Step backward, Camcorder Man: He will video anything that moves - and plenty that doesn't, writes Hester Lacey

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Indy Lifestyle Online
BEHIND Camcorder Man is a very dangerous place to stand. There was a yelp of anguish as his substantial Timberland crunched the tender instep of a bystander in the bus queue.

But he didn't notice, let alone apologise, as he lumbered backwards down the crowded pavement. Massive video machine snuggled into the crook of his neck, he was concentrating too hard on immortalising forever the moment when his family passed Marks & Spencer's in Kensington High Street.

Camcorder Man is a thriving species. Since camcorders first appeared in the shops at the end of the Eighties, the market has soared from zero to one worth pounds 470m, according to market research company Mintel. Last year was particularly successful, with a 25 per cent increase in sales. There are around 90 sleek, matt black models to choose from - nearly double the number available three years ago.

But while the machines are growing ever more sophisticated, the users, sadly, are not keeping up. The camcorder equivalent of the family photo album - full of out- of-focus holiday snaps of people with their heads cut off - is even more excruciating: a three-hour video, complete with stomach-churning zooms and fuzzy voiceover.

Cheap camcorders start at around pounds 600, top of the range can cost pounds 4,000 - so Camcorder Man takes his wife along when he makes this big investment. But Camcorder Woman is a rare creature. Research by Panasonic shows that usually only one member of the family - almost always male - actually uses the family camcorder. He is likely to be between 45 and 55, with a large disposable income to spend on hobbies. Camcorder Man subscribes to Video Camera and Camcorder User magazines, and spends his evenings in local clubs such as the Cheadle and Gatley Cine and Video Society, or the Orpington Film and Video Makers.

He will tape anything that moves - and plenty that doesn't. He has been spotted recording for posterity: a luggage carousel at Heathrow Airport; an automatic toilet; the departures board at Liverpool Street Station; a perfectly ordinary-looking and static bush; and queues anywhere.

Steve Parker, author of the Collins Camcorder Handbook, is quick to leap to Camcorder Man's defence. 'Let's be fair. Nobody sets out to make boring videos. They just don't know how to do it properly. Art is life without the boring bits - and so should videos be.'

The key is uninhibited editing. 'Editing means cutting out the boring bits - and with judicious use of the pause button you can usually find three interesting minutes in 20 minutes of bilge.'

However, to some Camcorder Men, losing even a second of their precious film would be anathema. 'It's all about atmosphere,' explained John Reynolds, from Durham, shooting in Trafalgar Square last week. He had just completed a long sweep of the grey, cloudy sky and was now concentrating on some scabby, balding pigeons. 'I shan't cut any out, because this is my holiday and if grey skies and pigeons were what I saw, well, that's the truth. I don't glamorise with any fancy chopping about.'

You've Been Framed has to shoulder some responsibility for the camcorder's soaring popularity. But Jeremy Beadle had more sense than to wade through the quarter of a million videos the TV programme has attracted to date - 'a conservative estimate,' according to Granada Television spokesman Ian Howarth.

'We got three poor buggers in a locked room with all the tapes and didn't let them out for six months,' he explained. The worst part of the experience was when the hilarious out-take never appeared. 'One woman sent in a video where she had propped her camcorder against a train window and recorded a three hour journey. And nothing happened at all.'

Beadle will be boosting Camcorder Man's output yet again in the near future. His researchers are weeding out the most successful home video spoofs - 'from movie remakes to send-ups of TV commercials'. So stand by for Spartacus re-interpreted in Camcorder Man's back garden. But Beadle has learned from experience. Maximum running time for each submission is strictly limited to two and a half minutes.

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