20 March 2007

The VHS Tape 1976-2007

VHS tapeThe VHS Tape has unspooled for the last time, its glossy surface ripped from its plasticky exterior by economists at the Office of National Statistics, who have extracted it from the shopping basket of goods and services used to judge the rate of inflation and thrown it into the bin alongside brie, vegetable oil and sprouts.

The Vertical Helical Scan System, known to millions simply as "the VHS" or (every time it unaccountably failed to record the whole of one's favourite programme) "that bloody thing" - was born in 1976. From birth it was to have a hard life. Even as it emerged from the womb of the JVC corporation it was to find rival mother Sony standing over it, pillow in hand, as it prepared to smother the child in favour of its own offspring, Betamax. Fortunately, the errant Japanese corporation was dragged away to a quiet room and, despite its inferior picture, VHS was ultimately to triumph over its rival after impressing the public with the size of its recording capacity. Thus began VHS's popularity as millions marvelled at their ability to record TV programmes while they were out… and then leave them unwatched until they were taped over a few days later.

The VHS was to prove a major stepping-stone in the life of many a child. Not only did it give the average 5-year-old their first opportunity to triumph over their parents by being able to tape hour after hour of Battle of the Planets while the adults could only manage a recording that ended halfway through Bullseye, it also gave millions of impressionable adolescents the chance to broaden their cultural education by watching fifth generation pirate copies of Driller Killer and recording subtitled films on BBC2 or Channel 4 in the hope of a fleeting glimpse of arthouse nudity (hopes which, thanks to the technological precision of the pause function, were inevitably crushed).

VHS mountainWith the birth of its younger sibling, the VHS camera, the Tape enjoyed amazing commercial success enabling people to video their own weddings and birthday parties – and then send the oh-so-hilarious results to Jeremy Beadle’s You’ve Been Framed - and later allowing unknown micro-personalities such as Abi Titmuss to become very-well-known micro-personalities when recordings of their most intimate moments somehow found their way to the desks of every newspaper and PR agency.

It was the introduction of digital technology which saw the Tape facing its final rewind. Its binary relative, The DVD, stole the show and viewers’ affections by being able to provide movies with a sharper picture, surround sound and a commentary from the director’s chauffeur’s uncle’s sister at the push of a button.

The Tape deteriorated rapidly – stretching and distorting the picture and losing its sound quality in a gale of white noise – at which point the ONS consultants agreed that it no longer had a sustainable quality of life and, for the last time, gently untangled it from the playback heads and replaced it in its tired and worn-out cardboard sleeve.

The VHS Tape will be buried at car boot sales and charity shops across the country. It is survived by The DVD-RW, Hard-Disk Recorder and accidentally recording over that episode of The Persuaders on ITV4 you really wanted to watch.