James May reassembles the past to hear what it sounded like as he pieces together the 195 parts of the 1963 Dansette Bermuda portable record player.
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Hello. I'm James May and this is The Reassembler,
the show where we put things back together bit by bit.
By bit. By bit.
That feels very nice.
Oh, yes. Look at that.
'It is only when these much-loved and iconic objects are laid out in
'hundreds of bits...'
Oh, man in heaven.
'..and then slowly reassembled
'that you can truly understand and appreciate how they work...'
'..and just how ingenious they are.'
It's good, isn't it?
'And, if painstakingly putting hundreds of pieces back together again...'
That's quite satisfying.
'..wasn't hard enough, I then have to hope...'
'..that they'll work.'
There's moisture on my spectacles because I started weeping.
There are two good reasons for reassembly,
one is as a form of therapy,
to exercise a part of the brain that may otherwise remain dormant,
and to use hand tools, which were the first thing is to empower us
as a human species.
The other reason is to test the popular notion that the past was somehow wonderful.
I mean, it certainly looks good
because we look at it through rose-tinted spectacles, but what did it sound like?
Well, when I finish reassembling
the 195 parts of this portable record player, we will know.
Way back in the 1940s, before the invention of colour,
being a youth and wanting to listen to music was something you could
only do when your parents put on some Vera Lynn over tea.
But, thankfully, in the early '50s,
the portable record player was popularised.
Coinciding with the advent of the 45 single,
it helped give birth to the teenager and the new revolution.
You could listen to music whenever, wherever,
as long as you were near a 240-volt power socket.
And this is the game changing Dansette Bermuda.
And we're going to start with the arm.
We will require this mysterious bracket,
that bit, which looks very familiar, some wire,
a spring... Oh, God.
A pin, and the usual smattering of screws, roll pins,
washers and what have you.
Here we go.
Now, this particular Dansette is the Bermuda and is described here on
the leaflet as a record reproducer.
How posh is that?
What's really interesting is it's from 1963,
which is the year of my birth.
So on this bench, we have three arms from 1963.
Mine and this one.
And unusually, we have an exploded diagram,
which is a rare luxury on The Reassembler.
Part number ten - bring height adjuster plate...
Well, that's wrong for a start
because ten is some sort of grub screw.
What do they think 11 is?
Tone arm, height adjuster plate.
Rubbish. 'Well, never mind.
'I know what the arm looks like.
'I've got one on my record player.'
I still own my records.
I still occasionally play them,
but it's a right bore because you put a record on and you sit down on the bean bag
and make yourself comfortable and then it's finished.
You have to get up and put another one on.
Apart from anything else, you spend so much time ministering to the
mechanisms of your automatic record player that there was no chance of
getting up to any hanky-panky or whatever it is your mum and dad were worried about.
It's probably the most effective contraceptive of the 1960s.
Unless you could manage it in the three-and-a-half minutes of a song...
Mind you, as a teenager, that was an eternity, wasn't it?
So... Anyway, I've done a bit.
I've put that in. And that is the tone arm height adjustment plate.
'The tone arm will hold a stylus,
'the point of contact between the recorded music
'and its electromagnetic reproduction.
'All of which represented a quantum leap in the consumption
'of popular music.'
The great development when I was young was the cassette player
because you could buy a blank cassette, say a C90, 90 minutes,
and then you could record your records and all your mates' records
and you could make a party mix, which was a godsend.
But you couldn't do that like a download.
You couldn't sit there and take ten seconds to download a song,
you had to do it in real-time with your fingers on the buttons of the tape recorder and the records.
You had to listen. You had to have the party by yourself before you
could then have it again with your mates.
So that clamp holds the pin.
The pin is already through the slot.
That pivots very smoothly.
You simply clip that in wherever on the spring you think is relevant.
That's the arm. It's definitely a bit of a record player, isn't it?
Now, I think, having studied the diagram,
that everything else I'm going to
do will have to take place either side of the chassis,
which is the big plate here.
I want to mount the arm on...
..this bit, which I'm going to call the tower.
That's quite a nice component.
I do need this complicated, riveted-together, little assembly.
You can only take the portable record player
as far as the extension lead will allow you, I suppose,
but the great thing about it was that the early sort of...
my grandmother's era record players, or gramophones as they were usually called,
were pieces of furniture.
And if you wanted to listen to a record,
you had to sit there while your dad smoked a pipe and your mum did a tapestry or whatever.
And that was just not very conducive to teenage revolution.
You had to wait for your parents to go out.
But once they made a portable record player,
that means you could go and hide in your bedroom with it or in the loft or the garage.
You could carry it round to your mate's house.
Before you knew it, you had punk rock,
cars were on fire in Paris and all the rest of it.
It was fantastic.
'So, I'm going to attach the housing for the mechanism
'that detects which size of record is about to play.'
History generally records that the teenager was
a bit of a '60s invention.
Didn't really exist until then.
People went to school and at the age of 14,
they instantly turned into their parents
and things like transistor radios,
portable record players, they were the beginnings of music on the move,
They're what led ultimately to things like smartphones with
MP3 files, iPods, and all the rest of it.
The CD player, the portable CD player, the Walkman cassette player,
they all made music more and more accessible in more and more places
and available ultimately on the move.
I suppose this could be seen as something of
a revolutionary artefact.
What I'm beginning to find quite remarkable about this
is that save for the electric motor
and a few little bits in the speaker,
which are electric, obviously, this is an entirely mechanical device.
And yet quite a sophisticated and clever one.
Look at that. Springs.
Back in the day, this was an expensive piece of kit.
I think, in today's money,
it would cost about the same as a really good smartphone.
Which I suppose is appropriate, except of course this only played
up to eight records.
It didn't do any of those other things.
So, it was expensive, but actually things,
despite what a lot of people tell you,
things were expensive in the olden days.
It's one of the reasons things had to be made repairable.
It wasn't a moral thing, things had to last because they were
too expensive to replace.
Because things had to last, in some ways,
that arrested progress because there was less incentive to improve them.
So, although your smartphone might only last for a year-and-a-half
before you've sat on it and snapped it in half
or dropped it down the bog or whatever,
that actually isn't such a bad thing
because the next one you get will be much better.
'I'm one hour and 50 minutes into my reassembly.
'I've done the tone arm and attached the housing for the record size
'selector. Time for some more bits.'
Anyway, the speed control knob...
We've got all sorts of interesting things to say about that.
Here's the mechanism from underneath, the little lever.
And then, this clever bit,
which allows the machine to know what size record
you've just put on it.
And that is a little finisher bit for the top of the turret.
Being from 1963, which was an excellent year...
..this record player is not only...
It's not only contemporaneous with me and my birth,
it's also from the same year as the launch of the cassette tape.
And the cassette tape, if I remember correctly,
was originally devised as a means of improving dictation machines.
Because the bigger tape would have been much clearer than those tiny
little ones that they use.
But da kids got hold of the technology and decided,
"Well, that's no good,
"it's much better for ripping off my mate's record collections."
But that's often the way.
You need sort of the imagination of youth to see
the true potential of these things.
Isn't it interesting that vinyl is actually a very long-lived format,
because CDs have come and gone whilst we still have vinyl with us.
In fact, vinyl sales are increasing again now because people like it for
nostalgic reasons, because it gives warm sound,
you can do scratching with it and so on.
Unfortunately, the 33 and a third rpm LP also gave rise
to the concept album.
So you'd get things like King Crimson's Lizard, and Genesis,
The Lamb lies Down On Broadway.
You get stuff...
Or Supper's Ready, and all that sort of goes on for a whole side
and it's just complete drivel,
a lot of old hippie nonsense about goblins and Prince Rupert and...
Anyway, this drops in here.
Ease that little spring past there.
That's the little thing that the record hits.
You imagine you've got a record that big or that big or that big,
as it goes down, it clouts that and how much it clouts it and how far
tells the mechanism underneath what size the record is and where to put
It's brilliant, really.
Now, speed control.
The speed of record, 16, 33, 45, 78.
A pleasure that we had as children
that you young people don't have with MP3 players
is you can't play music at the wrong speed, and we could.
We could put anything that was supposed to be on a 45 on 78
and any song in the charts could be performed by Pinky and Perky.
You can play them backwards and forwards,
which was what scratching is.
See, another abuse of a format leading to an artform.
It's good, isn't it? This is the Dansette Bermuda,
quite an exotic name for the '60s.
Prior to this, in the '50s,
they made things like the Major and Minor and the Auto...
the Autochange, or something like that.
And then they decided to call one the Bermuda
because people's horizons
were broadening because the people of Britain just became more worldly.
Oh, yeah, look, I didn't put that on.
I'm told this is very easy to break, so...
Isn't that nice? 1960s beige.
Yeah, the '60s and the '70s, especially, brown...
brown became very popular for kitchen units, cars, clothes.
I don't...I think...
..maybe as a sort of natural brake on our optimism
because a lot of things seemed to be good in the '70s.
We thought everything is becoming very modern and very funky but
actually it wasn't because none of it worked
and the lights kept going out,
so it was probably a government initiative to stop us getting too
carried away with the idea that everything was brilliant.
It's not bad.
But just so you don't, you know, build your hopes up too high,
it's available in the following range of colours.
I'm going to show you how this works in a minute.
I want to make sure it's together,
otherwise it'll all fall apart in my hands.
Speed control, you move the lever...
CLICK Oh, that's a nice noise.
Love it. Used all the bits up as well.
Now, we have a bit of a choice here.
We can continue by installing the motor
or we can break on through to the other side
and finish off a few bits of the mechanism which live above
the... I think the mechanism...
Let's do that. Let's get all the mechanism right and then we'll think
about power and then we'll think about sound.
To finish the mechanism, I'll need the cam and these bearings,
which allow the turntable to rotate smoothly.
We are at a point in the assembly that requires lubrication,
so grease is the word.
Here it is. It's a small amount...
A small packet of very special record player grease.
Have a bit on there, which is the pivot for the elaborate cam plate.
I need a bit more grease for the main bearing.
This is an extremely important bit.
This is where the turntable spins.
If it doesn't spin freely,
obviously your music will come out in a very wonky fashion.
And this rather delightful...
..ball bearing cage...
Right, that's the bearing on.
Now the cam plate... So, let's go...
There it is in the groove.
It's all beginning to sound like a clunky old record player,
As I move...
All sorts of amazing things going on.
Let us go to the table of componentry.
And find the motor.
So, as well as the actual motor itself, which is this big bit here,
..these screws, nuts, small washers...
All put the switch together and hold the cable in place on the chassis,
When I woke up this morning, in the morning light,
I put on my blue jeans and I had a slight sense of dread about putting
this record player together because I thought it would be an awful thing
but actually it turns out to be strangely pleasing,
as a mechanical artefact.
It's made out of actually very basic, to be honest,
quite cheap materials,
it's just bits of pressed steel, a few...
I think that's some sort of zinc alloy die-casting.
That's made out of the stuff as, you know, toy cars.
But it's actually...
It's a hopeful sort of thing.
It smacks of optimism and youth and joy.
OK, that's the motor in place.
As simple as that.
'After five hours and 38 minutes,
'or just about enough time to listen to
'Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans,
'as well as the tone arm and ejector knob,
'I've reassembled the speed control knob, the selector arm,
'the cam and bearings and the motor.
'Now, I can finally attach the arm to the chassis.'
I have to go down into the bowels of the machine.
And finally reattach the spring.
That eventually comes to rest on there and if we put that on,
we can actually...
..clip it to there, which keeps it safe.
Then, let's not worry about the wires for the motor for a moment
and let's look at the tag strip and let's accept, shall we, between us,
that it's time to do some soldering.
I've got a bit of solder on the bit.
And there you go. That's not bad.
But it's not the purest way of doing it.
The purest way is to hold the iron and the wire onto the tag
and then apply a blob of solder so that it flows around.
The problem with that obviously is you need three arms.
And that's something you'll hear people saying about soldering
all the time. To do it properly, you need three arms.
Beautiful. I think that deserves a swig of tea.
'And on that note, I'm going back to the table.'
Two self tappers...
And we need the grill itself and the baffle plate, backing plate
..the cabinet of the beast.
'All I have to do now is attach a few wood screws and it'll start to
'look like a 1963 Dansette Bermuda.'
Look, there is its face.
And I've got to be honest, having not seen that for a long time,
I was instantly transported back to a world
of the Electric Light Orchestra, and I wish it hadn't happened.
Maybe the ritual of picking stuff up off a table can expunge
my Jeff Lynne flashback.
I'll get some more screws and the mercifully preassembled
amplifier and speaker bundle.
What a shocking mess.
What is all this stuff?
So now, inside the box,
we've got all the really untidy messy electrical stuff.
There's the amplifier,
there's the pots for the little control panel at the front.
I didn't solder it all together
because the crew refused to tolerate that.
I could do it but you wouldn't be able to see it so what would be
the point? And anyway, that's pretty much how it would have come
at the time.
That would have arrived as a preassembled unit.
It would be easy to assume that all this electrical stuff is the brains
of the Dansette, but actually, I don't think they are.
This is fairly simple electronics.
I think the brain of the Dansette is a mechanical brain.
It's all that stuff going on underneath the chassis,
underneath the turntable.
That's where it's impressive, I think.
This stuff in here, this is just electrics rubbish.
That's the speaker in.
And I can still remember LP records...
They were old records when I was a kid so they were probably records
that belonged to my mum and dad,
but people were so excited about the idea of stereophonic sound
that you'd have a record with somebody quite well known on it,
like the Berlin Philharmoniker, with Herbert von Karajan,
but the biggest word on the cover was "stereo".
Herbert von Karajan plays Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, STEREO!
These are the transit screws and clips.
Those hold the record deck steady
while you are walking along with it as a handbag.
That's the arm, that is the turntable.
That's a really exciting bit.
There's a little flat on the shaft,
there's a little flat inside the knob and it should just push on...
The flat on that one is on the bottom.
There's the flat.
There you go.
Ooh, what a nice click.
That's the sound of old hi-fi.
Good, OK. That's us done for the moment with the case.
Put the turntable on, so I need the big circlip.
The turntable, this is quite an important moment, I suppose.
It's not a record player, really,
until we've got this on.
That will slide over there and engage with the teeth
on the cam wheel.
That's become a record player now.
I mean, all the record player really is
is something going round and round
but there's a lot of extra stuff to turn it into
an automatic record player.
A straightforward record player that simply played a record,
you could pretty much make yourself, if you had some means of power,
even if it was only a treadle.
You could make the record go round and round
and if you had a sharp pointy bit of metal and a paper cone
to make a crude amplifier,
you could work out what was on a record.
I mean, if you think about the first records,
the very first records were...
..really the opposite of the process by which a record is played.
That is, when the record is played,
the groove sets up a vibration in the needle,
in the very tip of the needle,
which is amplified electronically and then comes out of a speaker or
originally came acoustically out of a speaker,
like on an old wind-up 78 gramophone.
But the original records were made the other way round.
The sound went into a big trumpet and the needle vibrated and cut
the groove. So the groove was the literal impression of the air
on the surface of the record.
It was the vibrations of the air,
which is all that sound is, made visible.
If you looked at them under a powerful magnifying glass,
you'd have said, "That's what Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
"looks like," and you'd be looking at sound.
That's quite an interesting thought, isn't it?
This is clever.
This used to fascinate me when I was a kid.
Record sits on there,
machine knows when it's time for the record to drop down.
It only drops one record down, doesn't it?
How does it know?
I do have a dim memory of occasionally
no record coming down...
..and occasionally two dropping down,
which meant that, if you were lucky,
you could entirely miss Mr Blue Sky.
I've been reassembling this record player
for seven hours and 23 minutes.
I've assembled the chassis and cabinet
and installed the amplifier and speaker.
I've got a bit more soldering to do,
then it'll be a bona fide tool of teenage rebellion.
So, anything else I need to do inside there?
Yes, there is. Of course, there is.
How foolish of me. We need to put the single valve into the amplifier.
Now, we're going to instigate a long discussion
by any hi-fi enthusiasts watching about whether...
NASAL ACCENT: ..valves actually give a warmer sound than modern electronics.
Maybe they do.
I don't know. They are very fragile.
And they are enormous.
Now, this thing that looks a bit like Skylab
is a valve and it does the job
that would soon be done by transistors,
the small components that did so much to make radios smaller,
and those are enormous by modern standards
because that job is now done by a microscopic speck
on a circuit board in a chip.
And I seem to remember somebody very old saying that you should never
really touch these with your fingers because the grease from your fingers
can cause a hot spot to develop on the glass,
which can cause them to fail, so, just in case that is true,
I shall polish it up and hold it with a piece of paper.
It will only go in one way
because of the arrangement of the pins on the end.
..there's this little springy clip...
That goes over the end...
to hold that in place. Had I broken that doing that,
which is very easy to do because it's only made of glass,
the programme would have been over.
Electricity is dull and it doesn't really exist, remember.
We've been into this.
You just have to believe it.
And it will work.
It's like Indiana Jones stepping out onto that bridge that isn't there
in The Last Crusade.
He has to believe it's there and it is.
If he'd been a doubter...
..it wouldn't have been there.
God, that takes me back.
That was your iPod,
your MP3 player...
..if you were a youth in the '50s and '60s.
This is an extremely high-quality, French flick screwdriver.
RATCHET MECHANISM CLICKS
Ladies, if you're watching this thinking,
"Hm, my husband/ boyfriend would probably like one of those
for Christmas," you're right.
Do we like that?
'Feels to me like it's time to put the lid on.'
Now, putting the lid on will make this...
actually not quite a complete record player because there's no stylus in
it and, let's be honest,
it's not a record player until it plays a record.
We don't know if it's going to do that until the very end.
There was a bit of a debate amongst the crew earlier on about what it
was that made this truly portable.
Was it the advent of a universal mains plug,
was it that it was compact?
And then Dan the sound man pointed out that it's
because it's got a handle on it.
He might have a point.
Right, that's the last of those.
It's still not quite a record player
because it doesn't have a stylus in it
and it doesn't have a record on it.
We shall sort that out and then it's party time.
Don't need my little pot for this bit.
What I'm actually taking here is the cartridge,
the whole assembly is the cartridge,
the stylus is just the little pointy needle bit
right in the very end of it.
The stylus is really...
a diamond tip.
We used to get very excited about it when I was a kid because it says...
Like it says here, in fact, "fitted with genuine diamond stylus".
And we thought, "Wow! That's amazing.
"Must be worth a fortune."
But, of course, it's a chip of industrial diamond
which is worth very little.
This is an exciting moment.
There you go. That's all 195 components back together.
It looks like a record player.
Does it sound like one?
Shall we listen to a record?
'Over the course of the last eight hours and 46 minutes,
'I've seen a collection of disparate components gradually coalesce into
'something more than the sum of its parts,
'an enabler of romance, independence and sedition.
'But that's all nonsense if it won't play a record,
'and I've got just the record to rekindle the fire of youth
'in your belly.'
Right, you're going to like this.
This is a real classic.
That's an old, familiar feeling.
Right, are you ready?
MUSIC: No Limited by 2 Unlimited
# No no No no no no
# No no no no
# No no There's no limit... #
RECORD CONTINUES SHAKILY
Back in the 1950s listening to music meant sitting around with your mum and dad and having to listen to whatever drivel they wanted, but thankfully along came the portable record player, which helped gave birth to the teenager and a magical music revolution.
James May reassembles the past to hear what it sounded like as he pieces together the 195 parts of the game-changing 1963 Dansette Bermuda portable record player.
James reminisces about his teenage years and what it was like growing up in the 1970s as he takes us on a journey through sound and mechanical wonderment. James falls in love with the beautiful mechanisms that lie in the belly of the beast, finds the perfect solution to his soldering dilemma and has a rather exciting new screwdriver to show us.