Sunday, November 26, 2023


On Thursday 23rd November, I received an extremely unexpected e-mail: 

“Beginning December 4, 2023, limited quantities of the KODAK Super 8 Camera will be available to U.S. customers. Availability outside the U.S. will be announced at a later date. If you are interested in purchasing a camera once it is available in your country, you must sign up on Kodak's NEW camera reservation list by November 28, 2023, opting in to communications from third-party retailers authorized by Kodak. By completing the new form by the deadline, you will maintain your position from the previous list.”

The Kodak Super 8 Camera was originally announced in 2016, at which point I joined the reservation list. In the absence of further announcements in the following years, I seriously considered whether Kodak was serious: like Polaroid, RCA, and Blaupunkt, the Kodak name has been licensed for everything from cheap AA batteries to tablet computers and blockchain mining, its original business of making camera film now the preserve of professional and “prosumer” especially, especially if a roll of 35mm still camera film can cost nearly £10.

Still, I was intrigued by the possibilities of shooting motion pictures on Super 8 film, using Kodak film cartridges, with a camera that included innovations from camcorders like an LCD screen for a viewfinder, and the ability to record sound onto an SD card placed into the camera. Once developed, the film would be returned to you with a link to download a video film in 4K resolution. I was excited by the possibilities of what I could make – the two-and-a-bit minute run time of a cartridge would be a fun challenge. Kodak announced this camera with a projected price of between $400 and $750 – seeing as the next nearest camera available is the Arri 416, a 16mm industrial film camera with a 2023 price tag of £78,000 (but available to rent), the Kodak Super 8 Camera would have fostered its own industry of filmmakers.

The price of the camera has increased after seven years, but not with inflation: Kodak will now be charging a horrifying $5,495 for a camera that does not appear to have been developed since 2016, having retained the originally announced design. This will be purely for professional use only, demanding professional prices, completely severing me from the possibility of buying one for myself – even the new registration film assumes you are working in the film industry, with a space to write in “other” occupations and intended uses. In 2023, the presence of a replaceable battery should have been enough of a sign this will be a professional product, even if charging it by micro USB appears to be a holdover from 2016. It feels like what could have been a mass-produced camera will now be assembled by hand like a Swiss watch.

For most, the Kodak Super 8 camera’s place in film history has been taken by the Apple iPhone, because its camera has been constantly developed to approach a professional results while being as simple or as advanced to use as its user requires. For the next level up, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro, with a DSLR form factor producing 6K pictures approximate to Super 35 film, a cinematic motion picture standard, costs half what Kodak are charging for their camera, even if you have to buy the lenses separately. You can apply the film grain in post-production...

Sunday, November 19, 2023


The story of the Co-Op grocery chain’s “ambient sausage roll” has lived at the back of my head for at least a decade, as a go-to example of a non-sequitur: “ambient” is an odd description for a foodstuff, even if the context is explained. All I know of the story is that sausage rolls were sold with this label, and later withdrawn as someone admitted the word was used without confirming its meaning first.

Coming from the land of bubble and squeak1, Stargazy Pie2 and the Bedfordshire Clanger3, “ambient” is hardly a strange enough word to cause offence, but in January 2010, it apparently did. Using the few news articles I found of it online from the following month, I put together the following statement that was issued by something named the Plain English Campaign: “We’ve had quite a few people call to say they’ve seen these ‘ambient sausage rolls’ on sale at the Co-op. It’s caused much amusement. I know it’s supposed to be ‘all at the Co-op’ but what on earth is an ambient sausage roll’?”

This was followed up by a spokesman from the Co-Op: “The use of the word 'ambient' on the label of this product was an administrative error - labels for in-store bakery items are printed in store and the word 'ambient' was incorrectly printed on the label. This is now being rectified but thank you for drawing this to our attention and apologies for any confusion this may have caused.”

“The Daily Telegraph” apparently had an editorial comment at the time calling it a “small victory for plain English”, but I am not willing to pay to read what more they said on the matter. I would still like to think of it as a mistake that can be interpreted as a bit of fun.

The Plain English Campaign is a group focussed on eradicating legal and medical jargon, gobbledygook and clichés, so naming food doesn’t appear to fall under their purview - their website makes no mention of their earlier comment. Interestingly, the incident exposed a different use of the word “ambient” by the food industry to mean “displaying at room temperature”, suitable for the surroundings, instead of evoking the creation of a relaxing atmosphere – a 2017 article in “The Grocer” magazine was headed “Country Choice launches 12-hour ambient life sausage roll”.

If this mistake had taken place in 2023, I am pretty sure the Co-Op’s social media accounts would have made hay while the sun shined, with a range of “ambient” products remaining on sale far longer. I just prefer it when having fun with language isn’t discouraged.

1 A fried dish of mixed cabbage and cooked potato.

2 Pilchard, egg and potato tie, served with a pastry crust that has the pilchard heads sticking out, preferably upwards. 

3 A pastry tube, not unlike a sausage roll, filled with meat, potato and onions, not unlike a pasty.


Sunday, November 12, 2023


A last one.

I decided to write about Caramac, “The Caramel Flavour Bar”, the demise of which has been announced by its manufacturer Nestlé, because some headlines kept referring to it as a chocolate bar. Its recipe used treacle instead of cocoa, its lack of egg or gelatine making it vegetarian, and instead of the whole milk used by Cadbury’s in Dairy Milk bars, Caramac used skimmed milk.

I am also using the past tense because the news led to the near-complete disappearance of Caramac by people acting upon nostalgia in the shops, when declining sales in the present day prompted Nestlé’s decision, efficiently clearing shelves for other products they wish to sell. The simultaneous withdrawal of the Animal Bar, a chocolate bar aimed at children with pictures of animals on them, and the closure of a factory near Newcastle, were reported less often.

Unlike Coca-Cola’s rebranding of Lilt as a Fanta flavour, decried in the pages of “The Spectator” and incorrectly reported as the drink being withdrawn, this really is the end of a product, unless you buy the ingredients and make it yourself. My family has already been deprived by KP of their Brannigans crisps, my private joke being that their potent beef and mustard flavour, not reused on any of their brands, was decommissioned and put beyond use. Like Caramac, I only found Brannigans in discount stores and the occasional newsagent ahead of their withdrawal – perhaps I should have seen it coming, so fans of KP’s Roysters T-bone flavour crisps should stock up, to keep sales up, as petitions speak less loudly than cash.

Caramac was introduced in 1959 by Mackintosh’s, a maker of toffee that involved caramel in all its most famous brands, such as Quality Street, Rolo and Toffee Crisp. Merging in 1969 with Rowntree’s, manufacturers of Kit Kat, Smarties, Aero, After Eight, Black Magic, Polo mints, Fruit Pastilles, Fruit Gums, Yorkie and Lion bars, Nestlé took over the combined Rowntree Mackintosh in 1988 – chocolate products were branded under Nestlé, with Rowntree’s retained for the rest. I found all these products in my local supermarket, still being too established and commonplace for nostalgia to have taken form, except for how much larger tins of Quality Street used to be.

Nestlé themselves invented white chocolate with the Milkybar in 1936, and the caramel-infused Milkybar Gold variant is perhaps more sustainable for them than the separate brand of Caramac. However, like Caramac, the Australian and New Zealand versions of Milkybar don’t use cocoa butter, so adding treacle to those may get them back where they started. Any desire of mine for Caramac to be brought back wouldn’t be worth the effort, and if I did want a confectionery to be brought back, it would be Rowntree’s Cabana, a chocolate bar containing caramel, cherries and coconut – I’ve never had one, but I like the sound of it.

Saturday, November 4, 2023


I have now realised that I have a head for heights. This took some time to acknowledge because, while I have not (yet) needed to know my way around a grappling hook, I am fine at heights that others would happily avoid.

In the last week, I have reached the top of the dome at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, known as the Golden Gallery, with my iPhone registering the 528 steps as twenty-five flights of stairs. In February 2020, I climbed a similarly spiralled staircase to reach the top of the clock tower at Southampton Civic Centre, and back in 2015, I walked up and over the O2, formerly the Millennium Dome, which required the use of a harness.

Perhaps it was the lengthy gaps in times between these three events, and taking the stairs is not like climbing a hill – the suspended walkway at the “Up at the O2” attraction uses the same Teflon-coated glass fibre fabric used on the structure itself, which felt like walking on a taut trampoline. The top of the St Paul’s dome is higher than the combined height of the other two structures, but taking a transatlantic flight is higher than all of them, and I’ve so far done six of those without any problems.

However, I have realised a low accompanied every high – I had reason to be annoyed every time. I consider myself to be patient, but my walking pace is slightly faster than average, and if I am physically behind a line of people, I will want to get ahead if I can. Walking up the clock tower and through St. Paul’s, I hoped that people might step aside at the occasional spaces and ledges that existed along the way, as I continued on – the same was true for the way down. Walking up and over the O2 was different, our being attached to a guide rope being useful on windier days but also locking the line into a set order – it did not help that I personally thought the rope wasn’t needed on the way down. 

Worst of all, the Golden Gallery at St. Paul’s is not made for crowds of tourists, with only a couple of feet between stone corners and the guide rails preventing you from rolling down the landmark dome – I said “I am unable to get past” to the people in front of me, at which point I found that English was not their first language. It was not a good time to start feeling constrained by the lack of space, but the adrenaline helped me get down faster than nerves could have done.

Perhaps focussing on the negative when you are doing something outlandish isn’t idea, but it removes any thoughts about that outlandishness – getting the wrong airline food will do that.

Sunday, October 29, 2023


“Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends!” was a 1977 season in which BBC Two broadcast the classic series of horror films made by Universal Pictures in the 1930s and 40s. Starting with Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” and Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein”, they ran in double bills on Saturday nights, handy for people who invested in the first home video recorders. These films had appeared on various ITV regions in the previous decade, but this season appears to be their first showing on the BBC, following appearances of the later Hammer horror films like “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” with Christopher Lee.

Interestingly, “Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends!” was broadcast from the seemingly unseasonable month of July, through to September, ahead of the BBC's own "Count Dracula", one of the most faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel. This time is bookended by the premiere of George Lucas’s “Star Wars” in the United States (on 25th May) and in the UK (on 27th December). Much like Nirvana reshaped the rock music mainstream with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991, “Star Wars” seemed to wash away the “monster madness” that cemented the imagery of Universal’s characters in general popular entertainment for children as much as for adults. From then, science fiction fantasy would be dominant in popular culture, except at Halloween, and whenever an individual work, like “Hotel Transylvania”, can break through.

I am fortunate to live surrounded by Gothic imagery: skulls, candlesticks, heads from marble statues, ivy and (fake) deer’s heads. Our land line phone is shaped as a chrome skull. A previous video of mine confirms we have bats circling our back garden. Of course, the gothic literary and arts tradition on which both Universal and Hammer drew for its film series – in both cases a niche and specialty for each studio, before the idea of film franchises took hold – is centuries old, but it is a tradition not limited to a certain time of the year.

Decades of familiarity of Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula and the flat-headed Frankenstein’s monster made the Universal monsters, and legally distinguishable variations of thereof, into family fare such as the coincidentally concurrent “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters” of 1964-66, and of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” of 1960, of which the later album is best described as non-essential, even if you will hear the “Transylvania Twist”. Add into this the preponderance of monster imagery in food aimed at children, such as Smith's Crisps’ original Horror Bags, followed by Monster Munch, Wall’s Dracula ice lolly, and Count Chocula breakfast cereal, and it was clear how embedded in the culture this imagery truly was.

Of course, it is still pervasive, but only in the run-up to Halloween, which in the United States appears to be from July, in the run-up to when Halloween begins the period known as “the Holidays”. The UK is catching up, Guy Fawkes Night having become meaningless over the decades, and however much Halloween is an appropriation of Celtic, British and Christian tradition imposed as American mass culture, I approved of its imposition. The more we see of it, the more its imagery becomes part of the mainstream again.

Sunday, October 22, 2023


I know I can facetiously ask the question “does this excite you?” about the British Sunday roast because, when I have asked the question of someone, it usually does. It is a lynchpin of some families’ weekends, or the treat you saved yourself for through the previous week. If the thought of the meat cooking in its own juices don’t make you salivate, the vegetables will have, especially if I have planted that thought there. I can see it being some people’s last meal, if they are engaging in that thought experiment.

Knowing I use song lyrics for titles here, I was amazed by the sheer amount of song playlists available as a background to hosting a Sunday roast, emphasising it bringing together families each week – I only didn’t make that connection immediately because not every family gathers to have a roast.

If the purported beginnings of the Sunday roast are from a joint of meat, potatoes and vegetables slowly cooking in the same tray while you are meant to be at worship, returning to a meal ready to eat and swimming in its own gravy, I can see that observance remaining while church attendances decline. Adapted through successive centuries – your own choice of mains and veg will be different from the next person - and spread across the English-speaking world, the Sunday roast is now as quintessentially British as the chicken tikka masala. For me, the ideal Sunday roast is chicken, or even a nut roast, with potatoes, cauliflower and/or broccoli, peas, onions, a small Yorkshire pudding – not one approaching the size of the plate – and mustard, but not gravy. If I find myself at a carvery, that is what I will pick.

However, is “a carvery” a Sunday roast? They often have the same ingredients, and The carvery is like a fast-food buffet restaurant made from the constituent parts of a Sunday roast, almost like a grown-up version of a school canteen, with its origins being comparatively recent: the first two examples opened up in Tottenham Court Road and the Strand, both in London, in branches of Lyons Corner Houses, better known as a range of tea rooms run by the manufacturers of biscuits, bread and Battenburg cake. This coincides with the beginnings of Berni Inn, the first major steakhouse chain in the UK, with later competitors being Beefeater (from 1974), and Toby Carvery (initially Toby Pub & Carvery, from 1985). This line may have been what made me think that old English steak- and chophouses may have some crossover with the Sunday roast, when they really only cook the same meats.

It might be difficult to separate the Sunday roast from the British pub-restaurant as we know it today, unless you’re me, and the last time you went to one, you had prawn and chilli linguine – I didn’t fancy anything too heavy that day.

Sunday, October 15, 2023


For about seven months in 1990, British TV audiences had to choose between two satellite TV companies if they wanted to receive more channels, if cable was not available in their area. One company haemorrhaged hundreds of millions of pounds to put their satellites in place to provide a high-quality service in on par with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. The other provider rented space on someone else’s satellite to provide cheap and cheerful shows and films, but were losing nearly as much money despite having a year’s head start.

Rupert Murdoch’s News International was on the starting line first, having purchased “Satellite Television”, also known as Super Station Europe, which had launched as Europe’s first TV satellite channel in 1982 by using space on an exploratory communications satellite. Renamed to Sky Channel in 1984, other new stations like Music Box, The Children’s Channel, Lifestyle and Screensport launched alongside it, broadcasted by UK cable TV companies that were recently allowed to start broadcasting as many channels as they like, including new ones from themselves. In 1984, cable television was still only available in few areas of the UK, mainly those that experienced receiving regular programmes over the air, and satellite television was the reserve of hobbyists able to accommodate dishes of up to two metres in diameter.

Five satellite TV frequencies were allocated to every country following an international telecommunications conference back in 1977. In the UK, the BBC were never able to make use of the two frequencies assigned to them, mostly because they would be expected to shoulder the cost of building and launching the satellite themselves, and attempts to build a consortium of companies to spread the cost also fell through. The remaining three frequencies were auctioned as a franchise in 1986, the winner gaining all five frequencies when the BBC gave up on theirs – what would become BBC World News, BBC Prime and so on were the result of building across cable services in Europe, starting in Denmark.

The company that won the franchise, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), planned to launch with an entertainment channel named Galaxy, incorporating a children’s strand named ZigZag; Now, the UK’s first 24-hour news channel with content provided by ITN; and Screen, a channel showing recent films for an extra fee, with dedicated sports and music channels added later. Among BSB’s owners was owned by ITV companies Granada and Anglia, ITN and the Virgin Group - the presence of the fashion chain Next among later investors was not unusual in the late 1980s, as Lifestyle and Screensport were owned by the bookstore and stationers WHSmith at this point. Programmes would come from independent providers set up by people who previously worked for the BBC among others, and some sports rights were shared with the BBC including Wimbledon, where Sue Barker got her start as a presenter. The planned launch date for Britain’s first satellite TV company would be September 1989.

...then Rupert Murdoch announced, in June 1988, that Sky Television would launch inside a year, providing a revamped Sky Channel, later renamed Sky One, along with their own news, sports and movie channels, by using space rented on a satellite launched by the government and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, named Astra. Like Radio Luxembourg, whose English service provided pop music in the evenings and on Sundays since the 1930s, when the BBC traditionally did not, Sky Television would be broadcast outside of British territory and regulation, and free to broadcast whatever it wanted, which was initially game shows, American and Australian imported shows, older films, and tractor pulling on Eurosport.

It is easy to draw a series of diametric opposites between BSB and Sky, so here they are. BSB were based in a marble-clad building named after their satellites, Marcopolo House, in central London; Sky was based in a business park in Osterley, near Heathrow Airport. BSB were saddled with the building and development costs of both their satellites, and of the D-MAC broadcast system that would provide a robust high-definition signal back to earth; the satellite Sky were renting from only reached its set position four days before the channels launched, and the hope was that its higher-power signal, using existing PAL technology, would reach the ground to the smaller dishes being made by Amstrad. ITN left the BSB consortium when an agreement could not be reached over the Now channel, which was turned into a lifestyle, current affairs and arts channel not unlike BBC Two at the time, with cursory news updates provided by another firm; Sky News innovated from the start, and acted as a fig leaf of respectability for Murdoch’s endeavour. Once running, Now provided the arts programmes Sky initially promised, along with a European Disney Channel, but didn’t launch. BSB spent tens of millions of pounds to secure films for The Movie Channel; Sky Movies had a free pick of 20th Century Fox, Murdoch owning that as well. BSB had to cancel millions of pounds in advertising when the technology was not ready for the intended launch date, to be spent again for its eventual launch in March 1990, and even then the first month was only on cable; Sky’s parent company advertised the channels in its newspapers The Sun, the news of the World, Today, The Times and The Sunday Times, and ads on Sky were often for those papers, in a feedback loop outside of British jurisdiction.

Penny Smith and Alistair Yates present Sky News's first bulletin

As reported in Peter Chippindale and Susanne Frank’s 1991 book about this time, “Dished!”, only 14 percent of households in 1990 were even interested in installing satellite television in their homes, and of them, only thirty percent were thinking of having it installed that year, and that is before you get to the choice of provider. Both BSB and Sky were spending millions of pounds over the odds every week just to get the infrastructure there, down to giving away the equipment for free, and cutting spending on programmes led to BSB essentially repeating Now’s entire output for ten weeks, as who had watched it the first time? The eventual merger to form British Sky Broadcasting on 2nd November 1990 was inevitable: Sky’s customers benefitted from BSB’s entertainment, films and sports programmes, and BSB’s customers received free Sky equipment, with the Marcopolo satellites and D-MAC technology lasting into the 2000s in Europe.

What remains of this time? The households that had BSB had their video recorders ready to tape a “Doctor Who Weekend” held on the Galaxy channel, which aired classic BBC shows like “Dad’s Army” and “The Goodies” in a manner not unlike the later UK Gold channel. Comedy programmes included an interesting stand-up and sketch show “I Love Keith Allen”, and the satirical nightly news summary “Up Yer News!”. “31 West”, a chat show named after the position of the Marcopolo satellites, presages “The One Show”, Jools Holland presented music show “The Happening”, not unlike the BBC’s later “Later... with Jools Holland”, and the infamous comedy pilot “Heil Honey, I’m Home!”, a parody of 1950s American domestic sitcoms starring Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, is also a thing. Meanwhile, Sky put its faith in big names, with current affairs, interview and game shows presented by Frank Bough, Derek Jameson, Tony Blackburn, Keith Chegwyn and, once the merger with BSB took place, Selina Scott and Sir Robin Day. Most notably, the show that arguably put Sky into more homes than all of them began on 2nd September 1990: “The Simpsons”.

Ultimately, having a choice of satellite TV provider benefitted no-one, as the market was too small to have a choice, but once the dust settled, satellite television became a viable option. I use it at home, ironically to receive a more robust signal for the BBC and Channel 4, just like cable subscribers once did.

Sunday, October 8, 2023


I haven’t been to a cinema in over a year. Apparently, my last trip to one was on Sunday 25th September 2022 to watch “Moonage Daydream”, Brett Morgen’s documentary-collage about David Bowie. Any further thoughts of a visit were dismissed because screens were blocked by multiple showings of blockbuster franchises with long running times, or that films I wanted to see were screening at times that were personally inconvenient – I have only just seen Wes Anderson’s latest film “Asteroid City” following its release on Blu-ray.

On Saturday 7th October 2023, I returned to my local cinema, a Vue, which turned out to be in the middle of a refit, which was encouraging for its future in light of the last few years as other cinema chains, particularly Cineworld, still struggle following the (obligatory mention of the) pandemic. However, the cinema’s new recliner seats are slightly irritating: their new recliner seats are either too comfortable when fully deployed, or else sitting back in your chair forces your legs up anyway.

I was there to watch “Dumb Money”, a ripped-from-the-headlines comedy about the general Reddit-reading public’s mass buying of shares in the video game store Game Stop in 2021, in competition with hedge fund managers that were effectively betting on its demise. In the film, a character talks about their father losing their job and pension when their life-long employment in a grocery store is ended by a leveraged buyout that siphoned the worth of the business to the point of bankruptcy. Vue is owned by two Canadian pension funds, and it is in their pensioners’ interests that I returned. 

It was nice to see a mid-budget comedy-leaning film, aimed more at adults rather than children or families, in a cinema, although it is debatable as to whether $30 million is still “mid-budget” when a blockbuster can cost eight, nine, ten times as much. The mid-budget film can become a series on a streaming service more easily than a low -budget project or a blockbuster, and the story “Dumb Money” could easily have been told in a series of instalments, like the chapters in the book on which it is based, “The Antisocial Network”. While some reviews of the film have criticised the leaving out of detail in when or how certain events have happened, I preferred seeing the story in a 104-minute sweep than in a six- or eight-part series bogged down by explanation – if I need more detail, I will read the book.

I also liked that, in Paul Dano, we had a leading actor whose career had been built up by Hollywood without being in service to a franchise, his role as The Riddler in “The Batman” having been written with him in mind. Without advocating the building up of an old-style studio system to nurture actors of the stature in the Classical Hollywood era, more such casting should be encouraged: Alfred Hitchcock cast Cary Grant three times in his films, and James Stewart five times, because doing so saves twenty minutes of explaining who the character is, and while Dano is playing a real person, he effortlessly portrays their precarity throughout the film’s story of his financial situation. 

In the wake of the success in “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” in bringing audiences back to cinemas following the Covid-19 pandemic, the release of “Dumb Money” was made more widespread in the United Stated than originally intended. MGM, initially involved with the film before moving on, is maintaining theatrical releases despite its being bought by Amazon in 2022, including through its subsidiaries Orion and American International Pictures. Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”, made for Apple’s streaming service, is receiving a full theatrical release first through Paramount Pictures. Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert film has already received $100 million in pre-release ticket sales, although that might also be because seeing the film in a cinema is cheaper than attending one of her concerts in person. The outlook feels good.

But what did I think of “Dumb Money”? It tells a finely wrought human story out of a very knotty financial event, and explains itself very well. Most importantly, it got me out of the house.

Sunday, October 1, 2023


Marshall McLuhan is a name that has come up here a few times already, but I somehow forgot that the founder of what we call media studies had recorded an album. Released in 1967, and an LP version of McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s book of the same name, “The Medium of the Massage” is an audio collage about the effects of media on its consumer, the title’s pun on “message” becoming intentional following a typing error in the original book. 

With McLuhan’s assured tone as a lynchpin, the effect of the album’s sound is not too dissimilar to the later experiments it influenced, like The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9”. The intention of the album is to totally immerse the listener in a constantly changing landscape that utilises sound as an entirely separate medium of the printed work – this is no audiobook.

I found myself concentrating on the voices and sounds being sped up and slowed down. The collage is constructed of hundreds of pieces of spliced audio tape, played by reel-to-reel machines on top of each other, but the varying of their pace brings more attention to the physical existence of the tape, and how what you hear is essentially a result of friction, as magnetic tape is passed over a playback head. 

The speed of the pinch roller, feeding the tape past the head, can be varied to a desired effect, quite often comic, as anyone with a cassette player at home would find by pressing the “play” and “fast forward” buttons to make your favourite band sing even higher. The age and quality of the tape player, and the tape, also affects the output: you can tune your equipment to remove as much “wow” and “flutter” as you can, but there may still be imperfections in the tape, from its recording to their initial manufacture, to factors acting on the magnetism of the tape to affect its retention of a recording.

None of this is easily replicated digitally. Filtering audio could get close, like applying a “VHS effect” to video, but outright glitches need the original equipment, and both cassette players and “entry-level” Type I ferric tape are still readily and cheaply available. Best known for the vaporwave album “Floral Shoppe” under the name Macintosh Plus, Ramona Langley released “Big Danger” in 2017, under her usual moniker of Vektroid, which sounds like a found object: a sticky, muddy-sounding cassette tape in a damaged player that cannot play at the right speed, and that is the effect being sought – plying it back on a digital file is only the current method of delivering that particular sound.

Saturday, September 23, 2023


No matter how informed you made yourself before talking about an item, that is still no substitution for using that item, and I am guilty of that here.

After writing about Casio’s new ClassWiz series of calculators [], and having decided it was not for me, I wound up buying one anyway. This opportunity came because of surplus stock of the top-of-the-line Casio fx-991CW after a supermarket’s “Back to School” sale, its £30 price having been halved, and then halved again. I bought one of the last few for £7.50 in vouchers, concluding that I got a free calculator for being a loyal customer.

Having read the instructions online before buying the ClassWiz worked out in my favour, as you no longer get a full instruction book in the packaging - only a quick start guide and warranty card is included. However, the initial gripe of having to select “Calculate” upon turning the device on, to complete a simple calculation, is eliminated once you realise that, if you turn off the calculator while in that “app”, or in the Statistics, Spreadsheet, Equation or any other mode, it will still be in that mode once you turn it on again.

I realised the arrangement of keys is more intuitive for the way we use devices now. The “Home”, “Back” and “Settings” buttons, and their respective house, arrow and levels icons, are universally recognised, and coupling these with the higher-resolution screen, now supporting one level of grey for contrast, means every available option is clear. I’m surprised they didn’t use the screen to build a “Help” or “Instructions” app into the device itself, unless that is somehow counted as cheating at school.

The “Catalog” button, housing many of the options previously requiring the shift key on the main keyboard, will become easier to use in time, once you know how far down some options are – I have realised that “%”, usually its own button on even the cheapest and simplest of calculators, is now found under the Catalog’s “Probability” list. Its focus is to provide all the mathematical symbols likely to be used in maths or science lessons, as you can enter equations as seen in textbooks using all the correct symbols, meaning it is clearer why the curly “x” symbol has its own key rather than “%”. However, I will most likely use it for the very comprehensive list of unit conversions.

I admit that I like the idea of the “Math Box” app. I have been known to flip a coin to choose subject matter for a week’s article or, as a writing exercise, thrown dice to determine how many words I should write. I now can simulate tossing up to three coins, or rolling up to three six-sided dice, as many as 250 times, then produce a table of how often each result came up, if I am so inclined. I don’t know why these features aren’t in the “Probability” section of the Catalog, alongside the feature for producing random numbers, unless Casio wanted a prominent place for two ways of solving arguments.

In short, I have learned my lesson. I like calculators, I like devices with a lot of buttons on them, and I like exploring devices with a lot of buttons on them. If those buttons are arranged differently, then I am going to explore more, and I should have realised that before getting my hands on one. With the UK government currently planning to make maths compulsory in schools to A-Level, the new ClassWiz calculator, while not what I have been used to seeing, will help the reticent student that may not otherwise have wanted to study maths by being as clear and approachable as possible, and that is nothing but a good thing.

Sunday, September 17, 2023


Recent history can still turn to dust without anyone noticing, and if that history reflected your local area, that stings further.

Television South (TVS) provided ITV programmes for the south and south east of England from 1982 and 1992, back when Southampton, and TVS’s second base in Maidstone, was as major a producer of television shows as Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham or Newcastle, places reduced to outposts for regional news as ITV merged itself into a national company based primarily in London and Manchester. Travelling into Southampton took my family past the TVS (formerly Southern, later Meridian) studios, and it commanded my attention every time.

TVS sold its news output to Meridian when it took over the southern ITV franchise, but the rest of its programme library is currently missing, believed lost or destroyed, creating an eleven-year gap covering children’s programmes like “No. 73”, “Motormouth”, “How 2”, “Tugs” and “Mr Majeika”, dramas like “C.A.T.S. Eyes” and “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries”, game shows “Catch Phrase” and “All Clued Up”, comedy shows by Bobby Davro, “Summertime Special”, the sitcom “That’s Love”, international co-productions including the UK segments of “Fraggle Rock” and a 1987 film about Nelson Mandela starring Danny Glover, along with a large number of documentaries and local public affairs programmes that could have visited my local town.

This is, once again, a case of “lost media” meaning an archive is lost, and not just unavailable online. Many off-air recordings of TVS programmes have been put online by members of the public, but finding them is difficult, as searching the straightforwardly named “tvs” or “television south” is often counterproductive.

TVS is the only ITV company whose output is unavailable, with other former franchise holders having their programmes taken over by the companies succeeding them, or by local archives and businesses. However, the owner of the TVS library, wherever it is, has been The Walt Disney Company since 2001, after a long process of company takeovers that involved evangelical Christian preacher Pat Robertson and “Power Rangers” producer Saban Entertainment. This process appears to have shed the paperwork associated with the library, crucial to making the programmes available to view on home video or online, the last such incidence being the release of “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries” on VHS cassette in 2000. 

Later enquiries made by people to Disney about the location of the tapes themselves has led to the unsatisfactory conclusion that they are unavailable or lost. It is not likely that the tapes were “wiped” because the price of broadcast-quality cassettes had declined enough by the 1980s to avoid a practice of reusing them, and because the potential of revenue from home video necessitated retaining them, just as when Pat Robertson launched a UK version of The Family Channel using TVS repeats. 

It is not known if these tapes have been mislaid, or simply thrown away, and the perceived worth of the archive to The Walt Disney Company is also unknown – I cannot imagine they had much use for a daytime magazine show titled “Not for Women Only”, but someone may do, if only for research purposes.

This could be an argument for needing an audio-visual equivalent of the British Library – the British Film Institute has a vast archive, which includes some TVS programmes they have received over the years, but they do not act in that sort of capacity. When a programme’s worth cannot be foreseen, being unable to make that decision because it has already been lost is difficult to take – even if is a Bobby Davro sketch show so “of its time” that the cultural references make no sense, it would be useful to see why.

This situation required a campaign to find parts of a major international show made in my lifetime, “Fraggle Rock” – the UK wraparound segments filmed by TVS starred Fulton McKay and later John Gordon Sinclair as a lighthouse keeper. Only twelve episodes were known to exist in broadcast quality, later raised to twenty-nine after the search – the remaining sixty-five episodes exist as off-air recordings made by members of the public.

I only got rid of my VHS cassettes because I knew I did not own anything that didn’t otherwise exist. This cannot be confidently said for anyone owning a recording of a TVS programme.

Sunday, September 10, 2023


When I say “where’s my flying car?”, I am saying “where is our vision of the future?

Fantasies of flying cars have abounded for as love as cars have been driven across the ground. They became such a cliché about frivolous predictions of our future that the film “Back to the Future” ended with a flying DeLorean as a joke, with the sequels’ sensible predictions about sky-high motorways and hovercar conversion kits making the far-off future of 2015 more realistic.

Having now passed that future, our fantasies have become more grounded, and more backward-looking than we may like. Mastering cars that no longer use an internal combustion engine, or a driver to drive them where possible, have become real-life practical concerns ahead of flying cars, and in doing so are using past glories to make this future appeal to us.

Volkswagen, in its aim to produce only electric cars in Europe from 2033, has produced a concept car named the “ID. GTI”, which they hope to enter production by 2027. Evoking the famous VW Golf GTi, which pioneering the sporty small “hot hatch” car class, it intends to replicate the driving dynamics of its predecessors to the letter. From VW’s press release, by integrating the powertrain to the car’s control system, “for the first time, it is therefore possible to adjust the drive system, running gear, steering, sound experience and even the simulated shift points in the style of one of the historical GTI models – such as the Golf GTI I from 1976, the first Golf GTI II 16V from 1986 or the legendary Golf GTI IV ‘25 years of GTI’ from 2001. This makes the ID. GTI Concept a highly dynamic time machine.”

This sounds like using cutting-edge technology to play old computer games for their nostalgia value. If VW can do this, what is stopping them from emulating any car they like, or you want? With the ID. GTI based on another concept car that is designed to be more affordable, the ID. 2all, there is nothing to prevent that car from being able to mimic an original post-war Beetle, or a Karmann-Ghia, Scirocco, Hillman Avenger, Bentley Continental, or a Lincoln Continental: each car could become a profile to pay and download, the correct dials and switches coming up on the touch-video dashboard.

Despite this, some people are still looking forward: Alef Automotive, a California-based company, has received certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration, but not yet from its road-going equivalent, to continue testing its Model A, a car with vertical take-off and landing capability, a flying range of up to 110 miles, and an estimated delivery date of 2025. The company’s founders have worked on the vehicle since 2015, having been inspired by what they saw in “Back to the Future Part II”. Prices start from $300,000.

Sunday, September 3, 2023


The script for this video is below:

Coming up, I want to start making more videos, so I am going to talk myself into a position where I can do that. 


[TITLE: 412. Let’s Build a Media Strategy]


[TITLE: or, “You Oughta Be in Pictures”]


Hello there. I bought an autocue, or teleprompter, about nine months ago, and this is the first time I have used it, so hopefully I should be looking straight at you this time. 


A while ago, I wrote that, because everyone who has a social media account is now in the media business, everyone should have media training so they can manage their online presence – it’s the sort of thing that will be taught in schools, if not done so already. What this also means is that, essentially, everyone also now must have a media strategy – how do you go about building your online presence, how are you making yourself known, and where are you doing that.


That is something I have been thinking about for a while. Right now, I have my own website where I post articles I write every week, and a few social media accounts I only use to point to that website, like a village community pinboard telling you a meat raffle is taking place on Sunday at the pub after church. Meanwhile, I have a YouTube channel that holds the videos I have made but has more subscribers than all the social media accounts combined.


Therefore, I am not using social media effectively, and I have subscribers to a video channel that has no new videos. Surely, I should pivot from writing articles to making videos? I know I can do both, but a full-time job means the easier option most often wins, and it is the one that involves a lot more typing.


Then you have the issue of “content”. A couple of years ago, I was toying with the idea of making a video series titled “Leigh Spence is Content”, using the double meaning of that word – I didn’t go ahead with that because all it tells you is that you should be watching me, and I’m a bit too self-conscious for that. 


However, “content” doesn’t mean much as a word anymore in terms of media posted online. I still think of a type of media, like a video, and then the content of that video. At some point, “content” came to mean anything put online, no matter what form it took, because the internet was the container, or worse, the video streaming site or social media site considers itself to be the container, and its users to be their content. Because my content lives on its own site, they have no use for me, and I have little use for them.


With this being the landscape into which I place anything creative I have, it almost doesn’t matter whether an idea I have is expressed in writing or in pictures, when really it should – they are completely different sets of disciplines. Granted, I have a degree in film studies, so I am going to think that way, but I graduated a full year before YouTube even began, so my view of what makes a video was formed entirely before an entirely new business model became applied to them.


This is why the videos I have made are not the same as each other: some use voiceover, one has been silent, a couple have used music, and one didn’t use pictures. If YouTube wants me to build an audience through consistent content released on a dependable schedule, then it will have to deal with me wanting to be consistently inconsistent.


So, what do I do? More videos, fewer articles, a little more social media presence, perhaps talking about things that could become articles or videos? Or is it that engaging with other people, and sharing your data with them, is all that the internet wants you to do, regardless of what you make? Anyway, like, comment and subscribe, and do as you damn well please.


Thank you for watching, if you would like to see more videos like this, consider watching the others I have already posted, or find a way to watch my dreams at night, and as ever the nostalgia culture crisis continues at, the home of dancing with the gatekeepers.

Saturday, August 26, 2023


The British Film Institute’s 2022 Blu-ray and DVD release of the BBC’s celebrated 1954 adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, no doubt helped by George Orwell’s novel having entered the public domain, set right a myth surrounding it that I have been guilty of repeating. 

It was not widely reported at the time that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had watched and enjoyed its original Sunday night performance, quashing a campaign to prevent its second performance the following Thursday – before videotape, these were separate live performances.

Instead, a BBC liaison officer was informed by Prince Philip, while at a private function, of their seeing it, an anecdote recorded in the BBC’s private records in 1954, but not made public until decades later. The second performance was in fact authorised to proceed the day after the first took place.

Now that is clear, we can marvel in Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, whose opening narration begins: “This is one man’s alarmed vision of the future, a future which he felt might, with such dangerous ease, be brought about.” It retains its shock value, depicting a London as grimy and scarred by war as contemporary audiences will have remembered, only that its populace now tell themselves they never had it so good, giving life to Orwell’s famous “doublethink”. There is a chill at seeing Winston Smith, played by Peter Cushing in the role that launched him into his film career, being physically degraded on screen. In Airstrip One, a good citizen is one that has no capacity to express itself – it did not matter what crimes Smith falsely confessed to in order to escape Room 101, it is only that he thought about them.

I watched the adaptation this time specifically to take attention to how the neologisms of Newspeak are applied in a TV adaptation where, despite the limitations of a staged live adaptation viewed on a low resolution, black and white screen, actions still come first. Building on the first scene of Smith using his “speakwrite” to “correct” the official account of Big Brother’s actions for “The Times” newspaper, rewriting previous editions, it is down to Donald Pleasence, as Syme, to gleefully explain how Newspeak will remove confusion and vagueness from speech: the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by a single word, “good”, and whether you add un- to flip its meaning, or plus- or doubleplus- to amplify it. You feel that successive editions of the “Newspeak Dictionary” won’t even allow you that, unless you “bellyfeel” it (accept it without question). Newspeak is sprinkled through the rest of the play, especially when Syme is eventually told, by the pervasive telescreen, “ungo antecoming thinkpol”, immediately clarifying for the audience by saying “the think police are coming for you”.

I initially thought of writing about newspeak after coming across an online listing for a prop newspaper from Michael Radford’s later film of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, released that very year, the pictures of which were detailed enough for me to read sections that were faithfully written by someone in seemingly full Newspeak: “nix doubleplusbig efforts of progsoc they nogodepast outzones of Brazzaville”. It is meant to be spoken, and probably read, in a clipped staccato manner, the use of “nix” recalling the famous 1935 “Variety” magazine headline “Sticks Nix Hick Pix”. The new terms created by “Variety” in its long history, from “cliffhanger” to “striptease”, from “greenlight” to “sex appeal”, and from “biopic” to “showbiz”, were to shorten headlines, emulate the slang used by the industry on which it reported, while making readers feel part of that industry.

However, seeing the art being removed from novels and music was what stayed with me the most this time, the rise of AI programs being something that has happened mostly since this Blu-ray release. A “prole” woman sings a song played by her telescreen as she puts up washing on a line, later revealed to have been created by computer: “The sentimental ones are issued sparingly, they’re always properly.” Later, a machine made to write pornographic novels, named as the “author” of a work shown earlier, is shown to produce twenty novels a day: “all phrases and thought sequences were built in during assembly so that it has its own distinctive style... The operator is now adjusting the situation kaleidoscope, which varies the six basic plots...” Newspeak really is the last of our real-life problems.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


Back in 2019, at the end of my video about calculators, I recommended the Casio fx-991EX ClassWiz, a scientific calculator for students, as the best, most comprehensive and easy to use calculator you can buy. In 2023, I think it remains the best choice, because its replacement is not as friendly to use. Casio are also seemingly the only company still selling calculators in regular stores in the UK, making anything else harder to recommend to the average user.

The new Casio ClassWiz range, topped by the fx-991CW, makes more use of menus and phone-line apps to group together statistical, distribution, equation and matrix calculations, among others, that previously were accessed via a “shift” function on the main keyboard. This may prove useful in a teacher setting, but it does away with a layout that Casio has built on since its first pocket scientific calculator, the fx-10 of 1974, and has become intuitive through its use by generations of people, from children through to adult. 

However, the new Casio ClassWiz range won an iF Design Award in 2023 because, according to the iF International Forum Design’s website, it “is designed to make math[s] fun and accessible again amid an accelerating decline in mathematics students worldwide who equate math[s] with difficulty.” It also says the new user interface encourages curiosity and interest in students, making the calculator more than “a machine students ‘have to use’”.

This has the unfortunate side effect of having to select the “Calculate” option in order to enter 2 + 2 = 4. This situation is more common on graphing calculators, which are half-way to becoming computers, but not on something you can still buy for under £20 at a supermarket.

I have never thought that calculators were getting in the way of learning mathematics – a couple of teachers made it a turn-off at school, but others balanced them out. Gaining confidence with numbers was my reason for continuing the subject through to A-Level, and calculators were there as a useful tool to support the teaching. It was only later I found myself appreciating and collecting calculators for their design, and for how different scientific calculators arranged their functions for people to use.

I use time calculations at work, and the ClassWiz manual confirms this requires more key pressing, with the function used to separate degrees/hours, minutes and seconds, and marked as °’”, now requiring you to press the “Shift” and “+” buttons to access, having previously been its own button.

The previous ClassWiz calculators incorporated use of “apps” in their menus without requiring menu diving to access functions, never having had to do so before doesn’t mean imposing such a system will become easier. It is worth noting that Hewlett-Packard reworked their 32S calculator in 1991, three years after its release, to unpack its menus onto a comparatively more cluttered keypad, but that version continued to sell for another eleven years.

It is not known if Casio have stopped selling the fx-991EX ClassWiz in favour of the new CW version, but they still sell many calculators using the old layout, and other names like Sharp, Texas Instruments and HP still exist, so if you are buying a calculator for your child, make sure you know what features they need to include, and make sure they read the instructions.

Sunday, August 13, 2023


The reaction my sister was probably not expecting, after sharing with me a link to the rarely seen TV show “Turn-On”, was my telling her I had wanted to see it for twenty years. After finding a lot to say about it here last time, my mind still wasn’t done with it, so here are the thoughts that continued bouncing around.

I have now watched more of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, the comedy variety show created by George Schlatter & Ed Friendly, the eventual producers of “Turn-On”. Running for five years from 1968, and the most popular show on American television for three of those, any further show from its team stood a chance of being made, if not of becoming a success. The double act of Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, more reminiscent of Martin & Lewis than Morecambe & Wise, provide the grounding for the wild sketches that appear around them, their black tuxedos marking them out from the rest of the show – the insistence of a guest host for “Turn-On” for the audience to identify with was lost by their not fulfilling the role of a host, and being mixed into the sketches with the rest of the cast. “Laugh-In” is also the show that gave the falsetto singer Tiny Tim his first TV appearance, which was done by having him sing while Dick Martin stood next to him, wondering what to think.

Many of the sketches on “Laugh-In” were made to facilitate the kind of one-liners and blackout gags that characterised “Turn-On”, like the show’s cast of future stars like Goldie Hawn, Jo Anne Worley and Lily Tomlin opening doors on the Joke Wall to say lines, and a succession of parties where everyone freezes dancing to share a line, the most memorable for me being, “I hear Raquel Welch is playing Myra Breckinridge... I hope she wins.” Each episode ran one hour (plus ad breaks), so while they were quick, they had the time to be legible enough for the audience to get the joke.

“Laugh-In” also had an array of catchphrases like “Sock It to Me”, “Here Come the Judge”, “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”, “Verrry Interesting...” and “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!”, repeated each episode to produce a laugh by themselves, just as “The Fast Show” would do later. I now know the tape of then-President Richard Nixon’s famously halting reading of “Sock It to Me?” is because the catchphrase formed a small section of the show where the person saying it were then “socked” by a bucket of water, or by losing their clothes. 

Watching “Laugh-In” means remembering that the psychedelic, colourful sets, the rapid cross-cut editing employed in some sketches by literally splicing the videotape with razor blades, and the “right-on” humour touching upon race and gender, were entirely contemporary. This was the prevailing graphical look of the time, the sound of the pop music, and the words on people’s lips, and a perfect choice for BBC Two to show in 1968, as the only colour TV station in the UK at the time.

In terms of UK television, the nearest we appeared to have to “Turn-On” in overall shape, at least in what still exists to make the comparison, is “Zokko!”, a BBC One Saturday lunchtime compendium of songs, animation and stories for children that ran from 1969-70, initially hosted by a sentient pinball table, but later replaced by pop art imagery and lava lamp-like tubes, and all in black and white. 

Like the vast expanse of white in which “Turn-On” generated its sketches, British TV already had TV shows that used no discernible set, like the satirical “That Was the Week That Was” (1962-63), and the music show “Ready Steady Go” (1963-66), showing cameras and boom microphones in shot, but this was more down to thrift or lack of studio space, particularly later when “The Old Grey Whistle Test” began in 1971 by cramming bands into a space built only for studio discussion programmes of the sort later parodied endlessly by “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. However, when NBC, the eventual network for “Laugh-In”, launched an American version of “That Was the Week That Was”, they gave it a proper set.

I still think “Turn-On” could have been made to work, and I think enough parts of it were reflected in other TV shows for something like it to be tried again, but does anyone want to give me the resources to do it?

Saturday, August 5, 2023


“Turn-On” is an American TV comedy show known for having been seen by hardly anyone. Portrayed as “the first computerised TV show” as a cover for its lightning-quick pace and counter-culture subject matter, it hoped to build on the recent success of another sketch comedy show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, while also deliberately trying to unsettle its audience. Broadcast only once as a replacement for the soap opera “Peyton Place”, on Wednesday 5th February 1969 at 8.30pm, one ABC station in Ohio pulled it half-way through, its manager sending a telegram to the network saying, “if your naughty little boys have to write dirty words on the walls, please don't use our walls.” Other stations declined to air it later that evening, and what was to have been a sixteen-episode series was cancelled five days later, accused of being lewd, vulgar and, most interestingly, confusing and alienating.

I first heard about this show at least twenty years ago, and aside from a few still images and descriptions of what it was like, I had no idea what caused so much uproar. With Spike Milligan’s near-Dadaist show “Q5” having begun in March 1969, and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” that October, breaking boundaries in TV comedy really was something in the air – the story goes that the Pythons were dismayed at “Q5” being the kind of show they wanted to do, until realising they could use Terry Gilliam’s animation to stitch the sketches together. All could have the American shows like the zany and quick-paced “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” on BBC Two from September 1968, but there would be no way to see why “Turn-On” had been an evolutionary dead-end.

Fortunately, someone managed to turn up “Turn-On”, both the offending first episode, and a second that was completed but went un-aired. Immediately, I started watching. The past is now and, said Tim Conway, appearing as guest host in the only sop to the idea of identifying with the audience, “welcome to Peyton Re-Place”.

...and it was as disorientating and as hard to watch as I had hoped. Produced by the creators of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, the blackout gags that peppered that show are now the main event: no sketch seems to last more than thirty seconds, and some are one-line jokes that can be missed, like “I tell you I was so damned upset when I found out my kids were popping pills, I went out and got drunk”. Sets appear and disappear from the white (and occasionally black) void in which every sketch plays, and only enough to suggest a setting. Every sketch is set against a pervading, popping synthesiser soundtrack, substituting for the laugh of a studio audience, and making things hard to hear. Cartoon people walk across the bottom of the screen while other sketches are in progress, holding placards saying, “God Save the Queens”, “Make Love Not Wine” and “Stamp Out Mass Production”. The first shot of some sketches will pull out to show four boxes, the next line appearing in the next box until your screen is filled like a comic book page. Spirograph-like animated flashes appear between sketches to underline the computer-generated motif. Production credits are peppered at random throughout the duration of the show. Some sketches are just downright strange, but disappear before you can make sense of them, like one police officer holding evidence saying to another, “would you like to take some of this pornography home tonight?”, and upon the answer “I don’t even have a pornograph”, says “pity...” and bites a page out of one magazine, eating it.

There was no way this show could possibly have worked on a mass-market TV network in 1969, no matter how much the prevailing culture would have been in their favour. The style and pace of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” would have provided an indicator for how much further you could push the idea of a TV sketch show, but “Laugh-In” was an hour-long show leavened with longer, vaudeville-like sketches, giving the audience time to breathe as well as laugh. But even at thirty minutes, and with only ad breaks and sponsorship notices to break the breakneck flow, “Turn-On” feels too long. I watched the first episode with my parents, both having grown up when “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, telling them I gave them ten minutes before they would probably stop watching, feeling it to be a more natural running time for the show – they stopped at ten minutes and thirteen seconds.

Assuming the first episode acted as the series’ pilot, I expected the second, un-broadcast episode of “Turn-On”, this time hosted by actor Robert Culp and then-wife France Nuyen, to make some changes. One sketch was filmed on location, instead of nowhere, where a highway patrol officer’s motorcycle won’t start, leading him to cry at missing a speeding car, and the synthesiser music being reduced in the sound mix, or eliminated altogether, allowing gags to be more easily heard. However, this latter change now makes more obvious the use of a musical sting at the end of each sketch as a signifier that the sketch has ended, and this is where you now laugh, a cliché used even by Morecambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies.

Even if the show had somehow continued, and if audiences had found their peace with it, I don’t know how this format could have sustained itself for a whole series. Reportedly four further episodes were in production when “Turn-On” was cancelled, one of which guest-starred The Monkees, an appropriate fit for this kind of show, but for a show shooting dozens of sketches, each requiring their own camera set-up and rehearsal no matter how little set there is, and with multiple animated studios, special effects providers and editors working on film, all to make it look like it had been generated by a computer, this is a show that could have burned itself out. Ironically, using a computer would have made the show easier to make.

For all the avant-garde weirdness of the style used by “Turn-On”, the grammar of a standard TV show is clear to see, despite its being deployed in a different way. The use of animation throughout “Turn-On” reminded me of “Sesame Street”, which used similar stylistic motifs, and more specifically the grammar of TV advertisements, as an educational tool when it launched in November 1969. The nearest I think there has been since to the fast pace of “Turn-On” was the BBC’s “The Fast Show” from 1994, advertised as guaranteeing up to thirty sketches an episode, while also answered the aversion to punchlines in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” by only using punchlines.

I think “Turn-On” could work now – its choppy editing style and bare sets is very easy to copy, and a modern-day analogue to its edgy counter-culture humour can be easily found, although I would put it on television later in the evening than 8.30pm. While the six-second limit to videos on the late social media service Vine (2013-17) encouraged a style like the blackout sketches on “Turn-On”, you could argue that “asdfmovie”, the YouTube-based animated show made by Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell, is the nearest in spirit and style, but with its two-to-three-minute running time making it easier to take.

Unfortunately for “Turn-On”, the gag I found funniest was provided by its sponsor, the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Meyers, reminding its discombobulated viewers that you can buy Bufferin, their brand of aspirin.