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Past Times

Do you remember these Dundee video stores?

Heading to the video store in the 1980s and 1990s was once part of a Friday night experience that could never be matched in the streaming era. reports.
Graeme Strachan
A staff member at Stage A Video Centre in Stobswell in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

Press rewind and go back to an age before on-demand when video rental shops popped up all over Dundee.

It was once part of a Friday night experience in the 1980s and 1990s that could never be matched in the streaming era.

There was something rewarding about perusing the Aladdin’s cave of categorised aisles in search of the perfect movie to rent.

Timing was everything.

You had to get there early for a chance of finding the new releases still on the shelves.

Arrive too late on Friday night for the latest Schwarzenegger or Stallone blockbuster and you could end up going home with Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.

Although if you couldn’t find what you were after, then the person behind the till would often make suggestions that would be more useful than any algorithm on Netflix.

A video shop membership card in the ’80s and ’90s was a gateway to a world where muscular heroes dominated the big screen and Clint Eastwood could always be relied upon to come out of retirement to take “one last job”.

Back then you could rent a Betamax or VHS tape for anything from 24 hours to up to a week depending on how new they were.

Late fees applied if a tape didn’t come back on time.

Plus, you’d get fined if you returned them not rewound.

Very often, the cassette would have been watched by so many people that the movie was full of glitchy freeze-frames, static lines and unintelligible dialogue.

Which video store did you rent movies from?

As the popularity of video rental exploded, petrol stations, off licences and newsagents tried to get in on the act.

Libraries expanded their loan offerings to include VHS tapes.

Paul Sturrock putting stock on the shelves of his Video Library in 1981.
Paul Sturrock putting stock on the shelves of his Video Library in 1981. Image: DC Thomson.

Paul Sturrock’s Video Library opened in Broughty Ferry in 1981.

The Dundee United footballer would dish out tapes from behind the counter at 67 King Street and his manager, Jim McLean, was among the first to take a membership.

“It seemed a good idea to have some security for the future, and being interested in videos, this was the obvious choice for me,” said Sturrock in 1981.

“We have a variety of cassettes, ranging from horror films to cartoons for kids.”

In 1984 a special holiday offer for school age children was seven films for £5 and the stock of 500 tapes included 48 Hours, Octopussy, Who Dares Wins and Halloween 3.

People browse the walls of VHS tapes at Magic Eye in the Keiller Centre, Dundee, in 1982
Magic Eye video store in the Keiller Centre, Dundee, in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

Generations of shoppers will also fondly remember the once-bustling Magic Eye Video Hire, which provided the latest video tapes at the Keiller Centre from 1982.

Maybe you went to Stage A Video Centre in Stobswell or Cherry Video in Lochee?

The first VHS tapes were surprisingly expensive to buy with a hit movie costing £25, which made renting much more attractive to customers.

Staff inside the Cherry Video store in 1982, standing before a wall of tapes under a VHS sign
Staff inside the Cherry Video store in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

Videorama opened shops in Claypotts Road and Ardler Shopping Centre and membership was £10 “with the added attraction and bonus of five free films”.

It was £1.50 to borrow a film but £2 for “some of the big blockbusters”.

Joint owners were Nigel Hodges and Jack Laing with 2,000 titles in each shop, which was open 10am to 8pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sunday.

“There is a daily rate of £1,” said Nigel.

“Members can take out one film first time round, and three from then on.”

Cars parked outside Video Drive-In, which opened in Charleston Drive, Dundee, in 1990
Video Drive-In opened in Charleston Drive in 1990. Image: DC Thomson.

In April 1990 Video Drive-In opened at 101 Charleston Drive.

It was the latest outlet in a chain of nine owned by Frank Taylor from Perth.

Frank said there was parking immediately in front of the premises, which allowed customers to “go in and hire your tapes, jump into your car and away again”.

An Evening Telegraph advertising feature said there was a stock of 2,000 titles “from a huge selection of cartoons to amuse all ages to the latest blockbusters”.

Shelves full of video tapes at Video Drive-In in 1990.
A look at the shelves at Video Drive-In in 1990. Image: DC Thomson.

There was also a selection of “art-house films”, which Frank explained were “foreign cult movies” featuring “intellectual conversation conducted in sub-titles and the like”.

Membership was free with hire charges “competitive” and ranging  from 50p to £2 a tape.

Video Drive-In was open from 9am to 9pm and until 10pm on Saturday.

Promotional offers included everyone hiring the 1988 drama The Chocolate War getting a free Twix.

The first 500 members were also entered into a prize draw to win a copy of The Abyss.

French lessons at Visions Video

Maybe you were a member of Visions Video?

The shops at Perth Road and Strathmartine Road were “offering the very latest in videos, computer games and CDs” in December 1992.

Staff at Visions Video in Perth Road in 1992.
Staff at Visions Video in Perth Road in 1992. Image: DC Thomson.

Proprietor Dave Jones was committed to the “twin aims of supplying leading titles for sale or rent and keeping waiting lists as short as possible”.

He said: “Our aim for customers wishing to see a top film is that they have it either that day or the next day at the very latest.

“We are trying to achieve the same effect as the cinema.”

Dave and his Perth Road team were manager Liz Dowling and staff members Angela Lee, Gerard Mills and Andrea Guthrie and they provided “an all-round service”.

‘Foreign language films’

Dave encouraged his team “to be frank” in their descriptions of the films.

“If they didn’t like it, they say so,” he said.

“There is no point in giving false ideas of the films to people.

“The important thing is that the film is enjoyed.”

An Evening Telegraph advertising feature said the Perth Road shop also stocked “foreign language films” if “any language scholar wants to brush up on his French”.

A cutout of an Evening Telegraph feature on Target Video.
An Evening Telegraph feature on Target Video. Image: DC Thomson.

Target Video opened in Brook Street after taking over Paul Sturrock’s stock when he gave up his Broughty Ferry shop because he took a coaching role at Dundee United in 1989.

One feature of Target Video was the “review board” just inside the entrance, which carried “up-to-the-minute information on latest releases and trends”.

An Evening Telegraph advertising feature stated: “Classics are well represented, as are the latest hits.

“The children’s selection is particularly attractive, ranging from Top Cat and Disney to animated Bible stories.

“Pop fans will find much to excite them, from heavy metal to Frank Sinatra, and there’s a special interest section that should generate a lot of interest.

“With the longer days, for instance, how about four instructional tapes on Master Golf, or Barbara Woodhouse on horses and ponies?”

There were around 1,300 VHS and 500 Betamax videos on the shelves, with registration £1.

The customer could also pay a £5 annual insurance to cover “tape damage”.

Hires ranged from 50p for some of the children’s items to £2 for mainstream films.

Return time was up to 7pm the following day.

DVDs, streaming and the final reel for video stores…

Then there was the giant Blockbuster Video with its blue and yellow store branding, a one-stop movie shop where you could hire a video and buy popcorn.

The outside of the The Blockbuster in Stobswell in 1999.
The Blockbuster video store in Stobswell, Dundee, in 1999. Image: DC Thomson.

VHS cassettes fell out of favour suddenly and the clunky tapes were superseded by DVD and Blu-ray, before movies became stored in the cloud and streaming was everywhere.

One by one, Dundee’s video stores closed.

Blockbuster’s Broughty Ferry and Stobswell shops among the last to go in 2013 with trading woes blamed on competition from internet firms and digital streaming.

As the saying goes, everything old is new again.

Tapes have been making a collector comeback despite the format’s obsolescence.

Sadly, it’s unlikely to pull Dundee’s VHS stores from the dustbin of history.

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