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Before home video

In the days before home video, we had to resort to other means to re-live movies and TV shows.

Novelisations of productions were common. I knew people who had hundreds of Doctor Who novelisations — virtually every story had a book published. I had perhaps a dozen.

WarGames book coverOther books made it into publication — scripts, programme guides, and spin-off material. Of course these are still common, but perhaps only for specific “cult” titles that the makers think will sell really well.

I used to have the script for The Singing Detective. At home I still have two books from The Goodies, which have a wealth of quite amusing material. I didn’t bought them, but acquired them both from the primary school library during clear-outs.

Some people would record TV shows onto audio tape. About a hundred 1960s Doctor Who stories are still lost — but audio recordings exist for every single one. (It’s perhaps a sign of the priorities of big bureaucracies like the BBC that paperwork exists for all the stories, despite the actual stories having been thrown out.)

In the 80s before I had saved up for a VCR, I recorded some stuff onto audio… from memory by just putting a tape recorder close to the TV, though I may have later rigged up a cord connecting the two directly. The Young Ones was an example — I had most episodes on cassette, and listened to them regularly for a while.

One of the movies I bought the novelisation of back in the day was WarGames, which as I’ve written about before, was very influential on me. As I recall it follows the movie script closely, but has a few extra titbits: such as that after the movie ends, David gets a summer job doing computer work at NORAD, and his school is convinced to buy some computers to teach computer studies to the students.

I don’t know what happened to my copy of the book. Presumably I got rid of it during a house move at some point. So in the best traditions of nostalgia, when I got curious and looked on eBay the other week, I found a copy for under $10, and bought it again.

I still love the movie. I bought the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release recently as well — it looks great in high-definition. I’ll probably re-read the book at some stage. It’s only 220 pages — it’ll be a pretty quick read I’m sure.

Nowadays, people can record anything off TV easily using cheap technology, and perhaps every major TV show and movie is released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, and (eventually) repeated ad infinitum on one of the many TV channels. No wonder novelisations have mostly disappeared, and few people record audio off the TV anymore.

  • Ever wondered about the term “Wardriving“, meaning to look for open Wifi networks while driving? It’s derived from “War dialling“, meaning to ring lots of phone numbers looking for computers answering… the word came from the movie.)
  • Speaking of scripts, there are over 80 made freely (and legally) available for download here: Go Into The Story

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

6 replies on “Before home video”

Thanks for the nostalgia – funny how the 1980s is now a generation ago.
While I agree that reading a book based on a film is a nice way to re-live the movie, I’m not sure that this was a substitute for seeing the movie again (or recording it on audio/video/digit). I love reading because I love fiction. I have every episode of Fawlty Towers on DVD but I still enjoy reading a book of the transcripts (and continue to LOL even though I know what’s coming).
Marketing people will still promote book tie-ins to films, even if the movie came first. Movie ticket, DVD and book sales will all rise nicely together.

@Roger, thanks – Fawlty Towers reminds me that I had the LP records of the audio of that show! They added a few bits of narration from Andrew Sachs/Manuel to describe the visual gags, and some episodes simply didn’t translate, and weren’t released in that way — I think 8 out of 12 were available on LP.

@Daniel – Let me guess that Basil the Rat was one that didn’t make the cut to LP? I can’t imagine that episode without (the other) Basil & Manuel’s hilarious slapstick, nor the cheap rat puppet sticking out of the biscuit tin!

I remember seeing War Games too as a teen sometime in the early 80’s and it is a very good film. It probably was before ’84 when we got our first VCR. I can remember the first movie we rented for the VCR was “Tex”. This was the movie version of the book by the same name written by if I remember correctly S.E Hinton when she was just 17.

I remember audio taping Superman:The Movie and then transcribing and typing up the whole damn thing in the mid 80s.
The original novelisation of Star Wars had a bit in it that never made it into the movie: Luke and Ben Kenobi are discussing (I think) Luke’s father and Ben says something about him taking to The Force like a duck to water and Luke asks, “What’s a duck?” Implying that Ben has been to Earth?

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