Monday 19 June 2023

Archive Tape Digging: June 2023 (Betamax Special)

It's been a long old time since I last did an edition of Archive Tape Digging, a situation enforced on me by a lack of tapes in the last few years. Sure, I've picked up a few in the last year, but in such small quantities there's been little to get excited by. Thankfully, following the purchase of my Betamax player, I've had not one, but two pickups of Betamax tapes.

As a result, I've now got close to 400 Betamax tapes to plough through. Progress, so far, has been relatively slow. But this is actually a good thing. You see, the reason that I've barely made a dent in this mountain of tapes is that they keep throwing up interesting finds. And these all need digitising in real time, so it's time consuming affair. The amazing payoff, of course, is that I've got a veritable bounty of finds to share with you.

28/04/1983 - BBC1 - Jury: Gerald's Story

Jury was a courtroom drama written by Ken Blakeson which ran for 13 episodes on BBC1 in 1983. Rather than being the BBC's answer to Crown Court, Jury was a very different beast indeed. Centering around the trial of a young man charged with rape, each episode focused on a different juror to demonstrate how the trial would not only affect their lives, but how their lives would contribute towards their verdict. This particular episode follows Gerald (Hugh Lloyd), whose life, externally, appears to be perfect, but will be put under intense pressure due to the trial.

The very definition of a Curious British Telly programme, Jury seems to have been erased from history with barely a mention online. And, as for footage, there was precisely zero seconds available to view, so it's a fantastic find to share with the world. If, by chance, you have any other episodes on video, please get in touch!

15/03/1983 - BBC2 - Just Another Day: Battersea Dogs Home

I can't begin to tell you how cock-a-hoop I was to find an episode of Just Another Day lurking on a video tape. And, in fact, I found the entire first series from 1983 on this particular Betamax tape. Several of those episodes were already online, but the series' very first episode wasn't. Accordingly, we can now head back to 1983 and spend a day at Battersea Dogs Home presented by the soothing tones of John Pitman. Aside from being nostalgia aplenty, the series also acts as a remarkable time capsule of the era.

12/04/1983 - BBC2 - Just Another Day: Sotheby's

Yet more Just Another Day goodness with this episode based at auction house Sotheby's, so you can expect to see expectant sellers and valuation experts who have seen it all before. Again, I was over the moon to be able to bring even more Just Another Day in front of modern eyes and deliver a much needed trip back to a different era.

10/12/1983 - ITV - After The Day After

Following on from the UK premiere of nuclear disaster movie The Day After, Yorkshire Television broadcast After The Day After. A studio-based discussion programme, After The Day After was hosted by Robert Kee and featured the audience and various guests (including Michael Heseltine) debating the impact of the film and its connection to contemporary world affairs. God only knows what they made of Threads, which would air the following year.

31/08/1982 - BBC1 - A Day at the Zoo (Partial)

Much like Just Another Day, A Day at the Zoo spends 24 hours in a British institution, and this programme features London Zoo as its subject. Hosted by Esther Rantzen, it's a fantastic slice of archive television which takes in buying vast quantities of food for the animals, the day-to-day running of the zoo and a particularly tender section where Esther Rantzen feeds an orangutan. Sadly, only the first half of A Day at the Zoo was on the tape. Hopefully the entire programme will turn up at some point.

08/08/1983 - ITV - Thames News and Looks Familiar

It's always exciting, well, in my humble but well informed opinion, to dig up some regional news. And that's exactly what we've got here, with Tina Jenkins - looking resplendent in her Princess Diana inspired fashion - presenting an edition of Thames News.

However, it gets ever better as it's directly followed by an episode of Looks Familiar. A nostalgia programme looking back at the entertainment world of the 1930s and 40s. Looks Familiar is hosted by Denis Norden and features a set of guests comprising Bill Owen, Eartha Kitt and Larry Grayson discussing the era. The footage also features, at the 18:53 mark, a quintessentially British advert for British Lamb. What more could you want?

So, yes, it's been an amazing start to the Curious British Telly experience with Betamax and it's an endeavour which, with this current batch of tapes, is going to take me several months to complete. There's a few other bits and pieces up on the YouTube channel, so make sure you check out the full set of videos there. Also, for paid subscribers of the Curious British Telly Substack, there will be exclusive clips posted on there as well, so please consider signing up if you can afford it!


  1. How do you digiitise your tapes? I use VHS>DVD>mp4 which isn't great but is ok.