The gadgets and gizmos that shaped a decade…

You’d be surprised at just how many gadgets and gizmos that we take for granted nowadays made their bow in the Eighties.
The decade of decadence was also one of great technological advances in both the home and on the streets.
A desire for portability and the growing importance of mobile communications were key drivers for this evolution as lifestyles changed and time became a precious commodity.
Chief among labour-saving devices which became popular during the 80s has to be electronic TV remote controls.
This lazy-person’s wand, which ultimately led to the invention of the phrase ‘couch potato’, is now a given in homes up and down the land.
Generations have grown up assuming we always had ‘remotes’ and never suffering from having to traipse to and from the sofa every time they want to change channels. Unless the batteries run out, of course.
Sticking with television, let’s not forget that the first satellite channels aired in the mid-eighties – eventually leading to the creation of the all-consuming behemoth that is now Sky TV which was launched on February 5, 1989.
Almost obsolete these days, it is also worth remembering that video cassette recorders (VCR) enjoyed their halcyon days back when yours truly was in high school.
The first VCR actually went on sale at Dixons in 1978 priced £798.75 – the equivalent of more than £3,000 in today’s money.
It was made by Japanese electronics giant JVC and had a slot in the top to insert the tape and huge, piano-style keys.
But it was during the early 1980s when video recorders really rose to prominence during the infamous battle of the brands between VHS and Sony’s Betamax.
VHS eventually won out – largely because it was the format favoured by video rental stores which were so popular at the time.
I recall my mate Richard hiring umpteen videos and us having the run of the old manor house up Norton when his parents were out.
We watched everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Evil Dead II while burning another 80s novelty – pizzas – in his mum’s cooker.
At the time, Mrs Murphy didn’t have a microwave oven – another invention which became a household must-have in the UK during the mid to late Eighties.
Microwaves didn’t become available in Britain until the end of the Seventies and did not catch on initially because of safety concerns and confusion over whether the ovens might be ‘radioactive’.
In addition, for most families at the time they were just too expensive.
For many in the UK the microwave revolution really began with Jimmy Tarbuck’s advertisements for Sharp microwaves which first aired in 1985.
Wearing a rather fetching red jumper, the Scouse comedian showed the nation how to defrost a chicken in minutes.
Strangely, Tarby wasn’t chosen to front marketing campaigns for another 80s icon.
Who could forget the ‘ghettoblasters’ or ‘boombox’ radios in a variety of sickly colours which popped up all over the place – turning Sneyd Green into downtown Detroit? Sort of.
Boomboxes were introduced in the late 1970s, when stereo was added to existing designs of the radio-cassette recorder but are mostly associated with the 80s sounds of breakdancing and hip hop.
The major manufacturers competed as to who could produce the loudest, best-sounding, flashiest and/or most quirky-looking boomboxes.
Of course, the boombox wasn’t the only musical innovation of my youth.
The metal-cased blue-and-silver Sony Walkman TPS-L2 – the world’s first low-cost portable stereo – went on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979.
It was launched in the UK in June 1980 and I remember being ridiculously jealous when I saw a lad wearing one at Central Forest Park.
As an avid collector of vinyl, I have to say I was less than keen to embrace the advent of another 80s musical phenomenon: compact discs.
These horrible little tea coasters put paid to my trips to Lotus Records in the old arcade up ’Anley from where I would purchase limited edition, imported picture discs of my favourite rock artists.
To be fair, I’ve still got a cracking vinyl collection, but it’s not been quite the same since the world’s first compact disc was produced at a Philips factory in Germany in 1987 – sparking a global music revolution.
Jointly developed by Philips and Sony, to date an estimated 220 billion CDs have been sold worldwide and they remain the dominant format despite the growth in digital downloads.
Interestingly, the first CD produced was The Visitors by Abba, but when the first CDs went on sale in November 1982 they were mainly classical recordings as classical music lovers were believed to have more money than pop and rock music fans.
The final gizmo we have the 80s to thank for is the mobile telephone.
Britain’s first mobile phone call was actually made across the Vodafone network on New Year’s Day 1985 by veteran comedian Ernie Wise.
Since then, ‘mobiles’ have become essential to modern life and it is now estimated that almost 90 per cent of Britons now own a handset.
When mobiles were first launched they were the size of a briefcase, cost about £2,000 and had a battery life of little more than 20 minutes.
You see, sometimes small really is beautiful…

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One thought on “The gadgets and gizmos that shaped a decade…

  1. I remember our first video was remote controlled, I think it was a Sony and you had to actually plug the remote in to the video. Yes, the remote wasn’t that remote afterall as it was attatched to the video by a cable but it was still brilliant and who can forget those piano keys on videos? Pushing one of those gave you a sense of achievement – you’d actually done something. What about Mr Sugar and his Amstrad stacker units with tape-to-tape recording and the smoked glass? Real classy until you went to move one of the substantial units up and realised they were cheap, hollow and had nothing in them. This is the time we realise we’ve all turned into our parents and nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!
    Kids, they don’t know they’re born these days…

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