Thursday, 28 May 2020

Talking Pictures celebrates its fifth birthday



Inside Talking Pictures, the ultimate in lock-down comfort TV

Five years ago on Tuesday saw the launch in the UK of the best TV channel to hit terrestrial television in ages, one that makes all this Freeview business worthwhile and which should be on the radar of every self-respecting vintage film buff - Talking Pictures TV.

I remember thinking when Talking Pictures was first launched in 2015 what a splendid and long-overdue idea it was and I am delighted to see how it has gone from strength to strength in the intervening time period.  What makes it even more remarkable, as the excellent Observer article explains, is that it is all run by a family of four from a house on the outskirts of Watford!  Proof that you don't need a massive budget or have to jump through loads of hoops (except maybe to placate Ofcom when it comes to the old chestnut of historic cultural norms on film) to run a successful TV station.  It is wonderful to note the obvious enthusiasm and experience running through the whole enterprise, which no doubt contributes in no small part to its success, and I am particularly pleased to read of another new Laurel & Hardy fan in the making!

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Talking Picture TV founders Neill Cronin and Sarah Cronin-Stanley

There really is something for everyone on this channel, from obscure 1930s British B-movies to classic but long-forgotten 1970s TV dramas.  Tie-ups with the Imperial War Museum have resulted in showings of some enthralling public information films and period docudramas and people even send in old home cine footage from the 1950s and beyond, to be given a whole new lease of life.  More modern but no less pertinent stuff also frequently gets an airing - TPTV recently showed the 2016 documentary film The Man Who Gave A Damn, about the life of Leslie Howard, which I had long been wanting to see.  They even sell DVDs and other merchandise through their Renown Film Club subsidiary, which also runs regular film festivals and other such events.



All in all then, a hearty "well done" and "Many Happy Returns" to Talking Pictures TV - long may it continue to grace our television screens.  It is an oasis of joy and nostalgia amid a sea of mediocrity and I am so glad to see it get some recognition in the popular press.  That Her Majesty is allegedly a fan comes as no surprise and is perhaps the greatest accolade TPTV could hope to achieve.  I for one hardly tune in to anything else these days (on the rare occasions I actually watch television - most of the time it's DVDs or some obscure thing on YouTube) and can thoroughly recommend adjusting your set to channel 81 (Freeview), 445 (Virgin), 306 (Freesat), or 328 (Sky).

*** An honourable mention should also go to Sony Movies Classic, which recently replaced True Movies on Freeview channel 50 (Virgin 424, Freesat 303, Sky 319) and which also shows some decent films from the 1940s onwards. ***

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Villagers make stained-glass NHS window for phone box

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Villagers make stained-glass NHS window for phone box

There have been many wonderfully inspiring stories to come out of this current crisis from all around the world (not least the phenomenal fund-raising efforts of top chap Captain - and now soon to be Sir - Tom Moore), which have all served to lighten the mood of the planet, giving us all faith in humanity and hope for better days to come.  Far too many in fact to feature on this blog, in fact (instead I direct your attention to the Sunny Skyz website, which is just the sort of thing I was looking for when I first set up Eclectic Ephemera but which does the good news motif so much better than I could have hoped to).

This article from last month, though, particularly caught my attention with its vintage bent, featuring as it does a favourite design classic of mine and a sadly fast-disappearing piece of historic technology - the red telephone box.

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As someone who has recently seen three kiosks removed from my local area - sadly including a timeless K6 - it always makes my heart sing when I see one of those traditional red boxes hanging on in some corner of the country or being adopted by the community and given a fresh purpose such as a library, cash machine, art gallery or as in this case to house a defibrillator.  I myself have a wild idea for re-purposing a K6 call box, but that's something for another post!

Inspired by a similar story from Suffolk a few years ago, the 'phone box in this instance, in the town of Crich in Derbyshire, also has the additional feature of hand-painted stained-glass windows with scenes and representations of local life and businesses replacing the old glass.  Now added to the existing panes is a new image honouring the exemplary work being done by the NHS and a fine example of the art it is too.  Created by retired nurse Kate Richmond, who took stained-glass lessons (and well worth it, by the looks of things), and other members of the local community it is especially significant not only in light of the current situation but also of Mrs Richmond's previous job and the kiosk's new purpose as home to a defibrillator.

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Mr & Mrs Richmond and the people of Crich are to be commended for coming up with a charming and representative tribute not only to their local area but also the wider national effort and in a way that adds to the existing appearance of a lasting design.  Long may it continue to exist and serve the people of Crich and - if more red 'phone boxes must lose their original purpose - inspire others to save them in a similar manner.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Boffins chapify Amazonian assistant using Belgian blowers

Antique Alexa telephones by Grain Design

More news featuring items from Belgium, although "news" is perhaps not quite the le mot juste seeing as this article has been languishing in my Drafts for over a year.  I had intended to start a new blog with it but then it occurred to me that I have enough of a job keeping this one going without adding a second one and besides which the idea featured in the article still fits the Eclectic Ephemera ethos, so here it is.  Despite being more than a year old the subject matter is still current and interesting and follows on nicely from my previous Belgian-based Tintin post.

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Indeed an antique Belgian telephone (like the Regent model, above) with Amazon Alexa built in is something I could just see Tintin using were he around today, although whether he could stretch to the eye-watering asking price is another matter (then again he might if he had Red Rackham's Treasure - get on with it Peter Jackson!!  Ahem, sorry.)

In any event (and to return to the current subject) the re-purposing of vintage - and in this case, non-functional - equipment to include modern technology is something I consistently admire, not only as a means of giving a new lease of life to what would be an otherwise redundant item destined for the scrapheap but also for just the sheer incongruity of the latest tech being hidden within something supposedly obsolete.

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I have featured similar ideas here before in the shape of the Tweephone - a rotary-dial telephone capable of sending Tweets - and the Twittertape, which went one better and used an antique tickertape machine hooked up to the internet to do the same thing.  Now we have the Alexaphone, a genius idea out of Los Angeles which sees antique telephones being converted to run Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant technology, such as is more commonly found in that company's Echo speakers.

As with most modern technology virtual assistance AI is largely a closed book to me and something I intend to keep that way, as the idea of artificial intelligence in general is not something I am especially keen on.  Nor am particularly enamoured with the glut of so-called "smart" technology now available - not only do we have the likes of Google Assistant, Windows Cortana and the aforementioned Amazon Alexa but also smartphones, smart TVs, smart meters and now even flippin' video doorbells all of which are recording your every word and movement!  Where it will all end I wouldn't like to say, but the whole business doesn't seem very "smart" at all (except for the companies that are harvesting the resultant data) and is something I will vehemently oppose for as long as possible.

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It is for this reason as well that I like the idea of these devices, for one particular aspect of their original design, the telephone hook, thwarts one of the virtual assistant's most invidious foibles - the fact that it is always "on" and therefore listening to everything that's going on around it.  Not so with the Alexaphone, which is only on when you lift the receiver!  No fear of some faceless, polo-necked eye-tea wallah in a metal and glass office somewhere in California transcribing what you had for breakfast this morning.  Instead just lift the receiver, ask your question and Alexa will respond - then just thank it and hang up.  Brilliant!

Whether this marriage of vintage and modern technology is worth upwards of $1500 I'll leave you to decide but - practical or not, art or no - it is nevertheless a splendid idea and one I am glad to see realised.

Monday, 18 May 2020

A Tintin video game in the works!


via GIPHY

A Tintin video game in the works!

Vintage subject matter with a modern twist in this post as everyone's favourite Belgian boy reporter Tintin, who recently turned 90 years old(!), is soon to get a new video game adventure to his name according to the above news article.

Details of what form the adventures will take are perforce sketchy as the news of tie-up between developer Microids and Tintin rights-holder Moulinsart has only just been announced but either way it sounds very promising.  "A whirlwind of incredible situations and suspense hand in hand with the legendary Tintin and Snowy...", along with all the supporting cast of characters we know and love - Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Thomson & Thompson - sounds just the sort of thing to keep our bequiffed hero in the forefront of people's minds and hopefully introduce him to a whole new generation of fans.

Video games are something I've tended to drift away from as I've got older but for Tintin & Company I'm bound to make an exception!  While researching for this post I discovered that this by no means the first computer game to feature Brussel's famous fictional son so I thought I'd take the opportunity of this news to go through the brief history of Tintin video games that have been produced thus far:



We begin way back in 1987, when Infogrames (a precursor to Atari) released Tintin on the Moon which was based on the two-part story-line Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon.  A mixture of traditional first-person shoot-em up and side-scrolling adventure the aim is to land the Moon Rocket on the Moon whilst avoiding all sorts of dangers including rogue asteroids and villainous stowaways.  It was available on all the major platforms of the day - Amiga, Amstrad, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum - and later, in 1989, was updated for use in MS-DOS.  Fans of 8-bit graphics and sound effects will not be disappointed!



The next Tintin game did not appear until 1995 when the story Tintin in Tibet was adapted, again by Infogrames, as a platform adventure for a variety of different consoles including Sega's Mega Drive and Game Gear as well as Nintendo's Super NES and Game Boy.  A year later in 1996 it became available for PC and then much later in 2001 was re-released for the Game Boy Colour.  The plot mirrors that of the book, in which Tintin and Captain Haddock travel to Tibet to rescue Tintin's Chinese friend Chang who is missing presumed dead following a plane crash.



Only one year was to elapse before another Tintin game was released when in 1997 Prisoners of the Sun came out as a companion piece to Tintin in Tibet.  It too was available for PCs as well as the SNES, Game Boy and later Game Boy Colour, but unlike the earlier game not for any Sega consoles.



Four years later in 2001 and Tintin was back again, this time for PC and Sony's new PlayStation console, in Destination Adventure.  Despite being designed (again by Infogrames) for the new generation of Windows computers and Sony consoles, Destination Adventure is essentially an update of Tibet and Prisoners of the Sun with some improved 3D graphics and a few new levels.



We have to fast-forward ten years for what is currently the most recent Tintin video game - The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.  Based on the 2011 film (as well as the original books) it is a reflection of how far computing has advanced in a decade with regards to the graphics and game-play, which takes the form of a traditional platform adventure with elements of 2D puzzle-solving.  It was released (this time by Ubisoft) across a whole host of platforms, from Microsoft Windows & Xbox 360 through Nintendo Wii & 3DS to PlayStation 3 and even Android and iOS (okay, this terminology is getting beyond me now - anyway, lots of different computers!).  It did not, however, garner very good reviews and has largely fallen into obscurity in the last five years.



Speaking of falling into obscurity, especially in reference to the 2011 game, is the film that inspired it.  I can hardly believe that it has been nearly ten years since The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn came out.  At the time we were promised that it would be the start of a trilogy of films (at least), with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson sharing directing duties.  Indeed the film ends on a cliff-hanger, with the clear intention of being carried on with the story-line of the following book Red Rackham's Treasure, yet here we are in 2020 and there's been not a dicky-bird!  Come on chaps, get your fingers out and get on with giving us another cracking Tintin film before the poor fellow turns 100.  At this rate Jamie Bell will be old enough to play Captain Haddock!

Hopefully the launch of this new video game will inject some fresh interest in Tintin & Co and maybe jump-start Messrs Jackson and Spielberg into getting on and bringing the next instalment of these timeless characters' adventures to the silver screen.  In any event I look forward to seeing what form the new video game takes when more information becomes available.  In the meantime I have been getting my Tintin fix from the 2011 film and the excellent early '90s French-Canadian cartoon series The Adventures of Tintin, which I remember fondly from my youth and (naturally) have as a DVD box set.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Back sooner than expected



I bet you didn't expect to hear from me again so soon after my last post (if anyone is still paying any attention to my witterings on here)!

Unfortunately my planned surgery yesterday was cancelled as some of my blood tests came back looking a bit wonky ("deranged" was the word the surgeons actually used - charming!), which would have made it too dangerous to proceed.  So more doctors, tests etc. as they try to get the levels back down and then we try again - hopefully not too long away!

In the meantime I leave you with an aptly-titled Gershwin number performed by Michael Law & The Piccadilly Dance Orchestra, whose music I have been very much enjoying of late.  My scheduled posts will still be going ahead as, erm, scheduled and I look forward to adding to them over the coming weeks as I continue to biff around the blogosphere.

Toodle-pip!

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Here's To The Next Time

Not Mr Partington-Plans AGAIN?!?!
As I mentioned in my return post at the end of March I had been away from the blogosphere for some time in part due to my health being rather fragile for the past couple of years.  Those of you who have been following Eclectic Ephemera from the start will know that things have been rather up and down in that department from the get go and in all honesty have been rather stop start during all that time.  At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, though, and ever the optimist I aim to be in a better place again - hopefully by the end of the month at the earliest - as the trip to the hospital for another dig around what's left of my innards is back on and set for this Friday.  That's right, the day after tomorrow!  Gulp!

"Can you come in on the 15th?"
"Erm, yes okay then(!)"
Credit where it's due to the hospital whose care I'm under (and the wider NHS in general, which is doing a remarkable job in the circumstances) - St Mark's in Harrow, Middlesex, the centre of excellence for the condition I'm being treated for and home to the best doctors and surgeons in the business - for working so closely within the current Covid guidelines and turning things around so quickly once things were relaxed enough to allow surgeries to restart.  St Mark's itself is still under quarantine (it's sister hospital Northwick Park was forced to declare a "critical incident" at the beginning of the pandemic when it ran out of capacity) so it has joined forces with a nearby private hospital that is Covid-free and which is making its facilities available to the NHS.  Come Friday morning, therefore, at the ungodly hour of 5:30am as I have to be there for 7 o'clock, my fiancée will be taking me to Harrow (whilst still trying to observe social distancing as I am, apparently, "clinically vulnerable") for what I hope will be seventh time lucky.

"I need another pad, this one's full up..."
In the meantime I intend for it to be business as usual here at Eclectic Ephemera, as once again I have a few posts waiting in the wings that are scheduled to be published over the coming weeks (yes, I've remembered how to use the Schedule setting!).  The medicos are anticipating a 7-10 day stay but given that my past experiences have ranged from everything from a week to 3 months I am not holding my breath and will just see how things pan out.  It's unlikely that I shall feel much like blogging in the immediate aftermath anyway so I wanted to have at least a few posts lined up to keep you entertained (I hope!).  Fortunately I have at least half a dozen Drafts floating around, some of which I've been finalising in readiness for my enforced absence.

"We're going to need a bigger tray..."
Hopefully this will be the last time - or at least the last time for a while - that I'll need to go through this again and I very much look forward to carrying on here at Eclectic Ephemera once I'm over this latest hurdle.  In the meantime everyone keep safe, continue following your government's guidelines and we shall all be back to some semblance of normality ere long - perhaps of the sort enjoyed by Henry Hall and His Orchestra in this splendid British Pathe newsreel from 1932. Here's to the next time indeed!



Thursday, 7 May 2020

Podcasts reflect Amy Johnson's solo flight to Australia


Podcasts reflect Amy Johnson's solo flight to Australia

Another podcast to add to the list of those I posted about a month ago and again one of particular historical interest, celebrating as it does the 90th anniversary of aviatrix Amy Johnson's amazing solo flight from England to Australia over the course of nineteen days from the 5th to the 24th May 1930.

Amazing is just the word to describe her achievement considering she had only learned to fly less than a year previously, in July 1929, and by all accounts had barely 75 hours' solo flying experience when she took off from Croydon Aerodrome on the 5th May 1930 with the aim of beating the 15 days' record flight time to Australia that at the time was held by the pioneer Australian aviator Bert Hinkler.

Amy Johnson and her aeroplane Jason in India, May 1930 
As it turned out events conspired against Amy and she missed out on the record by only 4 days, however she was still rewarded with a CBE in the 1930 Birthday Honours and is rightly remembered as the first Englishwoman to fly solo to Australia (and later, in 1932, breaking the record for a solo flight from England to South Africa).

The enormity of her accomplishment(s) and the manner in which they captured the public's imagination at the time can best be appreciated through the sheer number of people both in England and Australia who turned out to greet her on her arrival/ return, as well as her having a popular song written and recorded in June 1930:







Her diary and notes from the Australian flight forms the basis of this series of podcasts created by the Amy Johnson Arts Trust, a charity based in Amy's home town of Hull, and which recreates day-by-day her remarkable journey in what is a very immediate and vivid performance.  They are, as the Trust's director suggests, an excellent and very timely way to mark Amy Johnson's remarkable feat and her important role as a pioneer of women's aviation.  I look forward to listening to them over the coming weeks and hope they will prove popular.



While researching for this post I also came across a recently uploaded amateur production from 2010 by Cambridge theatre company BAWDS, which looks worth watching, and of course the 1942 film They Flew Alone starring Anna Neagle as Amy is also highly recommended by this blogger.

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