Now that everybody who appears on TV is trapped in a little Zoom box, buffeted by watery, gurgling wifi connections, an uneasy uniformity has been established. We have realised that even incredibly famous and important people have shit spare rooms, unattractive soft furnishings and children who barge in unannounced. And no matter how you try to spin it, there’s just no way to hide the fact that every human being on Earth looks like a jacket potato in a front-facing camera.
It’s never been so obvious that television is just smoke, decent lighting and mirrors, which seems like a good time to talk about Talking Pictures TV. Occupying a space in the netherworld of Freeview between the OH REALLY? channel and Now That’s What I Call Six Hours of Rick Astley TV, Talking Pictures has been quietly showing mostly classic British films interspersed with a hell of a lot of mattress adverts since 2015. It’s become a favourite among cult film connoisseurs, pensioners and cultural icons such as Brian Blessed, who apparently once wrote them a fan letter. Even the Queen loves it. And what’s even more wonderful is that it’s entirely run by a 72-year-old film buff called Noel Cronin (with help from his daughter and son-in-law) from his garden shed in Hertfordshire.
If you’ve ever stumbled across Talking Pictures TV, you’ll be transported back to a time when people leaned against sideboards smoking pipes, drank tea with lots of sugar, drove cars with running boards and said things like ‘Oh Archie, not now pet, wait ’til we’re married.’ Grit, glamour and Capstan full strength abound, alongside a sea of long-dead faces that’ll send you down a Google wormhole for days. ‘Ooh look, it’s Irene Handl!’ you’ll shout excitedly, to nobody.
Incredibly, everything that’s shown on the channel is part of Noel’s personal archive, which he started building up in the Sixties and Seventies by buying up the rights to films and TV shows that were languishing in obscurity. They include British B-movies featuring Diana Dors on a bicycle, American screwball comedies, detective dramas and classics like Billy Liar, His Girl Friday and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
But sadly, Talking Pictures TV is under threat because it relies on advertising to survive – and memory foam and cruise ship holidays have been taking a battering during the current crisis. So if you’ve got a few mattresses to shift, please give Noel a call, won’t you? Let’s not let this thing of the past become a thing of the past. Because we’re all in our sheds now, just trying to get by. And what better way to spend lockdown than wallowing in a bit of nostalgia, back when people could leave their houses, stand less than two metres apart and go down the Locarno on a Saturday night with Julie Christie?