Johnny Walker

Apr 7, 2023

Rewind, Replay

Britain and the Video Boom, 1978-92

Edinburgh University Press 2022

Nostalgia for the 1980s is in the air. From Stranger Things to the relaunch of 80s franchises like Top Gun, the American entertainment industry casts the period as an age of simpler things, clearer dichotomies, and less technology. Yet not all was simple. The 1980s were the heyday of the Cold War. They were the decade of rapid social change, of deregulation and selfish consumption, of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. They were also the decade when a new technology swept the world, setting the stage for our all-too-digital present.

A lot has been written about the rise of video in the United States, the format wars, the impact it had on the entertainment industry, on personal entertainment consumption habits, and new business models. But the rise of video was not a uniquely American phenomenon, nor was the American experience normative. In fact, wherever the new technology arrived, from the US, to the Middle East, to Eastern Europe, it reshaped social and business practices, as well as government responses to it, in ways that reflected the political, social, and economic arrangements of each space.

Johnny Walker’s Rewind, Replay: Britain and the Video Boom, 1972-1992 (Edinburgh UP, 2022) tells the story of Britain’s vide boom in the 1980s by focusing on the first video distributors who took chances on a wide range of films, from documentaries, to horror, to kids entertainment, in order to attract consumer interest. The new video shops that mushroomed across Britain turned video rental into a common practice among the public. Soon, despite a crushing recession, more and more industry players started to invest into what media at the time was dismissing as a mere ‘plaything.’ Rewind, Replay chronicles the idiosyncratic ways in which British distributors and store owners navigated various local political and economic pressures including piracy, the infamous video nasties moral panic and the government crackdown on the industry, as well as the corporate expansion of the industry which, by the end of the decade, eliminated independent distributors, and turned the pre-recorded videocassette from morally questionable enterprise into a staple of high street retail.

Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy is Teaching Professor of American Studies at Miami University of Ohio. Her book, Between Empire and Republic: America in the Colonial Canadian Imagination, came out in 2022. Twitter: @OanaGodyKenw. Oana’s webpage.

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy

East to West. Exploring North American culture in relationship to the Cold War.
Learn More

Also Hosted By Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy