“It’s a fine line between forgetting history and learning from it.” Sarah Cronin-Stanley, Talking Pictures TV
Fanatical about film is an understatement when describing the team behind a TV channel showing older, often forgotten movies. Run by a father and daughter from their garden office in Hertfordshire, Talking Pictures TV has garnered a devoted following of film fans, now numbering six million viewers a week. In a world where media conglomerates dominate global viewing, this is impressive stuff.
Talking Pictures specialises in British films and TV series which have gone unseen for decades. So, what’s the modern-day appeal? Managing director Sarah Cronin-Stanley has found that film fans of all ages, frustrated by current cinema closures, tune in to discover the joy of classics from the past.
“Although our target audience is 65-plus, we’ve noticed on social media that the films we show are now attracting a much younger following and it’s certainly being reflected in the viewing figures. Many watch for the fashion and the cars or to see a different UK to the one they now know.”
Another factor in the success of Talking Pictures TV is the team’s dedication to delivering the personal touch to its viewers.
“People will call for a chat about the film they’ve just watched or a synopsis of the next film coming up,” says Cronin-Stanley. “There isn’t another channel in the universe that has such a close, one-to-one relationship with its audience and I love that. Although it’s hard to respond to everyone being just a three-person team.”
The team consists of Cronin-Stanley, her Dad, Noel Cronin, and her husband Neil. “Due to his many years in the film industry, Dad’s in charge of buying and licensing films and TV series, searching through old and private archives. He also writes out the programme schedule by hand each day and I think it comes across that he really puts his heart into it. He’s 73, still works every day and I’d be lost without him.”
She adds: “His encyclopedic knowledge of films is unreal. You can ask the vaguest question like ‘what was that film so and so did?’ and he’ll know exactly who made the picture, who directed it and how much it cost. He’s now writing a book about how he ended up being Mr Talking Pictures TV.”
It’s clear that a love for film has been passed from father to daughter.
“I’ve always been passionate about older films” she admits. “That may seem unusual for someone younger perhaps, but I grew up in a house full of film cans with movie stars like Norman Wisdom popping in to make a film. A strange and magical upbringing.”
Cronin-Stanley’s father began investing his knowledge and passion for all things celluloid long before the TV station launched. “Many years ago, Dad saw the value in acquiring the rights to British B movies and began collecting all these archive classics. We became the main supplier of black and white matinee pictures to the big terrestrial channels.
“We created our own DVD label specialising in putting these films out. We knew there was a big market for them and realised it would be a wasted opportunity not to tap into the audience who want to watch a good film they wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else. That’s when we came up with Talking Pictures TV.”
It feels like half the world hosts its own podcasts these days. They can be tricky to set up but are a doddle compared to the hurdles to overcome when getting your own TV channel together.
“We took our idea everywhere and spoke to all the big TV companies and broadcasters,” says Cronin-Stanley. “They all said we were mad. No one wanted to lend us the money to self-finance. Thankfully, we eventually managed to do it ourselves and our six million viewers have proven that our hunch was right.”
Other challenges faced when trying to get the channel onto the network included buying a slot from someone leaving the platform, obtaining a broadcast licence and finding a company to transmit. The TP team did have one big factor in their favour, however.
“The only reason we could do it was because we already had a library of films that we owned the rights to,” says Cronin-Stanley. “We didn’t have to buy in programming because we had content ready to broadcast. If we’d had to start from scratch we’d still be working out how to do it now.”
She adds: “When you broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it eats content. If we even repeat something twice a year, we get people commenting on it, so we also had to start the tricky process of licensing content. Some of the best British films are owned by big American majors and it took a lot of time to convince them we were worth investigating and digging stuff out of their deepest archives for. Now we regularly work with ITV, Studio Canal and the majors like Paramount, Columbia and Sony.”
Nostalgia has always had big business potential and, in this troubling year, it’s become more comforting than ever. This is something that is regularly confirmed to Cronin-Stanley in audience feedback.
“We don’t play news and we take people back to a time that makes viewers feel comfortable. Our demographic don’t always want to hear about what’s going on in the world these days, preferring to be charmed by huge stars film stars from the past like Stanley Baker or John Gregson. Our audience loves to recall their childhoods and the era when you could park your car anywhere you liked. It’s also lovely to be able to remind people of our big British stars and the great careers they had.”
One unavoidable factor of re-showing movies from yesteryear is that they can reflect attitudes and opinions which belong firmly in the past. Disclaimers are always screened before potentially divisive content is shown. Is there anything that Cronin-Stanley couldn’t or wouldn’t transmit?
“People have to watch things in the context in which they were made and what was going on in history at the time. Some things can be problematic, but it’s a fine line between forgetting history and learning from it. A lot is down to my interpretation of whether I think someone might be offended, but ultimately we have to abide by the broadcasting code set by Ofcom.”
She continues: “We play films that have language and words used from the time and there’s always going to be someone outraged by a remark, but we get more complaints when we make an edit because we legally have to than when we play it as is.”
Frustratingly, as viewing figures increased due to lockdown, advertising revenue fell for the same reason.
“It has been absolute hell,” Cronin-Stanley admits. “We are a free TV station in order to reach the people who can’t afford to watch these films any other way. Our typical type of advertiser like cruise and insurance companies pulled their ads overnight. Dormeo Mattresses had to pull out as a sponsor because they couldn’t make their products during the pandemic. Transmission costs don’t stop just because you can’t get your revenue in and we still have the same bills to cover.”
Nevertheless, as well as bringing old classics back to the screen, Cronin-Stanley and the team are also enjoying creating original shows.
“We’ve started tracking down some of the stars in the films we show that are still with us,” she explains. “It’s great to honour them and pay tribute. They talk about their careers and it’s magical being able to go round to these legends’ houses for a chat. And it’s fantastic to hear fans talk about these great legends. I love that we’re reintroducing the likes of Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Dandy Nicholls to a much younger age group. The British Film Industry of the 40s, 50s and 60s had such good stars and was a cracking period for film.”
Current entertainment figures are also huge fans of the channel and its output.
“Sir Tim Rice tweets about us,” Cronin-Stanley reveals. “Mark Gatiss is also a big fan and Vic Reeves even called up to ask what he could do to help. People are amazed that the whole operation is just a dad and his daughter in their garden reaching six million people per week. National Geographic can’t even do that.”
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