The importance of old recordings

Mark Boulton



Current Machines:VR2021 (in the past)

I don't know if any of you happened to see a television programme on BBC2 last Christmas about missing episodes of "e;Dad's Army"e;. It explained that TV companies have always been rather lax at keeping television history comprehensive and complete in its archives.

In the 60s and early 70s, many programmes were wiped, either after original transmission, or after one repeat. Some programmes were not recorded at all; they were simply transmitted live with no Video Tape Recorder running at the time.

Now, from the mid 80's, the programmes themselves have become much more studiously archived. However, the little bits in-between, "continuity", is not such a case, and original video recordings of channel identifications (idents), Engineering Announcements, Programme Announcements, Trailers, Menus, 'Coming Next/Later' slides, have remained largely unrecorded 'as transmitted'. Also, regional news programmes are still very often not kept for any more than 30 days after broadcast, which is then only done on VHS tape for legal purposes. If you wanted to see a regional news programme from before then, you're very often out of luck, unless it's a 'mishap' and has been specially kept on a tape of 'cockups'.

In 1994 I was lucky enough to find a VR2021 machine going for £15 in a local electrical shop. There were a couple of minor faults with it regarding the tape loading drawer; however the people in the shop very kindly repaired these faults for free. Now, several years BEFORE, a school friend had given me two old VCC tapes, and for years I had wondered what was on them. Also, the electrical shop gave me two tapes. On my friend's tapes, I found various old continuity, from around 1983/4, from all channels. This made fascinating viewing. I saw an early computer-generated spinning 'ITV' symbol on a trailer for Saturday night's programmes. I saw some early Channel 4 continuity. There were plenty of examples of weather forecasts, news bulletins, trailers etc. from BBC1 and 2 from the same period.

Of the two tapes from the shop however, the recordings were not particularly of any rarity interest; they were all Yorkshire TV recordings from just the year before. However, these did serve to demonstrate just how good the recordings were, even then.

The machine worked, with the occasional glitch, relatively trouble-free for a period of about six months. Then, disaster struck.

For all the time I had been using it, it had been a little 'gunky' to say the least - especially internally. I thought I would be good and give it a thorough clean.

Being used to doing such work on audio equipment and VHS machines, I thought this wouldn't pose a problem. Unfortunately, I didn't allow sufficient time for the cleaning fluid to dry properly, and upon loading a cassette, the tape wrapped itself like sellotape around the head drum, in a hopeless tangle. I tried very carefully to try and lift the tape away from the drum to stop it drying further into solid contact. After a few minutes I tried to lift the tape out from inside the head drum.

Sadly, the damage was already done. One of the heads came right out, complete with its piezo-electric mount. The machine was dead. I kicked myself for the impatience which had caused the death of a rare beast - "It is an ex-Video 2000 machine. It has ceased to be."

Anyway, there are two lessons to be learned from this:

  1. Don't go overboard with internal cleaning; also, don't use much fluid - you don't need as much as you can see with your eyes - if you saw a drop come out of the bottle, and you saw that drop land on the cotton bud, you've got enough.
  2. Don't wipe old recordings of what might, at first sight, appear to be 'nothing of interest'. There are many enthusiasts interested in the little bits 'in-between the programmes'. If you want to re-use the few VCC tapes you can find, copy the footage onto VHS, or preferably, a better format, first.

Submitted Wed, Saturday, 18 May 2002 23:44 BST