Jason and the Argos Gnomes (Part Ten): A Thorn EMI 3 Hour Videotape

‘Now we meet in an abandoned studio…’

The 1980s: an era where computer technology and home entertainment made great strides. By 1980, JVC’s Video Home System [VHS] won the battle for supremacy against Sony’s Betamax and the older Philips format. Another Philips format, technically superior to VHS, V2000, came to the party too late.

In the Spring of 1980, the video cassette recorder was still a preserve of upper class and upper-middle class households. Three years later… the iPad of its era. The price of videotapes reflected the expense. For the price of a three hour video cassette in 1980, you could have bought a Saver Return from Stalybridge to Middlesbrough.

A Thorn EMI 3 hour videotape

Given that video cassette recorders had yet to reach a more affordable price, Argos didn’t sell VCRs in the Spring/Summer 1980 catalogue. A three hour tape was the nearest one could get to a Ferguson Videostar (remote control on a wire). A 1980 household may have considered renting a video cassette recorder instead of buying one outright.

Thorn EMI was formed in October 1979 as a merger of EMI and Thorn Electrical Industries. Ironically for this piece the same month as The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’s’ number one chart position. The original Thorn was created in 1928 as The Electric Lamp Service Company. In the late 1950s, Thorn took over Ferguson, then Ultra in 1961.

In 1965, it took over Glover and Main, who took over Iris Mill on Hollins Road, Hathershaw after it ceased production as a cotton mill. They also owned Radio Rentals, DER and Rumbelows. Perhaps the lack of VCRs in this edition of the Argos Catalogue might have been a Thorn EMI issue, to protect its market share in TV and video rentals.

Back in 1980, a blank video cassette was slightly less than that year’s full rate of Unemployment Benefit. And it took slightly more than 3 hours to get from Stalybridge to Middlesbrough (changes at York and Darlington). Needless to say, I would have preferred the rail journey, then comprising of Class 55 Deltics, HSTs and a Class 101 DMU. Today, a video cassette is much cheaper than a return from Stalybridge to Middlesbrough (£51.90 nowadays).

  • Argos Catalogue edition: Spring/Summer 1980;
  • Page and item numbers: page 199, item 11;
  • 1980 Prices: £10.99;
  • 2014 Prices: £48.60.

S.V., 10 December 2014.


2 thoughts on “Jason and the Argos Gnomes (Part Ten): A Thorn EMI 3 Hour Videotape

Add yours

  1. We had a rented VHS VCR at Christmas 1979. We weren’t middle class but mum and dad were at the cutting edge with stuff like this. How times have changed as the old man is a complete luddite now? We were the only people I know who had one. Membership of the video shop was £5 a year. I was on a YOP £20.55 a week rising shortly to £23.50. This has been a great series of forgotten items. Where do you get the price comparisons from though? Can a 3 hour VHS really of been nearly the equivalent of £50 back in the day? Someone must have been making a real killing.


    1. Hi Mark,

      There is a fantastic page on the ‘This is Money’ website which calculates the 2014 price of one item which was a given amount in, say 1980. It also has historical inflation rates.

      Glad to see you’re enjoying the series of Advent Calendar postings. All of which carefully chosen for each year.




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