Be Kind, Rewind (the VHS)

VHS tapes

As the Millennium dawned, I started growing hair where it had not grown before. I was transforming, this was my rite of passage. As I grew, technology grew and the face of everything we knew was changing. For better or worse is a matter of opinion. My Dad would argue for worse, that is a different post all in itself.

Futurism and technology is taking over. Again, I feel the golden era has passed and we are emerging from the technological revolution as soulless hollow shells, obsessed with nothing and dependant on everything. It is all at our finger tips, literally. There seems to be no fight, no urgency, no movements, because we have everything. Rebellion is gone and homogeny is present. We are Generation Fucked.

tech addiction

I’m unsure that all the technology we have is slowing us down. As consumers, yes. When you look at artists impressions from the 50’s and 60’s of life in the big 2000, there are teleports, flying cars are robots as our mechanical slaves. We have had the advances, but in the wrong direction. We put men on the Moon in ’69, ’14 has a phone that can let you know when someone has liked your shitty photo of the thing you ate for dinner. Is this where we are now?

On the other hand, mass leaps in technology have made humans be more hateful to each other, creating new and inventive ways to kill the enemy and destroy the earth for the last of our resources. Drones smart bombing people from 6000 miles away. Have we improved? With all of these changes in a relatively short amount of time, I look back and appreciate everything I had 15 years ago. It seemed flawless. After researching thoroughly, I found what I needed to make me feel good about technology – Stepping backwards.

Vinyl has made a huge resurgence in the last few years through amazing platforms like Record Store Day. I won’t delve too much into vinyl now, though I am a main advocator. It is warm, has character, has meaning, is symbolic of greater times. It is beautiful. As is VHS.

After watching documentaries such as Rewind This, and searching the in Twittersphere for archivists, it ignited the passion further. Where have they all gone?

VHS tapes

VHS was representative of the time . My friend and I would rent a film every Friday night from Blockbusters and watch the shit out of it before we had to hand it in again on Monday morning. It was the start of the weekend, it was part of us, our childhood. Grandmas and Grandads up and down the country and those leatherette Video Library cases that Peter Kay so nostalgically joked about. It was culture. VHS dominated, it fought off every other format at the time – See you in hell, Beta. But even now, there will be a Betamax purist or two out there, writing this very same article based on their specific love.

VHS gave a warm, fuzzy glow to stale evenings. They had about 40 minutes of adverts before the feature started, and even after they adverts, there was a warning from the Federation Against Copyright Theft (you know it, FACT) about the dangers of pirating. Then, the pinnacle of pre-film spiel – “This video has been certified U/PG/12/15/18…” That BBFC symbol that meant you were either watching The Lion King or watching something you definitely weren’t supposed to. VHS was also humble, a gentleman in fact, it advertised the power of DVD towards the end of the 90’s, bowing out with grace.

I remember the first time I heard of DVD, it was in the ads in the back of CVG Magazine – $29.99 for Lethal Weapon 4 Region 1 DVD? What the fuck is that? That was 1998.

Then a friend said his Dad has an American import DVD player, which cost about $800. That was like 80 weeks pocket money. Jesus, how was I ever going to get one? Did I need one? Then I saw Armageddon on DVD in Curry’s for £24.99, and I knew VHS was coming to a close. Times, they were a-changin’.

Yes, DVD was far superior, it had many positives, but there is just something about it. Firstly the cost in initial set up was monumental as a child. How could you just replace your whole VHS collection?


I had a wall, an entire fucking wall, of VHS. You couldn’t record on DVD yet, so what was the point? What if the Halloween sequel you hadn’t seen yet was on Channel 5? You needed to tape it and watch it after school the next day. There was something amazing about label art as well. Using those BASF stickers and re-write pens to document what you had recorded on the tape. We even had different coloured cassettes – The two green ones stuck out a mile in a wall of black cassettes, so I made sure I taped the important things on those so I could grab them and watch them instantly.

I taped everything. I had films on VHS, and with about an hour left on the reel, would tape episodes of The Simpsons, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or something else afterwards. One summer, we sat and taped music videos on Kerrang! all night long just so we didn’t have to wait for someone to call in and request it. One tape had an episode of The Tom Green Show (with the premiere of ‘The Bum Song,’) VH1’s The Rise and Rise of …Marilyn Manson, a few Jackass episodes and a documentary entitled The History of the Mosh Pit, which featured Courtney Love on stage at Woodstock ’94 in just a pair of knickers. This tape was the Holy Grail.

Now all these programmes are a click away or lost in the ether of archives, unable to be accessed again because they are deteriorating or the information just ins’t relevant anymore. Shame, because there was some amazing things out there.

VHS is trippy as fuck

The single best thing for me about VHS was the discovery. If something was on late, and it was a school night, I would set my timer on my VCR about 10 minutes before the film or programme started, and set it to end at the end of the tape. You’re looking at a 120 minute film plus the first 10 leaving 50 minutes spare on the VHS to record whatever else followed. It opened doors – Each video tape was a golden ticket into the bizarre and the macabre. Sometimes it was Frasier, but hey, it’s alright. Channel 4 was usually the best for this, because of the content they showed. On weekends, after midnight, they had a ‘zone’ called Do Not Sleep – It showed only the weirdest shows. Troma’s Edge TV, a whole week of documentaries on the Japanese sex industry, a wonderful series called Digital Sex (Can you see a theme here?) a plethora or short films from around the globe, or, if it was Sunday and I had recorded the Channel 4 10pm film sponsored by Stella Artois, then I saw glimpses of other films that were dark, like Caligula or The Story of O. Remember, this was before the internet. Well, before we had it.

I still have some VHS kicking about in my loft. Unfortunately, only film presentations that I had bought, so my original Star Wars Trilogy and The Matrix are still up there, but nothing I had taped myself is left. Which is quite sad, because I remember our Beetlejuice VHS that Mam and Dad had taped on ITV had some fucking amazing adverts in it from the 90’s that definitely are not on Youtube. I’m going to dig out everything that is left.

Be Kind, Rewind
Two things I will leave you with – Recently an original 1979 MEDIA Halloween VHS sold on eBay for $13,000. Bet you wish you had never thrown that out now.

Lastly, a woman named Marion Stokes, who passed in 2012, left behind a collection of 40,000 VHS and Betamax, which the Internet Archive are painstakingly digitising because of the wealth on said tapes. It seems it is mostly news programmes, or debate shows, but it’s history.

There is pure gold out there – I’m not saying become a revivalist or a hoarder, but if you could either make a killing in the second hand VHS market, or there might be something absolutely invaluable recorded in your garage somewhere.

Be kind, rewind.

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