The ambitious but under-achieving softcore video magazine series featuring Keith Allen.
Given the number of things you could choose from – awful football songs and novelty records, appalling and self-aggrandising documentary films, fathering Lily Allen for crying our loud – you might be hard-pressed to work out what Keith Allen’s lowest point was. But amongst everything that he’s done, one project seems pushed to the sidelines, forgotten and unspoken of. Red Tape International doesn’t even appear on his IMDb credits, but in 1981 – while his alternative comedy colleagues were starting to tear up the rule books and push aside the sexist old bores of the past, Allen was hosting this softcore video magazine series. Given that the Comic Strip started life in a Soho strip club, perhaps that only seemed logical – and certainly explains how he came to the attention of the producers – but nevertheless, it’s hardly the right-on sort of thing that his associates would approve of.
Red Tape International existed for one reason: Electric Blue had shown that there was a market for a videotape version of the top shelf men’s magazine, and just as Playboy and Penthouse had spawned rival publications like Mayfair and Knave, creating a flourishing industry that could seemingly support no end of titles, so logic suggested that there would be room for several Electric Blue copycats. As it was, the ‘magazine on video’ format tanked rather quickly, and not just for soft porn producers – strangely, even though it was something that felt familiar from television magazine shows – perhaps because of that – no one really wanted a similar thing on tape, even if the content was something that you’d never see on your TV. Several titles – Mirage, Park Avenue, Top Secret and the notorious Private Spy came and went within a couple of editions, even as Electric Blue somehow went from strength to strength, quickly becoming number one in a field of one. Only the established print magazines like Playboy and Penthouse could offer any competition, and even they tended to steer clear of the same format on tape that they used in print.
Red Tape seemed the most ambitious of the pretenders – it definitely pitched itself as the upmarket alternative, mixing softcore strip and glamour sections with stuff on hang gliding and Star Trek outtakes – along with Allen’s insufferable interjections. Videotape was not print, of course – with a magazine, you can flick through to your favourite bits, read it in non-linear fashion or just skip the articles and, God forbid, get your jollies with the photo spreads of naked girls. On tape, you were obliged to fast forward, which isn’t as user-friendly – especially as many 1981 VCRs didn’t have remote controls. No one wanted to be cranking one out only to suddenly have Keith Allen’s gurning face pop up.
Still, Red Tape Productions and their distributor Carnaby Video – one of the first big names of the business, and one of the first to fold – pushed the series hard, with full-page magazine ads across both porn and mainstream video titles, and quickly cranked out three volumes, as well as another title, Channel X. But sales were low and last-minute efforts to revive the format – no Allen, no hang gliding – came too late. The series came to a sudden end.
The series is now almost forgotten. To the surprise of no one – and, perhaps, the relief of Keith Allen – no one seems to have bothered digitising the tapes – too tame for the adult tube sites, too sexy for YouTube and too unmemorable for anyone to even notice the absence of, the tapes have sunk into obscurity. It’s possible that copies are even now gathering dust in long-forgotten VHS collections, though more likely that most copies ended up as landfill. Only the opening title sequence seems to have been preserved.