'I KNOW it sounds unbelievable,' says Jim Swainwright, 'but many people's holidays are ruined by the thought that they are missing their favourite soap or serial. They haven't got the technology to copy them in their absence - let's face it, most people have barely got the technical knowledge to switch on a TV set - and so they resign themselves to missing EastEnders or Neighbours or whatever, and then they take it out on their families, and go all ratty on the evening when it's showing because they can't see it, and the holiday's ruined.'
So what people in the know do is go to Jim Swainwright and get him to video their favourite programmes in their absence, and then go away on holiday blissfully aware that on their return it will all be waiting for them. It's simple, it's seasonal, it's profitable and it is, surely, totally illegal?
'It's a very grey legal area,' says Jim Swainwright, as people tend to say when they are doing something definitely dodgy. 'You are not meant to copy videos for profit or hire. You are not meant to copy programmes off air for profit or hire. But, of course, I don't hire or sell these videos - they are given to me in a blank state by the customer and go back to him again, so I am just selling a service; the product has always belonged to the customer.'
Isn't that just playing with words?
'Yes,' agrees Jim, happily. 'Yes, what I do is not strictly kosher.'
It all started when he ran a TV repair service, and because he often had more than one VCR machine on his premises, he found he had the wherewithal to make copies of videos. People started coming to him to get him to make copies of programmes they wanted duplicated.
'It's amazing what people wanted copies of,' says Jim. 'Sometimes it would be sport, like favourite football matches or cricket matches for relatives overseas. Sometimes it would be something mildly pornographic. Sometimes it would be a mixture of the two - one bloke brought me a film that involved the most amazing sexual goings on, during a Test match, to all intents and purposes in the middle of the pitch at Lord's. I couldn't make out how they had faked that. Maybe it was for real. It was called Leg before, if you should ever come across it.'
His voice fades temporarily, in happy reminiscence.
'Anyway, then people started asking me to tape programmes straight from the TV set, and so for a small fee I agreed to do that. The work was minimal, and the investment was there already.'
Is it for reasons of absence that people ask him to tape things?
'Occasionally, people ask me to video programmes that they are ashamed of watching at home. Sometimes men ask me to tape programmes that they had sworn to their partner they were giving up. Quite innocent things, like Question Time or Match of the Day. Some women are potty about Jeremy Paxman, and tell their husbands they've given up Newsnight, but get me to tape it for them.
'Another source of demand is when people in one ITV area have missed a film going out to our area a day or two later, so they get me to tape it. But the biggest demand comes from people who go away on holiday and can't stand to miss an episode of their favourite soap.'
But surely this demand must fade away outside the holiday season?
'You have to remember that the holiday season lasts longer and longer, and that people also go away skiing in winter, and other people go on business trips, or off-season bargain breaks. Anyway, there's enough of it to give me a living.'
What happens when he is asked to make dozens of copies of one particular programme, and he hasn't got the back-up to cope?
'Well, then I ask customers to help by lending me their house keys, and I go round on the day in question and set up their VCRs. I've occasionally been stopped by the police as a suspected burglar, so now I have a signed letter from the householder, saying, 'I hereby authorise Mr Swainwright to enter my house and switch on the telly'. It got me some odd looks early on, but now the police know me.'
And what programmes does Jim miss most when he is on holiday?
'I never watch TV for pleasure, believe it or not. It's all work to me. I'm an Archers fan myself. Though it's bloody murder trying to find someone to tape it in my absence. Look, is there any chance you could record it for me next week?'Reuse content