diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 21, 2023

40 years ago this week I bought my first television.

We had a television in the house already, indeed we had two, so my brother and I could watch The Great Egg Race in one room while my Mum watched Angels in the other. But I didn't have a TV of my own until that special day I went into Watford and handed over £129 of my summer job money for a Philips 9TC 2100.

It was only black and white and only had a nine inch screen, hence the model name, but it showed all the same channels as a normal television and most importantly it was mine. Back in 1983 there were only four channels to watch, one of which wasn't yet a year old, but my 9TC 2100 was seriously forward-looking and had room for ten. You had to push the sliders on the top to change channels - remote controls weren't yet a thing - but that didn't matter because it was about to be positioned in pride of place on my bedside table. All I had to do was reach out and I could flick repeatedly between Butterflies and the Nine O'Clock News, something I wouldn't dare to try downstairs.

Not only was it inordinately convenient but it also meant I suddenly had control over what I watched, which when you're 18 can be both useful and important. It meant when The Omen popped up on ITV that Saturday night I could lie in bed and watch it all, whereas otherwise that classic film might have gone unwatched. Another advantage of my new TV is that it had a headphone socket so I could plug in my single plastic earphone and listen without anyone else hearing. That was great for everyone else in the house if the time ticked past midnight, and also great for me if I didn't want anyone to know precisely what I was watching, or even that I was watching anything at all.

And it wasn't just a TV, it was a multifunction cube, so as well as a screen it also had a radio. This could do medium wave, long wave and VHF, but mostly the former because Radio 1 didn't venture off 275/285 very often. Even better it had a cassette recorder down one side because cassettes were the height of recording technology in those days. It couldn't compete with my proper music centre but it did have the enormous bonus that I could record sound perfectly off the telly. Previously when I'd tried taping the Tomorrow's World theme I'd had to use a string of cables but now I could grab it direct. I didn't often trust my expensive pre-recorded cassettes in the side of the TV, though, because I worried what the magnets in the cathode ray tube might be doing.

My TV/radio/cassette also had a red LED clock on the front and this allowed my new gizmo to function as an alarm. I could set it for 7am and wake up to BBC Breakfast Time, indeed by the end of the first week I'd learned how to print stamps and how airline food was cooked, all before getting out of bed and heading off to work. I messed up on day two by setting the volume to zero but thankfully still woke up anyway, perhaps distracted by Selina Scott flickering in black and white. And that wasn't even the best bit. If you set the alarm and pushed down the play/record buttons on the cassette recorder, when the TV switched on it started recording and it was like having my own personal VCR. I only got the sound, not the picture, but many's the episode of Top of the Pops I'd have completely missed had it not been captured on C90.

The day I bought the TV I'd also bought lots of things I might need at university, including bath towels, tea towels, cutlery, salt and pepper pots and cereal bowls. I think they came from Clements, the big department store on the high street, or perhaps from Littlewoods or Timothy Whites. She also got me to buy a dark blue suit from M&S, rather than the regulation black, and insisted on taking a photo of me wearing it when I got home. But my 9TC 2100 was the most expensive purchase of the day, a true investment in the future, and would help to make me a centre of social interest in my freshers year.

I had to ask permission to have the set in my room, because this was 40 years ago and students didn't generally bring a TV with them when they came to university. The general expectation was that you'd watch programmes in the Common Room, whichever channel the majority of the masses preferred, which was total anathema to an independent viewer like me. But with my own set I could keep on top of the news (Cecil Parkinson did what?), laugh at Who Dares Wins and enjoy The Five Doctors without a running commentary. The two best requests from fellow students in that first year were "can I come round and watch Treasure Hunt fly over our farm?" and "can I come round and watch myself on Blockbusters?" I happily obliged.

One downside to the TV was that all the channels were set mechanically using a bank of swirly sliders under the lid. That was fine if you kept the set in one place but I was taking it to university and back every term so ended up doing a lot of awkward twiddling. It then accompanied me on my year living out (Roland Rat, The Tripods), then on my year living back in (Masterteam, Maradona's hand of god), then to Job 1 where I was lodging in someone's spare room (The Brittas Empire, Sticky Moments). Without my 9TC 2100 I could easily have missed out on eight years of shared national television culture but instead I kept on top of it all. There's not I think a single episode of Dallas that I didn't see.

By the set's 10th birthday I had my own home and a proper colour set, so my black and white cube retired to my bedside table. Here it allowed me to watch Newsnight before I nodded off to sleep and Grange Hill repeats before getting up on a Sunday morning. I was now renting a separate, somewhat clunky VCR so no longer needed to rely on sound-only tape recordings if I went out. But my 9TC 2100 was still an integral part of everyday life, even if only as a spare radio, and when I moved to London I packed it into its original box and brought it with me.

Alas reception in my flat proved so poor that the TV only served up pixels of fuzz, whichever direction I pointed the aerial, and then in 2012 analogue transmissions were switched off meaning it'd never work again. The cassette player has failed too, which seems to be a common problem with cassette players decades after they were manufactured, in this case because the eject button no longer opens the deck so you can't get a tape in. The radio still functions, so if I'm ever in the spare room and want Radio 4 it'd be great, but because it can't get digital-only 6 Music I hardly ever switch it on. It is essentially now redundant and I should take it down the tip for recycling.

But the clock still works and still gets used every day because I've set it up to be visible at the end of the hallway. The red LED is particularly good at showing up in gloom and darkness, which you just don't get with modern LCD displays, and I regularly use the clock to help me time my meals correctly. I love my futuristic lump of black plastic, which almost looks as if the 1980s are yet to come, and so it survives as a cool and chunky timepiece on my chest of drawers. I'll bin my 9TC 2100 one day, but given everything it's contributed to my cultural experience it remains one of the best £129s I've ever spent.

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