Scouring the VHS tapes for hidden gems

Published on 1 February 2009 in , , ,

As I sit here typing this, my PC is hard at work recording onto computer, an old copy of News at Ten. Not just any News at Ten, but the “final” “ever” News at Ten from 1999.

It’s from one of about 80 VHS tapes in my collection – the remnants of years of video history “discarded” about two years when I upgraded to a Humax PVR.

Since then, the tapes have sat there rather unloved and untouched. However a recent upgrade of my PC meant I finally had the chance to start digitising what’s there before it became too late.

The main focus of the tapes – films and TV programmes – have generally all been superseded. My well worn and grainy Red Dwarf recordings from BBC Two were shoved away some time ago by the superior experience of DVD. And as for the films…

Instead the digitisation I’m doing is mostly ignoring the programmes and looking inbetween. Old adverts and trailers for starters – mostly from the early and mid 1990s. There’s all sorts of hidden gems in there. Early promos for digital television for example – the News At Ten tape includes a trailer extolling the easy to install nature of “digital television through an aerial” for example, which is a pretty blatant attempt at ITV promoting OnDigital without actually saying the name of the company. Somewhere I know there’s some early 1990s BBC digital trailers which will make fascinating watching fifteen years later if I can ever find it.

What’s depressing though is the state of the tapes. Many of them date back to when I was a teenager, and later a student, and so not exactly full of money. Tapes were either watched to death or used so many times for recording that the whole thing looks really ropey now.

Worse still, many were recorded in the dreaded “Long Play” mode – meaning a four hour tape could be stretched out to eight hours. Great way to avoid buying more tapes, however the result is a slightly dodgy picture, and some really awful audio. The age of the tapes probably doesn’t help either.

Still what you’ve got is what you’ve got. And it does mean you discover all sorts of wonderful blasts from the pasts. Like this wonderful Christmas ident from Channel 4, back in 1996…

To view this video you need Flash installed. If you have Flash and still can’t see this video, you can watch it via YouTube

var flashvars = {}; var params = {}; var attributes = {}; swfobject.embedSWF(“”, “mediaplayer”, “425”, “344”, “9.0.0”, false, flashvars, params, attributes);


  • This is a great reminder – we have hundreds of tapes of random bits of TV from the last 20 years or so at home. One day they’ll all be binned, but now you’ve given me the ambition to sift through them for little nuggets of TV gold.
    I’m pretty sure I have the Big Breakfast New Year’s Eve show somewhere too…
    Also, off-topic, I half thought this blog was going to be about reclaiming Ceefax and Teletext data of recorded TV broadcasts, something I remember reading about ages ago somewhere – also a nifty use of tapes with otherwise pointless recordings on them.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    It would certainly be interesting to trawl through the Ceefax and Teletext of yesteryear! Unfortunately the S-VHS recorder I would have needed was never in my budget!
    There’s an interesting modern equivalent to that though – one of my colleagues discovered that Myth TV records the MHEG layer when it records Freeview TV. As such, with the addition of a plugin, you could browse through a recorded version of BBC Red Button or Teletext (or whatever) on the computer!
    My own attempts to get Myth TV working on my PC alas, haven’t been successful.