IT is the family TV channel that brings many old films and series back to the screen – and whose viewers include the Queen.
Talking Pictures TV is also one of the few channels that will pick up the phone for the public, answering questions about times and even helping callers use their Sky remotes.
But despite now having a loyal following, the channel’s founders fought hard to get it off the ground in 2015.
Talking Pictures arrives at the Regent Center in Christchurch the weekend of July 16-17 for a weekend of screenings and appearances. Stars such as Sarah Miles, Martin Clunes, Melvyn Hayes and Derren Nesbitt are due to speak to hosts Mike Read and Caroline Munro.
Visiting the city before the event, general manager Sarah Cronin-Stanley had been a labor of love for her father, Noel Cronin.
“One of the things when we started the channel was to save these movies from obscurity because most of them were in archives or worse, completely lost. It was a chance to bring in some familiar names to a new audience and to come back to an audience that knew them,” she said.
The channel’s schedules are dominated by films over half a century old, with a high proportion of British films, many of which will originally have played the lower half of a double bill.
His most popular TV series, meanwhile, include Rumpole of the Bailey, Secret Army, The Saints, Maigret and Van der Valk.
Mr. Cronin is a former film editor who worked for the Central Information Office. He bought the rights to many vintage movies, then licensed them to mainstream TV, before launching the Renown Pictures DVD label.
“My dad was a collector and bought a lot of films in the 1950s and 1960s. He was very smart because he knew people would want to see those films,” Ms Cronin-Stanley said.
Launching an entire channel devoted to vintage entertainment, however, was not easy. “None of the banks would lend us money,” she said.
Mr. Cronin even encountered skepticism from movie studios that he needed to add content to the titles he already owned.
“Noel was going up to them saying ‘We’d like to allow X’ and they were like ‘Are you serious? ‘” the general manager said.
“Two and a half years later, the studios were coming back to him saying, ‘Would you still like that one?'”
Accessing people’s screens wasn’t easy either. “You have to broker deals with each platform and convince them why they want you — and pay them big bucks for that privilege,” she added.
Nonetheless, the channel took off, growing its audience to five million unique viewers per week and spawning an online catch-up service, Talking Pictures TV Encore.
Its viewers are said to include the Queen, who was bad at Christmas 2016 and reportedly had a servant switch on the channel for a season of Laurel and Hardy films.
Mr. Cronin personally plans the content, deciding what suits the time slot. “It shows all the movies and I think that’s one of the main things that sets us apart from other channels,” Ms Stanley-Cronin said.
The channel has a “very weak repeat pattern,” she said. “Our films only show twice in four months.”
But the success of Talking Pictures has awakened other channels to the value of older material, she said. The channel does not own the exclusive rights to some of its content – and it has seen some of its films appear on other people’s schedules between its own showings.
Viewership figures have increased dramatically during the pandemic, at the same time as ad revenue has plummeted. But the ads are coming back as the Covid situation eases.
‘Cruises are back, shows are back – (theater producer) Bill Kenwright is a big supporter of ours – vacations are back, day trips are back,’ says Ms Stanley- Cronine.
There are plenty of young people in the audience – not least for the horror and sci-fi content that Caroline Munro presents on the channel’s Friday night Cellar Club strand. But inevitably, a large part of the audience is older.
“I love it when people say ‘That’s where we first met, we went on a date to see that movie,'” Ms Cronin-Stanley said.
“We get a lot of letters from dementia carers saying ‘We can’t tell you what it means to them to sit there and be transported back to a time when they were young’.”
• A Weekend by the Sea with Talking Pictures takes place on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 July, from 10.30am to 7pm, at the Regent Centre, with tickets £30 for a day and £50 for the weekend. Details are on renownfilms.co.uk
The channel is on Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media.