Tonight, a unique holiday tradition begins its 30th year at the Walker Art Center: the annual screening of the best British Television Awards. Over the next month, the British Arrows will play to an expected 27,000 people — more than anywhere else in the world.
"If you talk to us in London about this — and by the way, that's London, obviously, England, not London, Ontario — we can't really believe it," said Charlie Crompton, chair of the British Arrows Board of Directors.
Crompton became a believer in Minneapolis last year, when he saw the crowds swarming in to see his organization's awards reel.
"I was amazed," he said. "I think it makes us a) very proud, and b) slightly mystified."
Crompton is back in Minnesota to introduce 2016's first show tonight at the Walker. He said each year's compilation is a time capsule of how the United Kingdom is feeling about itself. So how about this year?
"We're a little bit bashed up, but we are still going to have a good time," Crompton said. "And when we get to safety, a bit further from the fight, we can still hurl some abuse in, the British way."
Crompton enjoys what he does, even if he can't always explain things. Take this Honda commercial in the show.
Charlie Crompton loves the ad but admits it's a bit of a mystery, given the British car market:
"No one I know owns a Honda," he said. "No one I know knows anyone who owns a Honda. No one I know knows anyone who ever wants to own a Honda. I don't know where these cars go. But their advertising is absolutely superb, and constantly pushing the boundaries and winning awards."
If there is a constant in the British Arrows show every year, it's self-deprecating humor. "We've often never been the best, so if you're not very good at a lot of stuff, you might as well laugh at yourself," said Crompton.
This commercial about a navigation system from hell is actually an ad for an energy company selling new, accurate gas meters:
Ads that hardly mention a product are a British staple, Crompton said. He calls it the anti-sell.
"We cannot bear being sold to," he said. "If anyone comes up to us and starts being a salesman, we suddenly turn off. We can't bear it, so you have to just kind of suggest things with the Brits and then we will like it. It'll be our idea."
Thus, ads for an electronics store become in-home classes by actor Jeff Goldblum on how to appear pleased with mediocre gifts or an overcooked holiday meal.
The Walker's Sheryl Mousley, senior curator of moving image, said the Arrows have become a holiday tradition for some. One couple who came last year revealed they'd attended every opening night. Mousley hopes they'll be there tonight.
"We'd love it if they'd let us know if they are coming," she said.
Maybe they can explain this holiday tradition to Charlie Crompton.