Tomorrow's World - The Jam Spreading Myth
Everybody in the UK remembers how they saw the BBC technology programme Tomorrow's World demonstrating this new audio technology called Compact Disc and showed how durable it was by spreading jam on a disc then wiping it clean and playing without any problems. Except, everybody remembers it wrong. A clip from the programme on my YouTube channel is available at http://youtu.be/bMp1pSVxoqw but I've also embedded it below:
Tommorow's World - Compact Disc
It can be clearly seen that the presenter, Kieran Prendiville, takes a stone and scratches the playing surface to show how tough the disc is. In reality even a fingerprint can stop a disc from playing properly, so the scratches would have effected the playback of the disc, but he didn't put the same disc into a player.
What confuses people is that when Compact Discs were introduced, there was many programmes demonstrating them, and breakfast television was no exception. One presenter was sitting down and used the items on the table to show how tough the discs were. As it was breakfast, he used honey and spread it on the disc. Getting a clip from Breakfast TV back then is very hard, but luckily an extract of it was shown on Stephen's Fry's 100 Greatest Gadgets, a more recent programme describing lots of different bits of technology and gadgets. The clip (also on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/fiOFOJWtyGs, but embedded below) shows DJ Mike Read talking about compact disc and then shows a small part of the honey demonstration.
Stephen Fry's 100 Greatest Gadgets - Compact Disc
Who knows who started this urban myth, but a lot of people repeated it, without checking the facts. Quite a few websites get it wrong, like:
Get Into This
Unless you took those early stories on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World or such like literally (see below) and tested your CDs by spreading jam on them, then (if they haven’t been abused over the years) they should all play exactly as well as they did when they were first bought.
The page then links to the honey clip, but not to the Tommorrow's world clip, that would prove they were wrong! The site is not technically saying that Tomorrow's World spread jam on a disc, but its certainly implying it.
The first time many of us will have seen the shiny little five inch disc was on Tomorrow's World, a year before the format's launch, when Kieran Prendiville spread strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD and told us all that it would still play. It didn't. But, despite its aversion to fruit spread, it went on to become pretty much the most successful music format the world has ever seen.
Not only did it get it wrong about the spreading of jam, but also said the disc didn't play. He used a different disc in each of the players, which were safely in their cases before he put them in the players.
But for many of a certain age, the first exposure to CD would have come when BBC popular science programme Tomorrow's World previewed the format. Who can forget Kieran Prendiville spreading jam on a test-pressing of a Bee Gees disc?
I can't forget Kieran spreading jam because he didn't spread any jam!
Jase Bell wrote in August 18 2009:
When I was eight years old I watched Kieran Prendiville on Tomorrow's World spread strawberry jam on to a Bee Gee's CD (depending on your taste it may be the best use of jam seen on national TV).
Sorry Jase, but you were completely wrong, even though you were eight at the time.
Lauren Kreisler writes:
In October 1982, the very first compact disc (as developed by Philips) rolled off the presses.
However, the first time the UK public clapped eyes on the shiny little five inch disc was on Tomorrow’s World, a year before the format’s launch, when Kieran Prendiville spread strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD and told us all that it would still play. It didn’t. But, despite its aversion to fruit spread, it went on to become pretty much the most successful music format the world has ever seen.
Now that quote looks suspiciously like the one on the Huffington Post website, which is wrong. Lauren obviously doesn't check her sources or write her own material.
The Great Bear
Since the early marketing of the compact disc in the 80’s by spreading jam on it to highlight it’s resilience compared to vinyl or tape many of us have been taken in by this and have a skewed belief on the longevity of CD and DVD optical media.
Honey, yes, jam, no.
Now famous TV footage shows the first CD’s available being heralded as so indestructible that you could spread jam on them. Marketed as a way of playing music with a previously unheard of clarity and the fact they – apparently – couldn’t be damaged. The invention of the CD in 1980 by the joint efforts of Sony and Phillips meant that the days of buying vinyl were very quickly numbered.
The site doesn't actually link to any famous TV Footage, as it would proved what they wrote was wrong.
The Tomorrow's World team grasped the terrifying modernity of the near future and shook it until the screws came loose. It ran from 1965-2003 but found its time had come in the 80s with the dizzying advances in technology (compact discs – so miraculous, they work even if you spread jam on them).
This was a gallery of images, but the byline to the picture of the Tomorrow's World team was not right.
An article by Hannah Hope and Warren Manger on 3 May 2017:
Irish-educated Kieran is best remembered on the show as the man who demonstrated the indestructibility of the compact disc by smearing strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD.
They describe what all the previous presenters of the show are doing now as the BBC are using the Tomorrow's World name for a series of science programmes, but again wrongly say Kieran used strawberry jam.
Do You Remember?
Michael Johnson writes:
Most Famously they were the first programme to outline The compact disc and player (1981). They focussed on how indestructible the CD’s were by the presenter of the time spreading strawberry Jam onto a BeeGee’s CD. A nice bit of surrealism there.
Michael gets his punctuation wrong (CDs is plural, CD's is possessive) and his surrealism wrong.
Wired For Sound
Unfortunately, even books get it wrong. While I searched online I came across a book called "Wired for Sound: Now That's What I Call An Eighties Music Childhood" by Tom Bromley, published in June 2012. Going through the text I came across this little paragraph:
For me, in the eighties, the CD was something I watched excitable Tomorrow's World presenters spread jam on to to prove its indestructibility.
I'm not sure what programme Tom was watching, but it wasn't Tomorrow's World.
Our mechanical friends seemed to have a particular grudge against the presenter Kieran Prendiville, who worked on the show during the early Eighties. Today, he is best remembered as the man who demonstrated the indestructibility of the compact disc by smearing strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD, which, you may well think, was the best thing for it.
It's odd that so many newspapers get it wrong and no one writing these articles bother to check the facts are correct. I know my clip on YouTube provides the evidence and many of the articles were written before I uploaded it, but they're still wrong.
Charie Sorrel writes:
When the Compact Disc was first introduced, it promised perfect sound on a near indestructible platter. My introduction was from the the excellent weekly BBC science show, Tomorrow’s World, where a breathless Judith Hann famously spread jam onto a CD, wiped it clean and popped it inside Sony’s monster player. The sound was apparently amazing, or "just like the musicians are in the room".
Now, of course, we know that a single fingerprint will cause your CD player to skip like a boxer on steroids, and that vinyl will probably outlast the CD. This TV spot was most notable (if I remember correctly) for the Sony-provided gorilla standing to one side, there to guard the valuable machine as if it were a Fabergé Egg.
Wow, Kieran has changed sex and morphed into Judith Hann. Then he spread the fictitious jam, cleans it off and plays the disc in a Sony CD player. Watch the clip above and it shows Kieran place three copies of the CD into three different players (with the manufacturer's name covered with tape). The first is a Technics SL-P10 and the last is a prototype by Sony called the Goronta, whihc never went into production. There is no Sony-provided Gorilla, but Charlie could be getting confused with the demonstration in 1992 by Kate Bellingham of Sony's prototype MiniDisc player, which was held by a Sony representative called Eric. Still no Judith though!
Prompt The Crowd
Hazel Butters writes on Nov 6, 2013:
I clearly remember watching BBC prime time science and technology show 'Tomorrow’s World' back in 1981 when we were all told that compact discs would be the answer to all our digital storage needs, that they would last forever, and that (for some reason) spreading jam on a Bee Gees CD and flinging it about proved that this new format was practically indestructible.
Hazel's memory isn't what it used to be as there's no jam and certainly no flinging it about.
An article by Adam Bunker dated December 28, 2015:
In order to prove the CD's worth and resilience, the show's presenters did the logical thing: smeared one with jam. Beats listening to Dire Straits.
It might beat listening to Dire Straits, Adam, but it didn't happen.
Into their shoes leapt ever more whimsical turns. Peter McCann was another presenter of the droll variety, ever ready to make the leap from Wollardian knitted-brow earnestness to gurning mock despair at the drop of a jam-smeared compact disc.
Despite a detailed description of the programme through the years and all of the presenters, Peter didn't show the compact disc, Kieran did, and it wasn't jam-smeared either.
Some Got It Right
I did manage to find two websites that got it right, though.
Rhodri Marsden writes on Saturday 1 March 2014 :
A segment on BBC show Tomorrow's World presented by Kieran Prendiville was partly responsible; he was shown scraping and scratching a Bee Gees CD to demonstrate its resilience, although folklore states that he coated it with strawberry jam. Neither Prendiville nor co-host Maggie Philbin remembers any jam; just Kieran's sceptical pondering over whether it would catch on.
Completely correct, and also checked with two of the presenters.
Every Record Tells A Story
Have you ever spread jam on a CD? No. me neither. And yet *this* was the big selling point when the introduction of the CD was announced on TV in the seventies, as if everyone was going around spilling marmalade over records whilst tucking into the breakfast egg and toast. You could spread jam on CDs and they would still play, we were told.
Or were we? If you ask people of a certain age in the U.K. plenty will swear blind that they remember just a few things from their childhood vividly, including perhaps where they were when Kennedy was shot, the dry summer of ’76, Live Aid, and the moment when Judith Hanna spread strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD, in an attempt, presumably, to make it less sugary.
I remember it well. At least I thought I did.
Imagine my surprise when I learned it is an urban myth. It’s as real as that story about Marc Almond. Or, as this is 2017 and we’re all very angry with each other, it’s FAKE NEWS.
Here’s The Tomorrow’s World introduction, where the presenter actually scrapes the CD with a stone...
Then Steve links to the Tommorrow's World clip. He then adds one more line:
And here’s the clip we are mis-remembering where a presenter spreads honey and spills coffee over a CD.
He then links to the honey clip, before continuing his article.
Now I haven't bothered to mention any of the many forums that get it wrong, like DigitalSpy or Harbeth User Group. The latter quotes Wikipedia, which was also wrong, so I logged in to correct it and also mentioned in on the Talk page for Tomorrow's World, under Compact Disc. At the time of writing the Wikipedia page is correct, as long as someone who believes in the myth doesn't log in and change it back!