Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Talking Pictures TV

The journalist breed – by its very nature – is customarily glued to its news and current affairs channels and programmes: the hard glare of the studio lights on Cabinet members and their Shadows; the latest parliamentary vote (following the previous week’s parliamentary vote) on the EU Withdrawal deal; the whole ebb, flow – and even, momentum – of politics.

But occasionally, the scribes and sentinels of the CIoJ may wish to escape the portcullis, and head to that part of the TV ether known as Talking Pictures – the freeview channel (yes, fellow journalist – free!) which specialises in quality entertainment from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s – not forgetting a golden era of British TV, the 1970s. The 1980s is also occasionally represented – does anyone remember the excellent series Hannay in which Robert Powell’s character pits his wits against the fiendish Prussian spy (you know the actor – the chap who went on to be a snarling presence in Albert Square, although without the Prussian accent). I digress…

Talking Pictures TV presents itself in the manner of a cinema screening. When you take your place in your favourite armchair, your modern screen suddenly becomes an old-fashioned cinema… Quintessentially 1950s jaunty announcement music plays, and archive scenes are played of picturegoers of the era excitedly taking their places in seats and queues – and even buying ice-creams. The message – “Now showing” – appears, and you settle down for your favourite old film or programme, not to mention the item that brings back a flood of memories from long ago.

Does anyone remember the Thames Television ‘ident’ of the 1970s, or the newscaster, Gordon Honeycombe? Or what about Leo McKern as the Fleet Street veteran in The Day the Earth Caught Fire, perspiring even more in his Daily Express office as the planet slowly changes course toward the sun (the fiery solar giant ball, rather than the paper) following a 1960s’ atomic test?

Grand finale

And then you find – again from the treasure-chest of the 1960s – The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, or Thirty Minute Theatre, or Michael Caine and Omar Sharif in a plague-devastated Europe of the Thirty Years’ War (The Last Valley, 1971), before ending up for the grand finale to your evening with The Admirable Crichton … or more of Kenneth More in Genevieve.

So many names from the past flick before your eyes on Talking Pictures: John Gregson in Gideon’s Way, with guest appearances by Anton Rodgers; Jack Warner and John Slater in the old pre-Eastenders East End; or the young Joan Collins, ice-cold Sylvia Syms and Deborah Kerr – radiant and unchanging in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Then there is Michael Gough, a fine character actor – he played (among many other roles) the modern artist in the Hammer classic, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, who gets his revenge on art critic Christopher Lee? Gough appeared again recently in an Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre play, as an MP who enjoyed the good life but made many speeches about Africa and equality, before falling prey to a blackmail plot. Entitled Game for Three Losers (1965), the hour-long story was hugely compelling. In fact, I was sorry when Game for Three Losers ended. But it did remind me that my duty as a journalist finally called: I had to get back to the BBC Parliament channel, for the latest from the House of Commons.

Stuart Millson