I’ll start this off with an introduction post to what I plan to be an ongoing series about the old video rental shops in Cardiff. What? VHS rental shops? Why!? Okay, well, let me explain. In the early 1980s the burgeoning growth of video was an exciting, engrossing and all-consuming passion for myself and many of my friends. I have so many great memories around the medium and the places it was sold from that to this day I often find myself reminiscing (and sometimes dreaming) about tapes at certain shops, and the buzz of finding a film that I’d been looking for remains something hard to explain.
I’ve always loved horror films, and some really extreme ones at that. Not everyone’s cup of tea, that I understand – but it’s always been a genre that’s appealed to me (and still does). Back in the early 1980s, the whole thing exploded – a complete new medium and method of consumption that took off in a big way.The growth of VHS was responsible for the spread of films for the masses and subsequently for the banning of what would become known as the Video Nasties. About the time the Nasties were being taken off the shelves in video shops across the UK, I was just starting to learn about films, and realising that a lot of films I wanted to see were on that list.
Now, I’m loathe to continually have to mention that this was a time before the internet, and info on these things was hard to find and for a young working class boy living off Broadway with limited means and finances, hard to participate in, but there you go, it really was! This lack of knowledge and access was a powerful part of what shaped my interests.
Now I can just go to my browser or Amazon, and I can search the world for obscure titles and have them delivered to my front door, sometimes the very next day. Back then the only access I had to materials was what we spoke about in school, or what we found in magazines at the News Agents. As a result the whole Video Nasties phenomena took on an almost mystical significance and import way beyond the artistic merits of the films themselves, but it was a powerful driver in my desire to seek these films out.
Below is what was my film bucket list – at the time many of these titles had been removed from VHS stores around the country, but there were still small shops that had the odd banned flick in that had slipped through the net. This list was published in what I believe was the last ever Halls Of Horror magazine (issue 30) which came out November 1984. The magazine had an A-Z listing of the genre VHS available in the UK and at its front the below list. You’ll see I initially ticked some that I’d seen or knew where I could get a copy. It’s pretty bereft but as the years went on I stopped ticking it and just watched the films. I don’t think there’s any on there that I couldn’t put my hands on with ease these days, or that wouldn’t be laughable as to why they were banned by today’s standards.
The list of Video Nasties from Halls Of Horror 30
On top of the forbidden nature of the nasties was the whole culture and ambience of the local video rental shop. They would spring up from nowhere, sometimes over night. Some would stay the distance, whilst others would be there and gone in a relatively short space of time. Whilst I can recall the location and stock available in many of the rental places local to me, I don’t recall the people or the names. It’s strange, but I can see that gaudy ETn cover right there on the shelf, but couldn’t tell you the name of the shop or people that worked there. Well, I say none of the names, but my mum worked in two shops that supplied VHS, so that’s one at least, and part of the reason I have a bit of ‘behind-the-scenes’ memory of renting out tapes.
I’m going to break down the main streets and shops that I often scoured, and there’s a lot to go through for each so I feel rather than do a humongous post reaching to tens of thousands of words, it’s easier for me to visit various streets and the shops therein as individual pieces. It’s going to be frustrating for the main part I can’t recall shop names. I can recall locations and will share them where possible, but generally the names are long gone to me.
Whilst there was lots of shops around Cardiff, my main locations for searching were unsurprisingly close to the areas I frequented both for work and family. Specifically, Broadway and Clifton Street, Splott Road and Carlisle Street, Albany Road, Crwys Road and City Road. There were also a number of other places further afield that are worthy of a mention. In fact, in my ongoing search for those elusive video nasties that had been taken off the shelves, the best successes I had were in shops outside of Cardiff – one in a small village called Clonakilty in the south West of Ireland, and one in Falmouth, Cornwall.
Over the years I built up a small collection of VHS tapes that I carted around the country as I moved around. I managed to buy a few of the VHS nasties over the years, along with other fare. Below is a photo of my nascent collection in 1988. From what I can see there is a sell through of Blade Runner (sell through tapes were expensive when they first appeared, I remember this being a prized possession for many years) and possibly the U2 live video Under A Blood Red Sky. Not sure what was on the blank tapes though, at that point it was worth noting that blank tapes were still pretty pricey, so making the decision to keep them was often a financially based one.
My small VHS collection in 1988
These days, VHS has all but died out as a medium. Not completely, some retro-hipster types have been keeping the medium alive (although not in the way vinyl is getting a resurgence), and there is a thriving bunch of VHS collectors who pay massive sums for the rarest of VHS releases. This means there’s also a number of forgeries out there too, such is the value of some of the tapes.
Personally, being a film fan I don’t miss the medium, the picture quality compared to modern times is awful, tracking issues, drop-outs, and the dreaded pan and scan versions are all thing best left in the time of VHS. However, back when we knew no different this was a golden age for us, and it’s those shops and memories I aim to pay homage to over the coming posts about the old VHS rental places I loved so much.