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Talking Pictures: The oldies channel drawing new viewers in their droves during lockdown

The archive and nostalgia channel is seeing a surge in popularity

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Liza Minnelli in Cabaret

Liza Minnelli in Cabaret

Liza Minnelli in Cabaret

EVEN the darkest cloud can have a silver lining for someone. In a small but heartening piece of news, archive and nostalgia channel Talking Pictures TV is enjoying a well-deserved surge in popularity during the lockdown.

Since the pandemic took hold, TPTV — which specialises in showcasing old, often obscure and forgotten films, mixed with some bigger, more famous titles, vintage TV series, rare shorts, documentaries from the BFI and a wide assortment of rarely-seen curiosities — has witnessed a sharp rise in its viewing figures.

Its weekly audience in Britain has jumped to 3.5 million, a 75pc rise on 2019.

Since the channel started broadcasting five years ago, its core audience has been older to elderly people, who might be retired or even housebound. But with so many of us now stuck at home, TPTV is being discovered by viewers of all ages.

Three-and-a-half million people tuning in every week might be small potatoes for one of the big broadcasters, but it’s an extraordinary figure for a tiny, family-owned channel that’s run by just three people — Sarah Cronin-Stanley, her husband Neill and Sarah’s father Noel Cronin, a film distributor who started his career working in The Rank Organisation’s post room six decades ago — from an ordinary house in a village near Watford.

In the 1990s, Noel Cronin noticed, to his dismay, that the main UK channels had all but given up showing the black-and-white films from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s that many of us had first seen — and fallen in love with — on late-night screenings on BBC2 or Channel 4. Huge chunks of important film history were being forgotten.

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Laurel and Hardy, seen here in their Oscar-winning short The Music Box, drew a whole new generation of appreciative viewers when Talking Pictures TV aired a season of their films in 2018

Laurel and Hardy, seen here in their Oscar-winning short The Music Box, drew a whole new generation of appreciative viewers when Talking Pictures TV aired a season of their films in 2018

Laurel and Hardy, seen here in their Oscar-winning short The Music Box, drew a whole new generation of appreciative viewers when Talking Pictures TV aired a season of their films in 2018

When Cronin, who’d been buying up the rights to black-and-white films for years, couldn’t interest the British channels in his catalogue, the idea for Talking Pictures TV was hatched. I’ve been an unashamed TPTV evangelist from the start. There’s no other channel with such an eclectic collection.

Among the countless treasures you’ll stumble across are ‘60s kitchen-sink classics A Taste of Honey, Billy Liar and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; gritty ‘50s thrillers Hell Drivers, Hell is a City (both starring Stanley Baker) and The Frightened City (featuring a pre-Bond Sean Connery), and Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 horror classic Night of the Demon.

Two years ago, TPTV had a Laurel and Hardy season, which brought the great duo back to television for the first time since the 1980s, delighting a whole new generation.

The past is not all black-and-white either. TPTV has shown a string of ‘70s films, including the Oscar-winning Cabaret, the nifty Alistair Maclean thriller Fear is the Key (starring a pre-Petrocelli Barry Newman and Ben Kingsley before he was Gandhi), and the spooky The Legend of Hell House.

This week’s offerings included Nicolas Roeg’s glittering cult sci-fi classic The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie in his first film role, and Roger Corman’s best film, the ‘60s Poe adaptation The Masque of the Red Death, featuring a gloriously nasty performance by Vincent Price as a prince holed up in his castle with his decadent friends, while a plague ravages the population. Good timing, then.

If Cronin originally set out to preserve film history, he’s ended up doing the same for television. TPTV’s line-up has expanded to include classic ITV drama series from the ‘60s, ‘70 and 80s, including Gideon’s Way, Public Eye, Callan, Danger UXB, Rumpole of the Bailey, Widows and Reilly, Ace of Spies.

It’s currently showing the original Van Der Valk, which is far better than the recent remake, and last night started screening the 1979 Quatermass mini-series with John Mills.

It’s wonderful that this hidden gem of a channel is no longer quite so hidden. May it continue to sparkle long after lockdown ends.

Talking Pictures TV is on Sky only (channel 328)

Herald