It’s official: VHS is finally dead
The last VCR manufacturer in existence will cease production at the end of this week, drawing a line under an already lost age that nonetheless stirs nostalgia in all of us.
Who can forget the skillful art of late-night recording? The golden age of home video? And the living room shelf creaking under the weight of self-made treasures adorned with hand-written labels?
Here, the WOW247 team shares memories of the humble VHS tape, and its assorted highs and lows.
“It was like climbing inside a time capsule”
As a kid, almost all of my family’s favourite and most-watched movies had been recorded off the telly by my parents, at some point during the ’80s and early ’90s.
For that reason, we would sometimes have to watch half of an old episode of Mr Bean before we reached the main feature, and we would always sit through every single totally outdated advert break.
Sometimes the retro adverts (featuring the likes of Larry Hagman, AKA JR from Dallas, pimping out British Gas’s services) were more entertaining than the films themselves – especially since my sister and I had no idea what Dallas even was. It was like climbing inside a time capsule.
Oh, and I’ve never seen the start of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, because (I suspect) Dad forgot to hit record on time after one too many festive tipples. Those two ghosts really gave Scrooge McDuck a hard time, though.
“Video Plus always cut the last 5 minutes off”
I can remember the excitement when I finally got a VHS player that supported Video Plus. You’d put in a code corresponding to the programme you wanted to tape, and it would sort the rest out for you – perfect for Channel 4’s excellent late night music programming on a Thursday night. Except Video Plus still always cut the last 5 minutes off everything.
When I was a bit younger I had a ‘favourite tape’ that I would take with me everywhere. I suppose for the rare moments I was out of the house, had nothing to do, and there just happened to be a VHS nearby. It usually contained episodes of (now defunct) late-night gaming show Cybernet.
I always remember being in awe of the advertisements at the start of rental videos that would speak of the visual fidelity of these new fangled DVD things. You could definitely hear and see the difference in the side by side comparisons – forgetting of course that a VHS could only ever be as good as a VHS.
“It looked like an avant-garde music video”
VHS was terrible quality, aesthetically naff and took up far too much shelf space, but it’s one redeeming quality was the ability to record from TV.
Over and over again on the same tape that is – until it started to look like an avant-garde music video by a psychedelic band, and the sticky label was covered in scrawled out titles.
Possibly one of the best things about watching old VHS tapes these days is when the advert break interrupts the film you’re watching, and suddenly you’re plunged into the commercial world of 1992. It’s all “Nicole, Papa”, Marathon bars, and “You Know You’ve Been Tangoed”.
“I remember picking out Dumb & Dumber – I was four”
I remember VHS being hugely important in my childhood. We used to have ‘the video lady’ come around once a week – who would have a white van packed full of tapes you could rent for a few quid. I used to walk down to the road in my socks and would peek in at this vast collection of films she would have.
She would recommend stuff, like a personal taste-maker before Rotten Tomatoes. She was such an big figure in my life, that there was a joke that my granddad was going to run off with her, in the van.
Another thing I remember is going with my uncle to Blockbusters to pick out Dumb & Dumber. We both lived in the same house at the time and he compromised with me and let me watch an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine before the film went on (I was four at the time).
We then sat and watched the film together all the way through, and both howled with laughter at the laxative scene, tears streaming from our eyes.
“I didn’t get to watch that episode for another 15 years”
I remember trying to record a pivotal episode of The Prisoner at 1am – only to have a late night Channel 4 politics programme overrunning by 30 minutes. I didn’t get to see that episode for another 15 years!
Devoting your pocket money to buying long-running TV shows was always a problem. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was available on VHS before terrestrial TV, with two episodes per tape at £12.99 each.
At 20 episodes a season that was around £130 for the lot – today you can buy all 176 episodes on DVD for less than £80…
“My copy of Predator was broken from the first time I watched it”
Ah, the lost joys of taking half an hour to rewind a knackered tape. Or someone accidentally recording over your favourite film with Crufts.
For all the problems VHS had, certainly in comparison to today’s relatively breezy streaming and Blu-Ray offerings, there’s still a genuine charm to its memory. I even get nostalgic over that old advert warning you about pirate video tapes, with the dodgy market stall owner (‘Traaaainspotting?’).
The irony to that, of course, was that legitimately bought videos weren’t always that much better.
I once owned a VHS copy of Predator that was pretty much broken after the first time I watched it; a long, white crackling line would work its way steadily up the screen from start to finish, periodically obscuring Arnie’s chiselled face.
Nonetheless, I must have sat through that crackling, scrambled video a dozen times. It’s amazing the patience we had back then.
Main image: Shutterstock