T.P.

Yes, enjoying Talking Pictures thanks very much. First heard about this new free cable channel when at the conference in London the other week. It’s up past Film4 so I might never have clicked onto it if I hadn’t had reason to suspect its presence. It arrived with no publicity, like a B-picture in the night.

But it’s not a B-picture channel — the real attraction is the quota quickies. The schedule is simply stuffed with British obscurities. We watched MRS. PYM OF SCOTLAND YARD (1940) which stars Mary Clare from ON THE NIGHT OF THE FIRE though sadly she doesn’t play her smart female detective the way she did her crazy street person in that film (“Ah-ahh-aaahhh-I’m gonna SCREAM!!!”). The plot involves a phony medium and murder by vacuum cleaner. It also features a nubile Irene Handle. 29 years old. You ain’t never had no Irene like that. And Nigel Patrick, doing his fast-talking thing that he did.

On first discovering the channel I set my box to record highlights of the next week’s airings, and a couple of days later we started watching. I think we watched five films. “They’re going to find us covered in cobwebs,” said Fiona.

Fiona got sucked into A TOUCH OF LOVE, a thick slice of Margaret Drabble from 1969 with Sandy Dennis doing an excellent English accent. She was waiting to see a nubile Ian McKellen, and by the time he turned up as a randy TV presenter, she had to know what happened next, a problem few seem to have had back in the day. Waris Hussein, an interesting guy with an interesting career, sadly does not look to be actually an interesting director on the basis of this one. Eleanor Bron cemented the sense of middle-class ennui, if one can cement a sense, and if anyone can it’s Eleanor.

There was a short consisting of Algernon Blackwood clubbishly narrating his worst ever story to, persistently, the wrong camera — I was in heaven. There was BITTER HARVEST, which I’d actually heard of and wanted to see — a 1963 adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. God it was dreadful. In fairness, Peter Graham Scott directed with expressive gusto (usually misplace) and you could see they were trying to make a Bardot out of the perky Janet Munro, which could have worked if they hadn’t converted Hamilton’s low-key melancholy into a prurient-yet-moralising Road to Ruin farrago. Alan Badel was supposed to turn up as a smutty toff, so I had to watch, but we got a framed picture of him in scene one and then he didn’t appear in person until about ten minutes from the end. As with the Drabble, the terrible title should have been a warning.

Best of this batch was probably COSH BOY (known in America as THE SLASHER) , a 1953 juvie crime epic directed by Lewis Gilbert. The violence is nearly all off-camera. James Kenney is impressively loathsome, except a bit of charm or enjoyable menace might have made the thing more watchable. It’s like having Andy Robinson’s Scorpio killer as your lead character, although the movie keeps backing away from having anyone badly hurt. It promises mayhem and then in the next scene it’ll turn out that, oh, that night watchman was only slightly injured by the bullet to the chest. It’s like the padre scene of IF…. going on forever. Kenney does do some Oscar-worthy snivelling when his comeuppance is to hand, and we get a fair amount of screen time devoted to a teenage Joan Collins, talking in her natural cock-er-knee accent.

COSH BOY backwards is pronounced YOB SHOCK.

Be sure to watch this channel if you have it. I don’t know if their business model — showing mostly forgotten rubbish — is really workable, but I sure hope so. You also get Chaplins, Wylers, Laurel & Hardys and Ken Russells thrown into the mix, so it’s not like it’s all just impressive for its obscurity. But the stuff that’s got me gripped is that dredged from the murky sumps of British cinema. I guess I’m just born bad — with a talent for trouble! Seeking sensations at any cost!

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14 Responses to “T.P.”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    Might be interesting to know whether they’re simply snapping up cheap (or free?) stuff, or it’s all from the library of a single Ted Turner wannabe.

    Back in the day of a handful of cable channels, our local system had a “Classic Movie Channel” that appeared to be entirely public domain films, plus alleged orphans (“It’s a Wonderful Life” ran nonstop on Christmas until Republic marshaled its lawyers).

    There was even a daily “Cartoon Carnival”, mixing tiresome dawn-of-sound unknowns with wildly non-kid-friendly student and foreign shorts, probably because they found prints and figured the owners would never know.

    All in faded color or dupe-of-a-dupe B&W. No on-air hosts or even announcer voices, as if the operators were afraid of being caught.

    The channel went away, but dodgy video bargain labels took up the slack, pirating criminally bad transfers from each other. I now have shelves of beautifully restored stuff, but a blurry, all-light-grays “Terror by Night” evokes personal memories of sitting up and messing with the antenna in pre-cable, pre-video days.

  2. Charlie Cockey Says:

    “Algernon Blackwood clubbishly narrating his worst ever story to, persistently, the wrong camera” ….

    Does it get any better than that? Or, or that matter, worse?

  3. There’s an article about them in the October issue of Sight & Sound – it says that they’ve acquired the broadcasting rights for Laurel and Hardy’s 30s features from the Hal Roach Studios, but that ‘much of the 24-hour roster is dictated by the large cache of films the Cronins [the family behind TP] own rights to, the legacy of more than 25 years spent running the independent production company Renown Pictures, and Noel’s work throughout the 1970s as head of UK film distributor Dandelion’. It sounds like they’re actively pursuing other collections/titles. I’ll have to take a proper look at the schedule and set the recorder going!

  4. Matthew Davis Says:

    Talking Pictures is run by Renown Pictures whose model before the TV channel was selling DVDs of British B films (hoorah for Peter Vaughn in Smokescreen), and unregarded American TV series from the 50s and 60s. In the first few months besides broadcasting their own stock they made up weight on the schedule with public domain film, but over the last year or so they’ve been gradually buying in better older films from other companies, presumably because other channels in the UK don’t care to broadcast them. The likes of Danny Baker, Mark Gatiss and Vic Reeves have all gone on record and on twitter to promote their favourites, Radio Times regularly picks Talking Pictures for their best films of the day, and there was an article in one of the tabloids that the Queen was a big fan (!) I assume Talking Pictures has some commercial model because they’re showing much better adverts than when it first started and the really fuzzy picture quality has somewhat improved.

    Bitter Harvest (same producers as Sporting Life) does at least have a few scenes with Thora Hird in an enormous four-poster bed and Vanda Godsell and Norman Bird as publicans, but one can’t help but feel that the scriptwriter Ted Willis’s sympathies are with the dull ordinary everyman boyfriend. It’s a kind of forgotten predecessor of all those mid-60s girl goes down to swinging London films and the blandishments of media commercialism (Darling, Swinging Time, etc). The first 5 minutes suggest that Peter Graham Scott (The Night Creatures, Children of the Stones) may have watched Peeping Tom.

  5. Bitter Harvest’s urban night scenes have the same exciting, saturated quality as those in Sapphire. Despite its compromises it’s worth a look. Focussing on John Stride’s luckless bartender would have brought it more into line with the book.

    I’m very happy this channel has arrived and wish it well. More curation might be needed — some way of pointing the casual viewer at the real classics, while assuming that the dedicated film nerds like me can find our own way around.

    Hope they acquire the L&H shorts next — and get more bandwidth, as that is still an issue. Watching Janet Munro disintegrate into her constituent pixels whenever the camera pans is only thrilling for half an hour or so.

  6. I’m a recent convert to Talking Pictures TV having read the S&S article about them. Highlights so far have been The Party’s Over, a 1965 oddity with Oliver Reed and Cross-Roads, a 1955 short with an early appearance by Christopher Lee. They also showed Jack Clayton’s The Innocents last week. Their month-ahead online schedule is here: http://talkingpicturestv.co.uk/schedule/

  7. They’re definitely a bright new hope on the TV schedules, especially now that Film4 has become so pointless. I think I have Cross-Roads recorded…

  8. They’ve been broadcasting for over two years, so they have legs. Hopefully they’re not over-stretching with the signing of new broadcasting rights and availability on more platforms. I wish them every success as I think they are the best film channel around at the moment, and delighted to see them getting more exposure in Radio Times and S & S.

  9. I can’t believe I’ve had this channel for that long without knowing it — when did they first appear on Virgin cable?

  10. David Lawrence Says:

    June 1st of this year ( I think they started on Sky only). I’ve seen lots of films I’ve been meaning to get to for years (VILLAIN, DEAD OF NIGHT) and some I perhaps should have left in my imagination (lots of the Crown pictures catalogue..). I’m loving the current Laurel & Hardy prominence; they have been missing from our screens for far too long.

  11. Note that the picture quality is, in my view, much better on Freeview than cable/satellite (I also have it on Sky which looks very compressed). I’ve also caught up with quite a lot of films over the last two years thanks to TPTV including Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, the 1932 Most Dangerous Game, John Ford’s The Hurricane, Carnival of Souls, noirs such as Scarlet Street and Too Late for Tears, lots of 60s british movies such as Beat Girl and The Party’s Over, a set of early 60s dubbed Italian films such as Boccaccio ’70 as well as all the British “B”s. The only thing I would change is the quaint “Hovis”-like music that precedes and follows every film and the 1940s BBC Light program style announcer. Their main audience can’t be that old! I also wish them every success.

  12. Well, the dubbed Italians seem to have vanished, and a good thing too, but I would welcome more subtitoled foreign stuff.

    I think, for the sake of having a clear brand, the idea of basically a 24-hr movie matinee makes sense, wih the British movies at the core and cheap but fun US stuff for variety.

    I don’t think there’s any merit in showing saucy British sex comedies late at night, because they’re all appalling.

  13. The Italians actually return tonight with Ettore Scola’s “A Special Day”. Presumably it will be dubbed but, I understand, that Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni did it themselves, so it should be worth a watch. Note also that the rather good “Strongroom” is on tomorrow.

  14. I’ve recorded Strongroom. Sounds good.

    There are often multiple dubs floating about, so you won’t know if it’s MM and SL’s voices until you hear them, I guess. Of course, Loren was dubbed in all her early Italian films…

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