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{{VHS-collection 4 for rejected tapes}

<Normally I love to work at the BBC Archives, but during the last week I have really come to despise my job. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the idea of working at a place there my knowledge about old TV-shows actually is of any practical use. The archive does however also contain documents of the most deep-seated depravity on the planet and things that shouldn’t even be on this planet but yet are. So which types of archival material that exists in the BBC Archives can really be so terrible that you despite your interest doesn’t want to work there anymore, I can hear about three fifths of the readers of this post thinking right now. Is it graphic news clips, weird cartoons from eastern Europe with the most horrible dubs you can think of or some grainy footage in some homemade video from the nineties? When I proposed that I myself would take on the task of looking through the contents of an obscure VHS-collection somewhere deep into one of the archive’s long lines of archival shelves to my boss Friday last week I thought this exact same thing. I’m used to grainy visuals, horrible audio and despite me being a Millennial I’m not a slightest bit oversensitive. The hesitance the older archivists expressed about getting this assignment during the morning meeting was therefore unexplainable for me at that point. Maybe they were the sensitive ones, I proudly thought when I made the offer to check through all the content in the VHS-collection and got a “Yes” for my suggestion from my boss. When the meeting was finished, I went down from the office to the proper archival parts of the archives I had learnt to know and love so much during the last months with my colleague Cassandra Poliakoff. *

The archive is the home of many archived TV-shows which I loved as a child, and among them is the relatively obscure nineties children’s cartoon Christopher Crocodile. As a sidenote I also want to admit that I have a habit of smuggling out episodes of this show from the archive and let my nephew watch it together with me. And to my sister’s great and hilarious annoyance is he exactly as fond of the cartoon as I was as a six-year-old. There were quite some expectations in my head right when I went down to the archive that I would find a similar kids-show in the collection that I could smuggle out to my nephew. While Cassandra and I went down to the archive’s vault for VHS-tapes my satisfaction with my job were therefore unusually high, but my colleague did instead look strangely worried. When I asked her what the matter with her was, she just answered “I looked through some of the video-tapes for some years ago, and you will definitively soon understand why I and the other archivists doesn’t want to make a complete description of the content in the collection”. Down in the archive there was an old TV-set with a VHS-player standing not too far from the shelves themselves. I then looked my note which contained the information about what collection would have its’ content described by me and saw that it was collection 4 on the VHS-shelf. It was not at all a large collection; it did only contain seven boxes and they all combined did only have video-tapes with the registration numbers 010175-0001 to 310106-0007. As I took down all of the boxes from their shelf Cassandra told me that “If you can’t stand watching all of it, just go to the poster vault. I will work with a project about an eventual deforesting of our poster collection, so you if you need it, I will always be there for you.”. Despite me getting a bit irritated of her apparently talking down on me like at a child, I went directly to the VHS-player with my laptop in my knee so I could finally start my work on the project.

The shelf in question was specifically dedicated to video tapes which was not sent in by any of the larger media producers in the country. Tapes could for example be from small journalistic news agencies or even private citizens from all over Britain and the rest of the world. As I looked through the first box in the collection, I directly saw that many of the cassettes were placed in the completely wrong box. Together with the tapes from 1975 and 1980 you could for example find a number of cassettes from the 90s and even the 2000s. This terrible sorting was in stark contrast to the professional placing of archival material which otherwise was the norm on the BBC Archives, and I therefore wondered if any other archivist had really looked through the collection since the collection were put here. The first tape I put in the VHS-player was a cheap dub of a Czechoslovak cartoon that apparently was about two little blackbirds. But since the visuals were so grainy it could as well have been about two magpies, and since the voice quality was so bad (about 10 percent of it was even comprehensible) did the dialogue give no clue. One could easily understand why this video-tape was rejected, and therefore was it natural for me to write in the digital register that this was a broken tape. The following five tapes were also low-quality recordings of probably homemade dubs of obscure cartoons from Eastern Europe like Professor Balthasar and Ersatz, and therefore all of these ended up with the “broken tape” category of metadata. But the next tape, which was also the last in the box, was however not a cartoon. It was instead a collection of recordings of newsreels which was all about a great theft from Victoria and Albert museum during the autumn of 1978. Apparently had ten pots made of Ming-dynasty china been stolen by someone that the police expected was one of the museum’s employees. The tape was rather unremarkable except from one moment there an old woman in a green coat that was in the background of the policemen’s discussion pointed directly towards the camera. But that happened early during the tape’s run-time, so therefore it quickly left my attention. The last tape in the box did only feature static with some random footage from some Frank Zappa concert. This was also the last tape I watched during this working day, so at this point were my thoughts also centred more on what I should do when I was home again then about that short fourth-wall break in the second last video I saw.

During the morning next work-day Cassandra asked me “Are you sure you still want to continue with the VHS-project?”. Naturally I just told her “Why would I not want to continue my work? It’s not like any of the tapes contained any graphic content or something!”. Cassandra then answered me with this sentence; “Well, it will soon be more graphic, and then you will understand exactly what I’m talking about.”. But then I just said “Please, I have already seen virtually every single video nasty which was on the lists during the Thatcher era, so what can really be so horrible in the collection” and went straight down to the archive again. Now it was time to look through the content of the box with video cassettes from the years 1981-1985. The first tape seamed to be a pilot of a series called “In a castle in Burgundy” and its plot centred around a dramatized story about the hundred years war. Duke Philip, the main character of the show, had apparently lost his gold to a French king and it was therefore his and some other knight´s mission to steal this gold back. The budget had to have been extremely high, because the quality of the scenery had the quality one could expect from a high-profile eighties Hollywood movie. Only in the episode’s last scene I got a clue about why the series had not been shown on the BBC. It was during a battle between the French king on one side and duke Philip and one “king Henry of England” when the aforementioned main character suddenly died from an arrow fired from the direction of the camera angle. But instead of a cheesy death scene like one could expect in a half-serious series like this it was a both gory and traumatic experience to watch. Duke Philip moaned in front of the camera for almost five minutes before he fell silent with his seemingly closest man, baron Loupmont, on his side. But directly when this strange scene was over, I suddenly saw the baron pointing towards the camera as if it was I who had shot the arrow. After this the episode just ended without even any end credits showing up. The rest of the tapes in this box did however only contain cheesy eighties cartoons and newsreels about mundane subjects, so it didn’t take long for me to recover from all this.

During Wednesday the same week was it time to dive into the content of the box with videotapes from 1986 to 1990. Even here did the cassettes with only one exception contain only the most harmless and ordinary material one could imagine. It was newsreels, political debates, cheap cartoons and footage from different sports events. But one videotape touched completely unexpected events for both the time period and the themes of the overall content in the collection so far. According to the title card and the subtitles of the video it was some strange combination of a documentary and a newsreel about the Chinese cultural revolution during 1966, and the overall quality of the visuals also suggested that it was filmed around this year. It all started with some kids in green uniforms storming into a classroom somewhere in rural China and surrounded what appeared to be their teacher. She was a young woman, only about two or three years older than me, and the subtitles revealed her to be in great distress. The teacher repeatedly told the children that her father had fought in the red army during the civil war and that this meant she wasn’t a daughter to a “reactionary”. But the children did obviously not listen and just screamed things like “capitalist”, “Kuomintang-supporter” and “Western spy” and soon started to pull in the poor woman’s hair. They then dragged her into an old temple which was decorated with red banners with yellow Chinese characters. The floor inside the temple was full of shards of what seamed to be a combination of broken glass and the now smashed ceramic statues which had previously stood in the centre of it. When the children had dragged her into this former house of worship, they forced the weeping teacher to kneel upon this shard covered floor. All this as the cameraman seamed to be in the crowd that did this atrocity, and I therefore wondered if this was some kind of private snuff-film made by some of the red guards. Because no one could reasonably think this was good propaganda for any political aim, no matter how evil this aim would be. But before any more torture of the poor woman happened, I once again saw a finger pointing towards me. This time it was a boy who couldn’t be more then twelve years old, and he pointed at me for three whole minutes before the recording just stopped. In this moment I naturally felt a bit creeped out and confused about this returning feature in the collection. “Could it really be a coincidence that random people in the videos pointed towards the camera in the videos?” I thought during the whole evening. But during the next morning I decided it was my duty to look through the whole collection regardless of how disturbing the content was. Because if I couldn’t continue working on this project it would be likely that no one else on the archive could.

And this day it really got more disturbing with one of the videotapes. I was at this point looking through the content of the box with tapes from 1991-1995. Every tape in the box had harmless content except for one who had the title “39th Action” and the year 1994 written on it. Once again it started with looking like an unfinished homemade video documentary, and this time was the subject Neo-Nazism. The first forty-five minutes did just contain footage from rallies where people were screaming at each other, but this format then ended abruptly. Instead did the recording show a grey cellar room where an old man sat alone bound to a chair. Then did a masked figure come and held a large and broad dagger to his neck. The context now made it clear that I was now witnessing a Neo Nazi snuff-film, and in this moment, I was close to fainting because of the realisation of what was likely to happen with the old man. But just in this second did again a figure show up that pointed at the camera. This time it was yet another masked figure who pointed at me, and in the background, one could hear the poor man screaming for his life without seeing anything of this.  The video only ended when he didn’t scream anymore. Naturally I went to Cassandra directly after this and told her that I had to stop working on this project. Since it wasn’t in her authority to get someone else working with this part of the archive we had to go up and talk with our boss, Simon Chamberlain, to get this through. He firstly seemed positive to or offer to let one of my colleagues take over the task, but when Simon heard how far I had come he suddenly started to insist that it was me who had to finish the project. When we then asked him why someone else couldn’t take over the register that I had written he just said that “You will understand why soon, or do you want to get fired this early in your employment?”. To avoid getting fired I therefore went down to the archive again to watch the content of the rest of the videotapes in the box that covered the period 1991-1995. Luckily for me was the content of all these tapes harmless things like cheaply made cartoons.

Next day also had a calm start. The 1996-2000-box did for example have many weird but, in my situation, calming videos which I recognised from YouTube. Among these was one I knew under the name “Pink Morning Cartoon”, which contained strange and grainy visuals combined with the equally strange song “Everything coming up spring”. Despite how many people on the Internet who thinks this cartoon is creepy this was still a nice sight for me since I had endured snuff-films and the most bewildering fourth wall-breaks I could imagine. So, when I later during this day first looked at the videotapes in the box covering the years 2001 to 2006, I had essentially regained the will to complete this project. Because what things could possibly be in this last box in the video collection which was worse than what I had already witnessed?

All of these videotapes were also completely harmless except for the last one. This had the strange title “Metareal Trial 19930123”. “Is this some art film or what?” I thought while I put this last tape in the video recorder. But when I saw the title card my face went marble white because of the surprise. The text was red and read “Thomas Ashbury Born on the 23 of January 1993 Crimes; Art theft, Torture and 2 Murders”. This was my name and birth year, so I naturally thought this was some kind of strange prank made by someone else on the archive. But before I had even come up with a proposal about who did it in my mind, I suddenly saw my own face on the screen. It was clearly full of fear when I saw it, and after some second it became obvious that this perfect copy of myself sat in a gigantic pillared hall I had definitively no recollection being in. Then the camera shifted towards a judge's desk, and there sat a large man with red hair and a moustache and a white wig. No one else seamed to be present in this courtroom, so when the judge spoke it echoed. He said “I am Brandon FitzGerald, supreme judge in the eighth section of the Metareal justice system.”. The copy of me when talked with a terrified voice; “What’s the eighth section of the Metareal justice system and what am I accused of?”. Supreme judge FitzGerald then said without even a trace of compassion precent; “Don’t play innocent, everyone on this plane knows exactly what you have done! One theft of Ming dynasty china from Victoria and Albert Museum, one murder of an actor in the cancelled tv series “In a castle in Burgundy”, one act of participation in a severe case of aggravated assault in Maoist China and a combined hate crime and murder motivated by Neo-Nazi ideology.”. My clone now moaned and said with an increasingly pathetic voice “But I was only a bystander in all those cases, the pointing people has to have lied to you!”. The judge however just shrugged this of and told me and my copy that “If you were innocent, you would never have entered this Metareal plane. And you can’t just defend your actions with claiming that you don’t know the laws of Metareality, because like it says in its twelfth paragraph it applies for everyone who enters this plane of existence regardless of if the person in question knows them or not. I therefore sentence you to death by decapitation!”. My clone was now fixed it its position like a statue, and at this moment a new person entered the courtroom from seemingly nowhere. It was a man completely dressed in tight black clothing with a porcelain pot in his hand. He firstly went to the judge’s desk and smashed it, and when this was done, he grabbed a shard and ran directly towards the copy of me. He when drew it like a knife on the neck of the clone. The blood sprayed in a way that could only be compared to water in a fountain, and the man didn’t stop to cut through the neck until the head of the clone fell down on the marble floor. In this moment I started suddenly to scream uncontrollably, but in just a second the screen cut to black and the video was unambiguously over.

With the laptop in my hand, I then ran straight up to the office, still screaming, until I had arrived to the place where my boss desk was. I directly told him everything about the content of the last video tape and then proposed that the whole collection or at least this specific videotape had to be destroyed. But with only calm in my boss’ face and voice I only got the response “Finally, an employee that got the Metareal trial-tape as the last tape in the collection. Of some magical reason it’s changes its position for every single one who looks through the collection, and everyone else on this archive have gotten it much earlier during the registration process. Your wage will therefore be raised with several thousand pounds.”. When I asked him what the “Metareal” was he finally gave an explanation about the true nature of the collection. The Metareality is apparently a metaphysical realm of self-conscious fiction which is possibly the source of many of mankind’s mythologies. It can change itself to fit the mindset of its observers, and sometimes it can find its way into the hands of normal people. VHS collection 4 for rejected tapes have for a long time been known to contain some videotapes with direct connection to the Metareal plane. Since beings from this metaphysical realm has a tendency to act aggressively towards outsiders no one on the archive had previously managed to look through the entirety of the collection. But since I had now practically finished the registration of its content the entrances to the Metareal had apparently been mapped out. My boss also insisted that the archive according to the law had an obligation to map and preserve these entrances, so I didn’t get the permission to destroy any of the videotapes in the collection. So now when I’m filling in the last details in the register, I hope that no one will ever get the idea to search after something in this collection.

  • None of the names given here are of course real to avoid me or anyone of my colleagues getting into trouble.>

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