Thursday, 6 December 2012

TV Guides, Blank Tapes and Highlighters


It's nearly here folks. The decorations are going up, the food and present shopping is being carried out and all of the usual Christmas traditions are lining up, ready to be instigated. A very important one approaches and will be happening in many homes, though not to the degree that as it used to.  It involved a popular T.V guide magazine, a pack of highlighter pens and a stack of VHS blank cassette tapes. Some of you may be aware that I love films and TV and hopefully this explains the following obsession I carried out every year.

I know that I'm not the only person who did this, but it is now a dying tradition due to advances in technology.  For any of you reading this who are too young to remember what happened, I'll take you through the recipe on how I used to plan my Christmas TV viewing:

The magazine I refer to was the Radio Times. You could use the TV Times, but only if the RT was unavailable, as in my opinion the latter just didn't cut it and this was a serious operation, there was no room for error. Next on the list was a set of highlighter pens of which there needed to be several different colours, for a very good reason. Finally we needed to have a substantial supply of blank VHS tapes. I always liked to use fresh tapes as, despite what the skeleton who advertised the Scotch tapes used to say, they did fade away after several re-records.

The first read through of the RT was just a quick browse to familiarise oneself with what was on and to make myself aware of any clear, no-questions-asked recordings that had to take place (mostly movies). To do this I used the most eye-catching highlighter (usually the yellow, a common choice I believe). At this point I feel I need to explain that for several years over the Christmas period, I was away from home and with other members of my family, where TV viewing would not be so easy.

The second perusal involved a secondary colour being used to mark out other programmes I would like to see which were to be broadcast over the festive period. This was usually Christmas specials and one-offs such as "Britain's Strongest Man". This is sadly no longer a special as, like so many other classic shows, there always seems to be a re-run being showed on one of the multiple channels now diluting our TV's.

Next up was the "Clash Check." This was a procedure whereby I would list the programmes in date and time order and see if there was a clash. In the event of there being so, which did occasionally happen, I had a  couple of options:

1) Watch one of the programmes and record the other (if viewing was an option).

2) Commandeer my parents VCR in the lounge to use in addition to my own. (This may seem extreme to you
    but any TV or film addict will tell you, it had to be done.)

Having now planned the recordings et.c I now had to calculate how I was going to get it all onto a tape. The most common species of the VHS cassette was the E-180. The "180" denoted the length of time in minutes available on the tape and also declared itself almost useless unless you used a "long play" function on the VCR, doubling the 180mins into six hours.  Not for me though, the E180, no I went straight to the E240. As you can probably work out, this became an eight-hour recordable behemoth of a tape.  All recordings were programmed into the VCR's timer and the preparation was complete. All that was left now was for me to enjoy my "meal" of Christmas TV goodness on returning from my travels.

Of course it doesn't happen like that any more. We shall purchase the RT as a matter of course, the same as every Christmas and there may even be a bit of highlighting going on. It wont be to the same degree because nowadays our Sky box does it all for us: Programme guide, recording et.c. The advance in technology from VCR to digital recorders, like most other changes, makes life easier. However, also like some other advances, it takes some of the fun out of it.

I think the difference is the involvement and the physical aspect of a plastic box housing a film or programme. Yes it can be replaced with another title in the same way a digibox can be wiped and new items recorded, but there is still a lot to be said for VHS in the same way that records have the individuality that compact discs do not.  I still have many videos and have no intention of getting rid of them, in fact some of the rarer titles have become collectors items of value.

Now if I can just fit The Two Ronnies Christmas Special on, I'll be happy. No? Right then, I have need of your VCR......

No VCR's were permanently damaged during this procedure. (Apart from a Panasonic NVG-21B)


  1. I agree Jp. I used to wait for the Christmas advert on BBC1 which showed a trailer of what we could expect to see this year. It is sad that kids today won't get the excitement i felt when i saw a trailer of indiana Jones which was to be shown on Christmas day as the afternoon movie. I remember in the early eighties we had to purchase both radio times and tv times as they only showed listings for their respective channels. I think we can have too much of a good thing sometimes and even though technology improving can only be good, i wouldn't change my younger Christmasses for anything. Happy viewing this Christmas :-)

    1. With regards the TV Times, you had to make sure you bought the right edition for the region. It was always close between Central and East Anglia for us, with EA edging it!