VideoPlus+ codes were nothing short of sourcery when they first arrived in the late 1980s. Instead of having to manually program your VCR to record Match of the Day by tapping the Hr and Min buttons on the LCD display 86 times, you could instead enter a simple code printed in the newspaper. The Jetsons never had it so good.
How did they work? The codes were generated by an algorithm that told the video recorder on which date, time and channel to make the recording. The newspapers printed the codes alongside the relevant programme in their TV listings and you simply entered the digits using the VCR’s remote control. Simple, but not flawless.
For starters, some of the codes were pretty long, running to ten digits or more. If your mum mixed up two digits while yelling them out to your Dad just before you set off to visit the in-laws, you’d end up recording Harry Secombe’s Highway instead of Coronation Street – a trigger for thousands of divorces in the early 1990s.
VideoPlus+ also took no account of overrunning schedules. If Sports Personality of the Year overran, the recording would stop and all you’d see is Des Lynam preparing to hand over the prize to Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as the two recordings on your tape overlapped. To take account of shows being delayed because Princess Margaret had dropped off the twig, you’d need another feature called Programme Delivery Control (PDC), which only Terry Watkins from 4F had, because his dad was a regional manager for Tandy.
The advent of Sky+ and digital programme guides were the beginning of the end for VideoPlus+ codes. But they still survived until well into this decade, the last reported sighting being in the Radio Times sometime in 2012.
The technology now seems almost ludicrously quaint. But unless you’ve experienced the joy of recording Heartbeat by tapping 684947334 into your VCR remote control, you’ve lived a hollow life.
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