A recent dig in the seven inch bin in Cleck Oxfam unearthed 15 flexi discs that some poor sod had carefully collated and inserted into the sleeve of a promo for the Encyclopedia Britannica. That's the Encyclopedia Britannica, which for anyone under thirty years of age was the 24 volume leather bound stripped down Wikipedia, which if you lived nowhere near a library, was what you looked in if you wanted to find out what Iceland did. That's if you could afford the six months wages that it cost to buy them. The Encyclopedia Britannica wasn’t just an encyclopedia it was furniture, an heirloom, something to look at when there wasn’t anything on the telly.
Flexi discs are a rare sight these days. Lyntone, who used to produce the vast majority of flexis in the UK shut its doors in 1991. I did hear of a pressing plant in America run by proselytizing Christians who used flexis to spread the message, but I never did find them. Apparently some people within the noise world used them, no doubt leaving many a transubstantiating God botherer wondering if he’d just screwed up the pressing.
If you ever see any flexi’s, buy them. If you see the Readers Digest flexi’s give ready money there and then and take them home where with any luck you’ll get to hear Max Bygraves tell Brian Matthews that people are fed up with rock n roll and all they want is a nice tune before playing a medley of Max tunes including the obligatory Me and My Shadow. You’ll hear Christopher Howell tell you in his ever so slightly posh, plummy RP English accent the exciting news that there’s a six LP box set of light classics awaiting you as a scratchy ten second burst of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba erupts from your farty speaker. Or you can hear Humphrey Littleton trying to be as enthusiastic as he can about yet another Glen Miller box set. And on it goes.
Readers Digest flexi’s were promo tools [RD called them ‘Audition Discs’] for their hulking box sets. These leviathans of the box set world would often run to ten LP’s. I’m guessing that most of them ended up in the chazzas because their arthritic owners could no longer pick them up. Titles like ‘Wonderland of Sound’, ‘Golden Hit Parade’, ‘Music For You’, ‘Wonderful World, Wonderful Music’ contained selections of Classical Music’s greatest hits, vast swathes of easy listening, musicals, country and western, some if not all of it performed by Percy Faith and his Orchestra whose version of ‘Please Release Me’ would accompany us on Reggie Drakes Sunday afternoon mystery tours [that’s another story].
And don’t forget to tell Readers Digest whether you want the mono or stereo version and don’t let the crackles on this flexi disc put you off as the records you’ll be getting are of a much higher fidelity.
More aromatic effluvia came in the way of a double sided Faces flexi as given away with the NME and a six inch blank faced flexi that came with 70’s Hot Car magazine. This contains a stilted, well rehearsed conversation between Murray Walker and Anthony Lanfranchi before Lanfranchi drives an F1 Car round a track telling us what gear he’s in and which corner’s coming up next.
Meanwhile back at the Encyclopedia Britannica Michael Aspel is asking Phil and Sheila Barnsby why they thought buying 24 volumes of soon to be out of date information was a good idea before setting us an exciting quiz on the b-side. The 70's really were that shit.