Forty years ago, as Christmas 1981 approached, people were eagerly eyeing up the new video recorders available in the shops. At long last, TV fans could now record their favourite programmes. Rent or buy? Betamax or VHS? Brian McMahon asked Greg Molloy, the man behind the KillianM2 TV Archive, to tell us more about this new and exciting period in home entertainment.
Do you remember when your family got its first video recorder?
Yes 1982, and I remember it well. I think most people would remember, as it was such a big deal then. We didn’t buy, we rented a VCR and like many others, we also rented our TV. 1982 was also the year Channel 4 launched, so all of a sudden the TV in the corner of the room had a lot more to offer.
Did any Irish homes have video players before the boom in ’81/’82?
The first player, the Philips N1500, came on the market in 1972. Costing £600, it was a luxury item, so very few homes had them, but they were used in schools in the late ’70’s.
The tapes had a max of 60 minutes and were different in build to the later VHS and Betamax formats. The machines were beautifully designed and even by modern standards, fifty years later, wouldn’t look out of place. I’m now the proud owner of one, which I believe is the oldest domestic video recorder in Ireland.
What TV programmes did you record back then?
In 1982 there were five of us ranging in ages from myself (11) up to a brother in his early twenties, so there was pretty much a queue for the video recorder and probably a shortage of tapes. Everything from sports to current affairs got recorded. I had my own favourites like Minder, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, MT USA, and The Tube. These were the shows you’d be most likely to find on a tape with my name on it, usually with a big ‘Do Not Tape Over’ marked on it.
Haha, but I bet you did tape over stuff!
Yes, sadly archiving wasn’t even something that entered my head until at least the early 90’s when I realised all this Italia90 stuff might be worth keeping. I would love to have been able to keep all the early recordings from the ’80’s, but it just wasn’t an option, and even had it crossed my mind, blank videotapes were so expensive. As a teenager with a tenner to spend in HMV, I was more likely to buy an album before a pack of three TDK videotapes.
What there a VHS vs Betamax war in Ireland and do you have any Betamax?
It was only later in life when I began archiving old TV that I fell in love with the Betamax format. Its picture quality was far superior to VHS. And from an archivist’s perspective, anything recorded on Betamax usually contains the best rare footage.
VHS won the battle around 1983 due mainly to the longer recording time on their tapes. In Ireland, Betamax never really took off in any big way as we were probably a couple of years behind the UK in terms of video consumption, so by the time Betamax was coming to an end, Ireland was pretty much flooded with just the VHS format.
What kind of recordings are you most interested in acquiring now?
Lost television shows have always been the goal, finding anything that was broadcast, particularly on Irish television, that was never saved in the official archives. So, any major live events, RTE’s coverage of Live Aid, for example, very little of the studio footage from the day exists in the archives, and I only recently returned the footage of Phil Lynott auctioning his bass guitar during Live Aid to RTE.
Complete episodes of MT USA are high on the list, again not much of Vincent Hanley’s New York links exist. The list is almost endless of what could be found.
The KillianM2 TV Archive is a labour of love project that Greg runs in his spare time. His magnificent, unique, collection contains rare and long-lost footage that even the original creators, like RTE and UTV, do not hold. Greg digitised and posted 6,000 video clips to his YouTube channel, which received over two million views a month and had 70,000 subscribers. Unfortunately, the channel fell foul to YouTube’s three-strike rule and they shut it down in June.
Greg regularly continues to find and digitise amazing Irish content which he shares on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KillianM2
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro
Sony videocassette cover late 1970s
Greg Molloy with the oldest domestic video player in Ireland, the 1972, Philips N1500
Sony Betamax advert from HiFi & Video Review 1982