Mad Max – This Is Spinal Tap – tape 1240

This tape opens with the end of a programme in which Ruby Wax is in the middle of a forest with a lot of other people, finding herself. It’s called Ruby Takes a Trip.

Ruby Out of Bounds

There’s a trailer for New Season programmes including The Pall Bearer’s Revue, Red Dwarf V, Victoria Wood as Seen On TV and A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Then we have Mad Max – the original and worst. Strange for a genre series to start with something fairly poor, then produce at least two complete classics. If only Beyond Thunderdome were better than Mad Max 2, the quality would have gone up with each installment.

I wonder if I’d like this film more if Miller redid the soundtrack. The one it’s got is quite bad – ludicrously dramatic and over the top, sounding a lot like library music.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 31st December 1991 – 22:05

Afterwards there’s a trail for Booze, Barbours, Bores and Brilliance.

Then, This Is Spinal Tap. It came up earlier, on the end of a Comic Relief tape, but I didn’t really talk about it there.

This is Spinal Tap is a hugely influential comedy film. Its deadpan documentary style, while not exactly new, was so pitch perfect that many people didn’t realise they were watching a spoof. Rumour has it that many of the UK’s heavy metal bands find it very close to the bone.

It’s the kind of movie that people love with a passion, and yet it’s also one of those fragile movies that, if you sit someone down to watch it, promising the funniest film ever made, they’ll probably be underwhelmed. It’s probably best appreciated by chance discovery.

One of the things that makes it a classic is that it’s eminently quotable. There are so many lines in the movie that you can pick out and deploy in every day conversation. Even in the opening where actual director Rob Reiner plays fictional director Marty DiBergi, he talks about first hearing Tap in a club called The Electric Banana. “Don’t look for it now, it’s not there any more.” That’s not remotely a funny line, but it’s something that you can use yourself, and if your friends recognise it, you’ll get a smile. I don’t quite know what this kind of comedy is called.

Marty DiBergi

That’s not to say the opening doesn’t have jokes. “and their punctuality.” “The sights, the sounds, the smells.” and the slightly self conscious way he almost crosses his arms then thinks better of it. The film is just full of little things like that that really reward repeat viewings.

It’s also possible to spot new things even when you’ve watched it many times before, like when their manager, Ian Faith (played by Tony Hendra, who co-created Spitting Image) tells them that their Boston gig is cancelled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big college town.” No, only small schools like Harvard and MIT.

This recording was on New Year’s Eve, and the BBC handily keep you apprised of the approaching New Year in a way that’s not annoying and intrusive at all.

One Minute to 1992

And when the new year actually happens, it’s during possibly the film’s most famous scene, as Nigel Tufnel shows Marty DiBergi his amp, which has volume controls that go all the way up to eleven. “It’s one louder.”

Happy New Year

Back in the 90s, when I worked on a graphics application called ArtWorks for the Acorn Archimedes (the first computer ever to use the ARM chip, history fans) it was, for its time, very advanced. One of its (at the time) unique features was its ability to display the drawing using anti-aliasing – which made the image look at lot better by smoothing out the jaggie pixels. The program had a slider that you could use to change the level of detail drawn on screen – starting at 0 with wireframes only, going up to flat colours, then graduated fills up to (almost) full fidelity. As I used to say, when demonstrating the program at computer exhibitions, that was where most other graphics programs stopped. “But we go up to 11” which turned on the anti-aliasing to smooth out the image. It even sometimes got a laugh.

In the time since, other programs have used the same joke. BBC iPlayer’s volume control also goes up to 11.

I’m trying to identify which video game/computer Viv Savage is playing here. The game looks like a variant on Missile Command, but I can’t quite identify the machine itself.

Name that computer

Edit: Thanks to M’Colleague Sean, I now know this is a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer. This great website lists appearances of old computers in movies.

I’ve resisted the temptation to just list all the great moments in the film, as that would be a long old entry. See this film if you haven’t already. You’ll enjoy it.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 31st December 1991 – 23:35

After the film, recording switches to some entertainment news from the Channel 4 Daily, their breakfast show that preceded The Big Breakfast. Brenda Emmanus looks at the triumphant return of, wouldn’t you know it, Spinal Tap, and their new album Break Like The Wind.

After this, recording stops, and we go back to the end of the previous recording, and New Year weather. Then a trailer for Radio Days. Then Reg Sanders closes down BBC2 wishing us all a Happy New Year. He even pulls a party popper.

After this, there’s a stretch of what happened when BBC2 closed down. There’s the usual black screen, and different tones that they used to play, but then there’s some strange white noise that looks like there’s another broadcast somewhere underneath. It looks like a subtitles historical epic. Here’s some grabs. See if it’s anything recognisable.

The Perennial Flame

Guarded the spirit

The Fire will burn again

A Major Sacrifice

The Virgin's Blood

Anything suspicious

He follows the Master's Word

Bathsheba Julian

Death could be lurking

Consul Marcellus

Optimism prevails

Zenobia is convinced

Putting the names in the various subtitles leads me to believe that it’s Sign of the Gladiator from 1958, a film about which the Radio Times says “this pathetic effort is crude in every department, with wobbly sets, wonky swords and wooden acting.” Why it’s lurking in the white noise of BBC2 will remain a mystery. It’s probably a different channel’s signal coming in from a distant transmitter.



  1. Unfortunately when I saw “Mad Max” it was the AIP version which was inexplicably dubbed the original cast members. Ugh. (That never works when going from English to English, something commercials and cartoons demonstrate to this day.)

  2. I’m thinking the subtitled film might be part of an engineering test as that wouldn’t be too far away from the launch of BBC Select, which of course was scrambled. I know they did regular engineering tests overnight because Top of the Pops enthusiasts talk in hushed tones about a wiped performance of Showaddywaddy which turned up on an engineering test, presumably as part of some engineer’s personal collection.

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