East of the M60’s rewind to the glory days of video hire shops
Thirty years ago, the home video recorder was our answer to the iPad or smartphone. It was an object of desire, but this very object of desire would cost about £500. Prerecorded cassettes were around £20 – £25, with recordable tapes slightly cheaper. It is hard to imagine how in 1983 a VHS cassette would cost the same as a 16Gb Secure Digital memory card would now. Today’s camcorders also take them – a far cry from the colossal things which took full size VHS tapes.
Because prerecorded tapes were so expensive, the early to mid 1980s saw a boom in video hire shops. Before VHS emerged as victor of a war against Betamax and V2000 formats, the local video hire shops would cover all formats. By the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s, Betamax tapes were stored out of sight, often under the counter to avoid being humiliated by its VHS peers (though Betamax was the superior format in terms of sound and vision quality).
Not to be beaten by the arrival of video hire shops, convenience stores went for a piece of the action. Enter the video hire club of your local off-licence. Public libraries would also follow suit. With a few cans and assorted snacks, it made for a cheap night’s entertainment, so long as you had a video recorder.
For similar reasons, video game cartridges were out of the league of some budgets. They too would be available for hire. Then DVDs, (for about two minutes) HD DVDs and UMD discs, then Bluray discs. Then came online rentals and streaming services, websites like YouTube, Blinkbox and Netflix, leading us directly to the end of the video hire shop as we know today. Culminating of course in the Blockbuster Video (UK) chain going into administration this week.
Today, it is possible to resurrect a 1980s video night without leaving the house: one can subscribe to Netflix or Blinkbox, then order pizza and/or booze online for the film night. Sadly, it lacks the same mystique of visiting the local video library. However, thanks to same technology which has supplanted our local video hire shops, East of the M60 aims to take you back to that era.
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Act 1: Local Video Shops in Tameside
Total Video (Astley Street, Dukinfield)
All around me, the streets were looking dingy
And it looked no better on the TV.
There was one form of escapism
All I needed was a television
And a video recorder.
Part of my redundancy money
Went on indoor entertainment,
A worthwhile diversion in unemployment
And a long term wish fulfilment.
I sold the idea to my partner
She thought I was mad, being behind on her VISA
‘Well, I’ve spent it now’ came my answer,
Still she felt no wiser.
‘What you are seeing in new technology,
One’s ability to tape Quincy
And watch it later’.
‘On long play, you can get a week’s worth of soaps
And watch them later’.
Unimpressed, she stressed the price of blank videos;
‘A tenner for three hours? You must be crackers!’
I bought the system from my local retailer
The one opposite Greggs in the shopping centre.
The remote control was £20 extra, so I didn’t bother.
Physically fit, this didn’t matter
And I thought the wire would have been longer.
I carted the thing on the 330.
It was most heavy, placed in the caddy with a buggy,
Of a passenger bound for Woodley.
Watching the video recorder, I deprived a granny
Priority of the front seat due to this notion
Of organising this form of traction
For the carriage of a system
In excess of £300.
Three hours later with programming in completion
I made the suggestion of joining a video library.
Initially she thought the notion was seedy,
Assuming it dealt in pornography and other nasties.
However, I knew of one a short walk away.
Calling in one Saturday
The place was far from seedy and quite airy.
I found to my ire that ET was absent
Though I found The Shining was present
And parted with my money
To hear some madman shout “Here’s Johnny”
One evening, instead of Aspel and Company.
Three hours later, my partner woke up.
She heard some banging on the door.
‘Is it Johnny?’ she shouted, shaking.
An hour later, she realised she was dreaming.
On my way to Scotland Street, to claim my Giro
I bumped into an ex-colleague at the queue for ‘B’ window,
Asking me how I spent my redundancy money.
I told him about the video recorder.
He bought his two years earlier.
He found one with stereo sound at £500
With smaller tapes and higher resolution
‘I think you did wrong’ he said
‘You should have got a Betamax system
‘The picture’s sharper and the sound is clearer’
‘Yeah’ I thought ‘You’re on to a loser’
Five years later he was.
– Stuart Vallantine, 13 July 2007
This poem was inspired by a closed video shop in Dukinfield known as ‘Total Video’. It was opposite The Commercial public house and the Co-op. The place was airy with a seemingly never-ending wall of VHS and Betamax tapes. There was a lovely electronic smell and a rather buzzy two tone grey tiled carpet.
Tameside used to be a good area for independent video shops like the one described above. Whereas Total Video was Duki’s answer to Elstree Studios, Tameside’s metaphorical Hollywood was on Egret Mill, Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne.
Jubilee Video Centre
I used to like Dukinfield’s very own Total Video, but the Jubilee Video Centre near The Witchwood shaded it. There was wall to wall VHS and Betamax tapes on two floors. They also had Laserdisc titles for hire and, in later years, video games. During the mid-1990s, it was undoubtedly Ashton’s best outlet for Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo cartridges – with Japanese and American cartridges as well as European releases.
Act 2: Other Outlets
A great many of Tameside’s convenience stores would have a good video library. On Stamford Square for example, the newsagent near Tameside College’s Ashton Centre had an alcove full of VHS tapes, separated by a step from the main part of the shop.
Offering competition against off licences and video hire shops would be Tameside MBC’s Arts and Libraries Department. 1983 – 84 saw the addition of video hire services to its public libraries, as an adjunct to recorded music and – in later years – computer software. Dukinfield library’s 1984 building had a video section from the start with mini carousels of VHS tapes close to the counter and children’s library. Today, DVDs are available for hire at Stalybridge, Denton, Droylsden Ashton Central and Hyde libraries. Dukinfield’s video section was discontinued in 2002, back when DVDs and the internet began to make an impact.
Act 3: Regional and National Chains:
Complementing the local chains with dependable clientele would be the rise of national chains. By the late 1980s, national chains would emerge. Along with Blockbuster Video, there was Choices, Global Video and Titles. Hailed as offering ‘Top Line Entertainment’ on the radio adverts, the latter was owned by Kingfisher – Woolworth’s UK parent company at one time. There was one on Stanley Square, Stalybridge, which on changing hands became known as ‘Outtakes’. It is now a dance studio.
Global Video had shops on Stamford Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, and a unit in Stalybridge’s then new Kwik Save (today’s ALDI) on Leech Street. Among the local chains was Jack Beanstalk Video. They had a shop on the junction of Market Street and Dowson Road, Hyde. The shop sign also had a prominent ‘Piccadilly Key 103’ sign on the right hand side, reflecting the amount of times they advertised on the said radio station. The chain had a sizeable presence in North East Cheshire.
Another local chain was Hollywood Nites. They too used to advertise a lot on local radio, again on Key 103 and Piccadilly Radio. They too focused on the North East Cheshire and South Manchester areas. Their shop fronts were distinctive, with an Art Deco style purple and indigo sign with white Broadway font and a thunderclap as part of its logo.
Act 4: Blockbuster’s Last Stand
After wiping the floor with Global Video, Choices and Titles, Blockbuster Video became for many people the only film hire shop in town. Though it gained supremacy for its bricks and mortar market share, it would face a bigger battle. Instead of High Streets, broadband internet and video streaming would be its competitors. As recent events have demonstrated, it has succumbed to the online revolution. Instead of trying to rewind and return our tape before 7pm, we can just watch our favoured film through online subscription services. And we don’t need to leave the house, either.
Without the video hire shop or rack in the local off licence or public library, the joys of a serendipitous browse are gone. The social side to picking a film too has gone: mum or dad could take their child in to Blockbuster Video and the like, and borrow more than one title. The child may focus his or her attention towards the Walt Disney films, whereas Kill Bill, Brassed Off, Tootsie or Love Actually could be the adult’s choice on the same trip.
We can say that Blockbuster Video’s demise may be prompted by online services, but subscription film channels and pay-per-view films could also be co-conspirators. Some might argue enhanced technology may have been good for piracy, be it from a bloke selling Skyfall in a photocopied sleeve in a pub, or torrent sites.
I love the convenience of online services, but it is still a poor substitute from actually owning or hiring a DVD or VHS video tape. How I miss being able to fast forward past ten minutes worth of future releases by Guild Home Video, the Video Collection or Palace Video before getting to the main feature…
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Yes folks, it is your turn to gain the Remote Control on a Wire off my imaginary Ferguson Videostar (thank you Peter Kay!). Feel free to comment about your experiences with hiring video films, or recollections of other video hire shops throughout Tameside. Did you work for Total Video for example? Were you the only person in Dukinfield struggling to find a suitable V2000 title to hire for the night? Was your local off-licence akin to Hollywood instead of Hollinwood in terms of its video library? Did you swear by, or spin the carousels of VHS tapes at Dukinfield library even? Feel free to record your memories.
- ‘Blockbuster Joins UK Retail Casualty List and Calls in the Administrators‘: The Guardian, 16 January 2013.
S.V., 16 January 2013.