doing it nobody has to be accountable.”
Phillips persevered in rebuilding his career. As well as monetary payment, he posted a list of goods and services he’d accept in lieu of cash, including a large outdoor marquee, bouncy castle, laptop, enough juggling balls, clubs and silks to teach a class of 20 people, five years of accountancy work, unicycling lessons, a Nando’s and a rubber chicken.
“People nowadays still want to be entertained but I understand that money is tight,” Phillips says. “We had some problems financially ourselves. Being dead for about eight years, that’s quite hard.”
The wish-list went viral, and Phillips has continued to take on the trolls by owning social media.
When the electronics shop Maplin closed, he started great debate after posing this question to his Twitter followers: ‘What was the best or most useful thing you ever bought in a Maplin shop?’
“I just thought to myself, it’s a shame. As an entertainer, to be able to run into a shop on the high street and say ‘Have you got a jack-to-jack lead, I’ve got karaoke I’ve got to do’, I’m going to miss that.”
Phillips’ natural charisma has also led to an online Curb Your Enthusiasm-style mockumentary series called Getting Back with Dave Benson Phillips, which he hopes could lead to a return to TV, whether in front or behind the camera.
He would be perfect as David Dimbleby’s replacement on Question Time. With an idea surely everyone would get behind, on Twitter Phillips suggested Question Time should be replaced by Question Slime, with all guests getting a good gungeing.
He is now less sure Question Slime would be a good idea, but says he would still like to be in the audience.
“When it came to town I was hoping I was going to get picked [to ask a question],” he says. “But they wanted more normal people in Worthing.”
So, Dave Benson Phillips is officially not normal – nor would he want to be. He is not dead either.
To book your own Get Your Own Back gungeing see davebensonphillips.com
How Dave shocked the nation (and Paul McCartney)
On Get Your Own Back, kids got the chance to gunge a grown-up, but they had to stake one of their treasured possessions and if they lost, Dave Benson Phillips torched it in a furnace. The magic of television usually meant the item was saved, but once it went wrong…
“One girl’s teddy bear went up in flames,” Phillips recalls. “It was supposed to drop into an area beneath the flames and never get touched. Unfortunately the bear was not co-operating and it threw itself into the flames.
“We were bad boys then at the BBC, the nation’s children were up in arms. We had to make an apology on the national news, I had to go on Newsround and Points of View. I had to write a letter to Paul McCartney…”
We all know McCartney’s veggie credentials but it seems his affection for animals extends to toy bears.
“He loves Rupert the Bear and he couldn’t make a particular engagement,” says Phillips. “He handed it to me so as an act of contrition I had to publicly celebrate the 75th birthday of Rupert the Bear.”