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Yesterday’s presents

"Tomorrow's World" gave us the gift of boldness.

There’s a scary reminder of Christmas past lurking in the BBC Archive. A young and polite me, with a bad haircut, is enthusiastically demonstrating fermentation kits for home-made gin and tonic, saying: “There could be an answer to off-licence prices: why not make it yourself?” Welcome to Tomorrow’s World, Christmas 1982.

The programme also heralds the arrival of musical Christmas cards (“It’s catching on so fast, they’re thinking of introducing the concept for other occasions”) and abseiling kits in briefcases for “globe-trotting executives cut off by fire”, and it is well worth watching for the “revolution” in computer design that comes 14 minutes in.

This was one of my very first appearances on TW, which I had joined in November. Unusually, the whole of the show was prerecorded, which takes the edge off some of the demos: sadly, you know they’re all going to work.

It started me thinking about the TWpredictions over the years, and I asked my Twitter followers which of them they’d want in their stockings: the fishing rod that lights up in the dark, the washing line that sings in the rain, or even the electric blanket that “knows where your hot bits are”.

Don’t be tempted by the heated ski poles (curls of smoke visible by the end of the item) or the ironing board that doubles up as a rowing machine or the dress that really is a tent. You know they’ll end up in the back of the cupboard.

As Steven Hill suggested, choose the CD player, ignoring Kieran Prendiville’s overcautious “whether this replaces vinyl remains to be seen”. It might not totally replace vinyl but it’ll give it a very good run for its money. Trust me, we never claimed you could spread jam on it. Honest.

Take me seriously when I talk about digital pictures, even if a leap of faith is required. “They’re still working on the camera, but the manufacturers have found a way of storing a whole roll of transparencies on this tiny disc.” As Professor Alan Woodward said, “I gotta get me one.”

I handled many a must-have Christmas present 20 years before it ever appeared in the shops. I’m sure you’ll not be rushing out to buy a computer to sit in the boot of your car to help you get from Crowthorne to Windsor, but it was the grandparent of satnav, powering one of the early car navigation systems.

Super sub

It was exciting to handle and report on those early prototypes. Some were hair-raising. I never want to go in a one-man submarine ever again and if you have a ski trip planned for after Christmas, I hope you don’t get rescued by the system I road-tested (or flight-tested) in 1986. Think greenhouse frame suspended by a cable from a helicopter, into which you clamber from a cable car before being dangled over the Alps holding on to a waist-high metal bar.

Sometimes I really coveted the technology. Like James Williams, I wanted one of the sleek, flatscreen TVs you’d be able to hang on your wall like a picture, though I couldn’t believe I’d ever be able to afford one. And HD looked promising, even in 1986.

Although many of our “gifts to the future” did materialise – from mobile phones to the Channel Tunnel, from the internet to selffeeding pet bowls – I’m aware in some respects we let you down. Where are the verti-ports across London? What happened to electrically heated wall paint?

The best present TW gave us was the gift of boldness. Brave thinking. From Concorde’s first flight to the first suspenderless stocking. From the first plastic aortas to the first home computer to the first cloned sheep. As @scaryduck tweeted: “I wanted EVERYTHING that appeared on TWin early 1980s. I don’t think there’s a Xmas stocking big enough.” That is . . . until now.

Maggie Philbin is a BBC journalist and chief executive of TeenTech

This article first appeared in the 24 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Brian Cox and Robin Ince guest edit