Blast from the past: setting a Video Cassette Recorder was an art

GRAEME COUSINS returns – remote control in hand – to the golden age of VCR to attempt to record an unscheduled episode of Different Strokes ... but he can’t for the life of him find a space

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 10:00 am
Updated Monday, 7th June 2021, 2:29 pm
Video tapes from the 1980s and 1990s

Nowadays you can do degrees in subjects such as ethical hacking and bakery science, though sadly for people in the eighties and nineties there were no courses available on how to programme a video cassette recorder.

Taping a programme when it was actually on TV was fairly straightforward, though it was a skill to start and stop the recording without hearing the continuity announcer.

The real art came when you wanted to set the video to tape a show when you weren’t in the house or you were halfway through your nighttime slumber.

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Back then the TV guide operated more like a train timetable, so missing the beginning and, more importantly, the end of a show was commonplace.

There was no ‘catch up’ TV in those days – you rarely got a second bite at the cherry. If you missed an episode of your favourite programme you faced a wait of around two years until the series was released on official video.

Another dilemma often faced by amateurs and professionals alike was having somewhere to tape a programme at short notice. It was like Tesco car park at Christmas – finding a space was nigh on impossible.

In extreme cases you could put a bit of sticky tape over the copy-protected tab of a feature presentation, but most times it was someone else’s recording that took the hit.

I remember taping an unscheduled episode of Different Strokes over a recording labelled ‘Royal Wedding’.

When I eventually confessed to my mum she asked was it Charles and Diana or Andrew and Sarah.

She seemed less aggrieved when I told her it was the latter.

The fact I lied and she has never pulled me up on it just proves that she had no intention of watching it again.

There was one programming task that could only be tackled by a true professional – setting the VCR to record a number of episodes in sequence while you were on holidays.

You can imagine my mum’s horror when she returned home from Florida to catch up on EastEnders only to find the VCR timer was set to AM instead of PM and she’d got every other episode of BBC Breakfast News. I’m not sure she’s ever forgiven my dad.