The 1970s were a hotbed of audio technological advancement, despite enthusiasts having to carry on with the same old vinyl technology that had been around for decades. The increasing popularity of stereo had enabled Mike Oldfield to ring a bell in your left ear while slapping a fretless bass in your right. With quadraphonic, he could also stab a Moog in front of you and play a Swanee whistle behind your back. Such entertainment riches were worth any price, even the considerable time and trouble of fixing four little wooden ledges high in each corner of the room for the speakers, and putting up with the attendant forest of cabling. It wasn’t just Oldfield – everyone from Acker Bilk to Van McCoy got in on the four-channel act, releasing quad LPs in a dizzying variety of rival, incompatible formats. Would you CBS’s SQ system, or will you JVC’s Quadradisc? Amid all this confusion, mass interest waned, and soon even Mike Oldfield flogged off those two superfluous speakers. Those little ledges stayed up for ages afterwards, though – a testament to the folly of a society that sorely overestimated the amount of available ears.
Q is for…
It’s widely acknowledged that, before regulations were relaxed a few years back, British adverts were unable to rubbish rival brands by name, hence all that ‘brand x/another leading washing up liquid/certain chargecards I could mention’ malarkey. Things came close to outright Coke/Pepsi-style hostilities, however, with the notorious Hover bovver campaign.
During the ’70s, Flymo had made a nice little earner with their range of go-ahead rotary orange grass trimmers, demonstrated by a ‘bevy of beauties’ in spangly jumpsuits, effortlessly trimming their verdant greensward with idle, sweeping strokes of floaty Flymo, gliding over paving stones without a care in the world. Come the early ’80s, Qualcast, manufacturers of sturdy, racing green British lawnmowers with good, trustworthy names like Concorde and Suffolk Punch, and sporting a traditional grass bucket, big heavy roller and two-stroke petrol engine that needs a good half dozen hefty tugs to start on a good day, felt this space-age garden maintenance (and from a bally Swedish company at that!) had gone far enough. An extensive, mildly humorous campaign was launched painting the trad option as the best one – “a lot less bovver than a hover”, indeed. (The rhyming tagline cheekily ripped off, and eventually outclassed, the enemy’s own “It’s easy when you know – Flymo”.)
The peak came with a commercial depicting an actress making a standard Flymo ad, then getting the put-upon film crew to fix the damage the ghastly hover had wrought on her lawn by trundling the trusty Qualcast out of the shed and doing it properly, with nice regimental stripes and no clippings strewn everywhere. Scholars of consumer history identify this war of words as the first knockings of the ’80s reactionary tendency to distrust all the shiny, plasticky trappings of modern life and fall back on reliably cosy tradition. Scholars of consumer history are to be avoided in public houses at all costs for precisely this reason.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE PHRASE EVEN INSPIRED A COMPUTER GAME, HOVVER BOVVER, PROGRAMMED BY THAT ALAN MOORE OF THE COMMODORE, JEFF MINTER
A go-ahead company founded in Newbury in 1973, Quantel is, perhaps more than any other institution, responsible for the change in the appearance of British TV from the 16mm film and caption card biscuitty sludginess of the 1970s to the twiddly, neon and pastel-hued, pin-sharp ‘electronic wine bar’ look of the 1980s. It all kicked off in 1978 with the introduction of the DPE 5000, a little box with a few buttons and a joystick that enabled excitable producers to flip the picture about the screen with the same gay abandon with which Terry Wogan treated his Blankety Blank question cards. LE departments took to it like ducks to water, and since the damn thing was so expensive it would be made to pay for itself anyway, it colonised the screen like crazy within a couple of years. Then came Paintbox in 1981, which enable wacky colourisation effects (end result: even more lurid magenta and lime green on the screen than before). Finally 1982 saw Mirage, a supersized box of tricks that enabled Paul Jackson to fold the Waterboys into a saxophone-shaped blob and spin them around the Saturday Live studio as the whim took him. By that point, TV was irreversibly digitised, and sales of Telecine units and Letraset plummeted.