The smallest television show on earth
Lawrence Lettice on the remarkable success of the Talking Pictures channel
Over the last 18 months, when many of our normal activities have been curtailed, some of us have enjoyed the simpler things in life.
Time to take a calm, deep breath, smell the flowers (and the coffee) and glance back fondly to a very different time and place. As well as wallow in the wax and wane of nostalgia for the past. When life seemingly existed only in crisp black and white.
So, while the pandemic hit all households with little mercy, forcing lockdowns and severely limiting contact with loved ones – out of nowhere a modest family run television channel rode to the rescue.
Never heard of it? Well, that channel is called Talking Pictures. Run from what looks suspiciously like a garden shed by father and daughter Noel & Sarah Cronin, its primary aim is to resurrect and rescreen hundreds of feature films, television shows and documentaries that have long lain dormant, whilst inevitably gathering dust and the rust of neglect. Due to the majority of film cans and reels originating mainly from the 1930s up until the 1980s.
In fact, one of the great delights and pleasures of the channel lies in rediscovering lost gems from the rich tradition of British cinema. Films that due to their monochrome camera work appear to have been cruelly discarded by both mainstream and satellite channels.
In fact, during a brief interview, Sarah Cronin described the overall appeal of their channel as being like a warm blanket of nostalgia for their regular fans.
Certainly its growing popularity has been a godsend for those elderly television viewers stuck indoors for what seemed like an eternity, helping to bring a little joy and fun amidst the doom and gloom.
Yet it’s not only the over 50’s who have gloried in these movies and shows from a bygone era, it has also managed to attract a younger audience as well.
Perhaps those looking for something a little bit different and unfamiliar than that provided by the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
One strong aspect of the channel’s output that caught my immediate attention has been the screenings of a rich vein of British comedy, filled with so many familiar and reliable faces.
When you take away the Ealing classics, the Carry-On series, the Doctor films and someone like say Norman Wisdom, you are still left with dozens of eccentric madcap comedies that were seemingly churned out on a celluloid conveyor belt, by the likes of Pinewood studios.
Of course, due to their vintage, the majority of them have undoubtedly dated and perhaps have limited appeal to a modern audience. Yet, conversely, they offer up a glowingly warm and innocent backwards glance (or snapshot) into a past world with no pretensions to ultra-seriousness. Instead focusing on wackily eccentric characterisations and situations.
Plus, you cannot ignore the fact that the majority of these films gave untold employment opportunities to a whole roster of comic actors, who would crop up time and time again in film after film – providing endless laughs and entertainment along the way.
So, what would British comedy films of that specific, defining, era be without the likes of: Joan Hickson, Lionel Jeffries, Joyce Grenfell, Joan Sims, Esme Cannon, Liz Fraser, Irene Handle, Derek Francis, Stanley Holloway, Cecil Parker, Dennis Price, Peggy Mount and Dora Bryan. Not forgetting, of course, the inimitable and ubiquitous Sidney James?
Far poorer, I would say. Admittedly, not all of the channel’s comedies can be counted as genuine classics (very few, if truth be told) but they brought (and continue to do so) great pleasure and enjoyment, during these Covid times.
You could also say that the continuing love and affection for Talking Pictures’ mission statement, mirrors the plot of one of the most popular films they regularly screen, The Smallest Show On Earth…
Which plays out the story of a humble family run business, which has a genuine love of its product, that goes on to match and then supersede their bigger and more multi-corporate rivals.
A text book example of how enthusiasm, experience and knowing the market and their audience can overcome all critics and naysayers, while providing the public with what they want during these unprecedented times.
In other words, real warmth, charm, laughter, and uncomplicated entertainment by the bucket load!
Through their humble efforts, they have managed to resurrect and restore many films, shorts and documentaries that have lain hidden and undisturbed for decades.
Bringing them once again to our screens for nostalgia lovers – and possibly brand new audiences – to enjoy.
Perhaps a film/documentary could be made about this enterprising family firm at some future date?
How about Channelling the Past as a potential title? They certainly deserve every plaudit going for their enthusiastic efforts in keeping us entertained during a very dark time.
The film features regularly on the Talking Pictures TV channel, mirroring their ‘seemingly’ amateur business model