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Putting your schlong into the reel-to-reel tape machine is a bad idea

Media recording is boring as f**k

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Last week, I promised you I’d rip my two mighty appearances on Granada Plus’s The Computer Channel (later relaunched as .tv) in 1997 from VHS. Well, a promise is a promise, if only half-kept. Here for your viewing curiosity is just one of my BAFTA nomination-worthy performances for a short-lived night-time satellite TV programme that was watched by literally tens of viewers.

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I was 32 at the time with a young family, and it shows: I look tired and overweight, and evidently all my decent shirts were in the wash – covered in baby-sick, no doubt. I was also short of money, not helped by the fact that The Computer Channel somehow persuaded me to appear on the programme twice without paying me a penny, and I certainly could not afford the popular gadgety luxuries of the day, such as a camcorder.

If you took the trouble to watch the video, hopefully the irony has not been lost on you. I was demonstrating a hardware-software bundle for camcorder owners who wanted to edit their own home movies. The system cost £2,000. Yes, that’s right, in 1997. Bargain.

Nor had I much experience of video editing at the time. The Mac setup I was showing off had been in the office for less than two hours before it had to be shipped over to the studio, and even the camcorder clips of the children’s party featured in the video were supplied by Apple. You can tell it’s full of American kids. If you listen carefully, you can hear them gleefully shout things such as “Coo-ol”, “Yeehar” and “Sayonara, motherfucker”.

The joke is that all video at the time was handled on analogue devices. If you wanted to use a computer to edit them, you had to make damn sure you could export everything back to VHS afterwards.

In those days, people with camcorders were every bit as annoying as today’s smartphone-wielding morons, except they weren’t allowed into cinemas and concerts. Everywhere you went, some irritating berk would be lumbering around stepping on your toes and barging into your wife as he filmed his kids or his dog in some forlorn expectation that they might hurt themselves on camera and win him £250 on You’ve Been Framed.

When the first mobile phones with built-in movie cameras came out, the results were ropey but great fun. When Nokia introduced video editing on its top-of-the-range models, it seemed like magic. No need for a £600 camcorder to capture the clips or a £2,000 paperweight from Apple to splice them together – suddenly you could do it all on a single teensy mobile phone handset!

The problem is that, in the same way that camcorders don’t make very good mobile phones, mobile phones are not great video editing devices. Nothing beats a smartphone for shooting video clips but it’s the last gadget I’d want to use to edit a home movie.

For that, I’d much rather use a tablet, with its bigger screen, generally more storage memory and usually more powerful CPU. Of course, the problem here is that tablets make terrible camcorders. If you have ever seen someone trying to film things with an iPad, or tried yourself, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s clumsy and you look like a complete dork.

So what you need is a smartphone AND a tablet. Er, and this is supposed to be superior to a camcorder and computer? Given the way prices have dropped in the PC market, I would suggest that a little digital camera, a notebook and some video editing software would be cheaper, if less convenient.

Creating movies on a modern smartphone is a cinch if you use the right apps, but I still feel that something else was lost. That is, the whole handheld media-editing lark might be very effective these days, but it lacks a bit of ... how can I put it? ... cheerful ridiculousness.

Look at audio recording and mixing. With very little effort, I can mash a few choons, lay down doze trax, homie, and even, with the aid of a little microphone add-on, make radio-quality spoken recordings. Where’s the harmless stupidity in that?

As kids, my brothers and I were given free rein to play with a reel-to-reel tape machine. Now there’s a daft media toy perfectly designed for puerile idiocy.

For those who have never heard of a reel-to-reel tape machine, I am not talking about a cassette recorder. It was about the size of an old laser printer – an old colour laser printer – and equipped with huge PLAY/FF/REW knobs that were rugged enough to survive a frenzied axe attack and required physical effort to push, pull and (incredibly, now that I think about it) swing across a curved slot.

Kids of all ages can have a lot of fun with recording devices, but back in those days it didn’t involve tweeting photos of our penises. From painful experience of occasionally getting my fingers trapped, the rock-crunching and red-hot read-heads of a reel-to-reel machine was the last place you’d want to dangle your prepubescent schlong.

Instead, the height of foolishness was achieved by setting the record speed to SLOW and playing it back at NORMAL. No matter what you said, the playback always had you talking like Pinky and Perky on helium.

Pink and Perky? Oh, they were large marionette puppets in the shape of pigs, often dressed in tartan for some unknown reason. They were all the rage in the 1960s: TV stars who enjoyed success in the music charts with cover versions of popular hit singles, including (incredibly, now that I think about it) Twist and Shout, Let's Twist Again and I've Twisted My Schlong by Dangling It in the Read Heads of My Tape Recorder. Here you go:

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Kuh-rist, that was bloody awful. I never realised. What a load of crap. Come to think of it, the past was utter shit.

Keep your reel-to-reels and eight-tracks, stuff your mini-DV camcorders and flush away those double-breast-suited TV presenters and fat journalists with bad hair on faux TV-AM balsa wood studio sets. I don’t think I want them any more.

Bernie Clifton? Do me a favour. Peter Glaze? Jeeee-sus. Oh, and Stewpot? You know what you can do with your Crackerjack fucking pencils, mate. ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He eventually took ownership of a camcorder in 2000 and subsequently used it to film his sister-in-law’s wedding. The clips remain to this day unedited on his NAS drive. This is just as well since he no longer owns a computer with a Firewire port to download them from the original DV tapes ...

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