The dullness of BBC Oneness

A new look was introduced to BBC One just before 1am on Sunday 1st January 2017. Other than those directly involved in the project (led by BBC Creative) and senior members of the BBC leadership team, from what we can gather, no-one else at the corporation knew about the plans to replace the channel’s decade-old, circle-themed presentation package. BBC nations and regions were only informed of the changes in mid-December.

There was no pre-launch press release/publicity, as had been the case with previous channel refreshes. Instead, the unsuspecting viewing public would switch on BBC One on the first day of the new year and very probably, for the first time in quite a while, would actually notice the channel idents – but not for any good reason. Even the BBC Wales announcer couldn’t hide his disapproval on the occasion of the debut airing of the idents: “Mmmm…I haven’t got a clue either. I quite liked the balloons myself. Anyway, this is BBC One Wales.”

Anyone following the unfortunate decline in BBC presentation standards and creativity over the last decade or so (most notably BBC Two – terrible trail graphics, not to mention the long-term reinstatement of 25-year-old idents) should perhaps have foreseen this new low. Yes, the fantastic set of circle idents were over ten years old. Nonetheless, they had aged well – in spite of the mindless re-editing that took place in 2009, which saw the 12-second logo form-ups – a fundamental part of the sequences – cut down to a couple of seconds. And what were they replaced with? Two live-action idents (we’ll call it two, even though two versions of each were aired) which demonstrate a breathtaking lack of creativity. None of the magic, imagination and mastery of the on-air campaigns and branding of yesteryear.

A couple of further iterations were added in January 2017 and many more during the course of 2017. Sadly, the standard did not improve; they continued to follow the same style and uninspired format, to the letter – in spite of much criticism from viewers, people within the design/creative industry and presentation enthusiasts. The initial Christmas 2016 execution of Oneness demonstrated that the concept – although not the strongest (let’s face it, there’s more than a hint of W1A about it) – had some potential. It’s highly regrettable that the subsequent, longer-term executions were such a disappointment.

What we’re doing is going around the country and showing the people that come together with a shared interest, a shared passion. And we’re showing their togetherness. The sort of Oneness.

I think that people are beginning to understand that this is like a portrait of Britain. We’re going to the whole of the UK and these are going to be running for years. It’s the launch of the whole Oneness idea but they may go beyond that for years to come.

Martin Parr

We can only hope that Martin Parr is mistaken in his assertion that these idents will be “…running for years…”.

BBC One is the nation’s favourite channel and has its finger on the pulse of a fast-changing modern Britain. We decided to celebrate this by commissioning Martin Parr, one of the most celebrated documentary photographers of our time, to create idents from a series of portraits that represent the rich diversity of communities living in the UK today. ‘Oneness’ is a year-long collaboration that reflects BBC One’s role in bringing the nation together with unmissable programmes and events and celebrating all the things we share and have in common.

BBC Creative

I want BBC One, the nation’s favourite channel, to continue to evolve creatively and so it’s important that the channel idents continue to move with the times too – and feel relevant and in touch with its big, broad mainstream audience.

BBC One is a channel with its finger on the pulse of a fast-changing modern Britain. What better way to demonstrate this than by commissioning Martin Parr, one of the most celebrated documentary photographers of our time, to create idents from a series of portraits that reflect and represent the rich diversity of communities living in the UK today?

Renowned for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, I hope that the series of images Parr captures across the year will document everyday Britain in all its glory and serve as a fascinating and lasting record of 2017.

Charlotte Moore, Director BBC Content

Creative evolution you say? Moving with the times? We look forward to the arrival of these idents, Charlotte. Any idea of a transmission date for them?

Key points/observations

Limited selection initially

What major TV channel launches a new set of idents with just two variations these days (not to mention, neither ident is suitable for introducing serious/sombre programming)? The answer, apparently, is BBC One. For the first week or so of this “new look”, we had two sequences: one featuring a Zumba class, the other a group of swimmers. On launch day, we had an episode of EastEnders, featuring the drowning of two major characters, preceded by…yes, you’ve guessed it: the Swimmers ident. And the following night, to introduce a naturally quite sombre episode of the soap, we had the noisy Exercise Class ident. All very appropriate.

Imagine the dilemma on the evening of 9th January 2017, where Panorama examined the Tunisian beach terrorist attack. It was perhaps no surprise that the decision was taken to revert back to the circle idents – Capes was used to introduce that programme.

But, never fear, the experts at BBC Creative were on the case and were working flat out to plug this embarrassing gap. By the early hours of 15th January 2017 – problem solved! In the junction where BBC One hands over to the BBC News Channel for the night, our new sombre ident was unveiled. Forest – a static shot (well, bar the now obligatory shaky camera) of a bunch of trees in a forest, accompanied by a birdsong soundtrack. Ground-breaking stuff. No Oneness slogan on this sequence.

Incidentally, seemingly unimpressed with Forest, BBC One Northern Ireland created their own sombre ident, which was first broadcast at 6pm on 14th June 2017 – the day of the Grenfell Tower disaster. The symbol consisted of the red animated background from the trail endboard, with a large, white BBC One Northern Ireland logo overlaid. The ident had no soundtrack.

In terms of the initial lack of variety, this was addressed gradually, during 2017, with the addition of fifteen new scenarios (some with more than one version) by August.  A further nine scenarios (again, some with more than one version – not that most viewers would even notice) were added between January and August 2018.

Geographic location and ethnic representation

The decision to include place names on the idents is questionable. Not terribly sure what value this adds; if anything, it’s possibly counterproductive. As of August 2018, the Oneness idents covered twenty-five UK locations – certainly not enough geographical coverage to allow the majority of the UK to feel represented.  Let’s face it, that was always going to be an impossible task.  And bearing in mind that regional versions of the idents feature the appropriate BBC One regional branding (e.g., BBC One Northern Ireland, BBC One Scotland, BBC One Wales, BBC One North East, BBC One South), does it really make sense to have an ident featuring an on-screen reference to Avonmouth/Clevedon, which is immediately followed by, for example, a BBC One South East or BBC One North West logo? The emphasis is supposed to be on the activities that the featured individuals are participating in and the fact that this common interest brings them together (Oneness). Where they live is not important.

Also interesting to note that the vast majority of people featured in these idents are white. Is this really an accurate reflection of the “rich diversity of communities living in the UK today”, as Charlotte Moore suggests?

Dull, dull, dull

Not only is the execution of the concept staggeringly bland, what we’re seeing on screen isn’t much of a step up from amateur footage filmed on a cheap handycam. Everything is single-shot, with no camera movement (albeit the camera operator seems to have a pretty shaky hand; sorry, maybe that’s ‘creativity’) or alternative camera angles; and there’s no soundtrack. Say that again – a channel ident without a soundtrack? There’s also no evidence of any noteworthy post-production work. All we have here is some basic camera footage, with a logo slapped on top. And who thought it was a good idea to add that pointless glow effect on the Oneness logo (which incidentally, was not present on the Swimmers and Zumba idents)? All in all, drab, colourless, charmless and completely lacking in originality.

The press blurb made quite a big thing about the involvement of Martin Parr, a renowned stills photographer. It’s very unlikely that many people will have heard of Martin Parr, so, not sure how much weight this bit of name-dropping is supposed to carry. Secondly, he’s a stills photographer – a very good one, that’s not in doubt – but he’s not a cinematographer. These idents demonstrate no mastery, appreciation or respect of the medium for which they were produced.

As one of the UK’s premier television channels, BBC One should be daring and different. And yes, BBC Creative, this is very different from anything on any other channel – but not in a good way. Oneness comes nowhere close to hitting the mark – it’s definitely up there with the worst examples of channel branding and is certainly not an image befitting a channel of the stature of BBC One. Passable for a local TV station – maybe.

It’s certainly no surprise that these idents have not been nominated for any industry awards. It does beggar belief that someone signed off on this and it actually made it to air. No-one believes for one minute that budgets are so tight at the BBC that this is the best they could manage. Most people will look at this and think it was done very cheaply – but we shouldn’t necessarily rush to that conclusion. It’s worth noting that the BBC declined to comment on the cost.

This is without doubt a great time for the BBC in terms of the quality, range and popularity of its programming. What a tremendous shame that the branding of its two main TV channels – BBC One and BBC Two – is in such an appalling state.

Inconsistent branding devices

The swirling animation (associated with Oneness) used on idents and trails for the ‘o’ in the BBC One logo, which was introduced at the start of the Christmas 2016 campaign (which also saw the launch of Oneness), is accompanied by a hangover from 2016’s branding: a zooming ‘o’ animation. The zoom option continues to be utilised on some trail endboards and has also been used on some stings (e.g., Blue Planet II in autumn 2017).

Another hangover from 2014 and 2015: the sting design, featuring a very large BBC One logo: this is where the ‘o’ of ‘one’ is substituted with various round-shaped objects. This concept has re-appeared sporadically since January 2017 and most notably during the first month of the Oneness idents, in the guise of stings and an ident for the new Let It Shine entertainment programme. Great way to launch your new set of Oneness idents – by running a completely unrelated set of idents/stings, with a completely different look and feel. In this iteration, the Let It Shine star logo takes the place of the ‘o’. Stings of a similar style were used for Comic Relief and All Round to Mrs Brown’s (2017 and 2018; though the 2018 versions used an incorrect version of the ‘one’ lettering). These are such a complete mismatch with Martin Parr’s idents, stings and the Oneness theme generally. We even had the re-emergence of circle-themed idents, with the special Strictly Come Dancing sequences, in use during autumn 2017. Inconsistent yes but a welcome interjection nonetheless.

In spite of all this, they did manage a couple of event-based stings that actually were on brand: the FA Cup 2017 final and Wimbledon 2017 coverage got their own Oneness stings.

What the viewers think

On Sunday 7th May 2017, BBC One’s Points of View included a segment on the new idents. Four viewers were shown a selection of the idents and asked to share their thoughts. The feedback was – unsurprisingly – predominantly negative.

Viewer 3: I don’t like that.

Viewer 2: That’s terrible. That’ll just curdle your milk in your tea.

Comments regarding the Clevedon Swimmers ident

Viewer 2: It’s terrible.

Viewer 3: I hate the fact that they’re out of time with one another.

Viewer 4: I just find the sound annoying. I find her shouting annoying.

Viewer 2: I just find them boring.

Comments regarding the Exercise Class ident

Viewer 4: I think it’s a beautiful scene and it sounds nice – listening to birds tweeting…it’s nice to hear that sound. It’s a relaxing sound.

Viewer 3: I didn’t realise it was an ident.

Comments regarding the Birdwatchers ident

Viewer 4: I have to say, it’s the first one that’s showing young people. We are quite a diverse country and so far it’s all been middle-aged people.

Comments regarding the Skaters ident

Viewer 2: I like this one.

Viewer 4: But I tend to focus too much on the dog. Cause that dog cracks me up. Cause he’s clearly not a trained dog.

Viewer 3: There’s nothing BBC One-ish about it. There’s nothing to tell you that’s what you’re watching.

Viewer 1: At least they’re wearing red [in response to Viewer 3’s comment].

Comments regarding the Mountain Rescue Volunteers ident

Viewer 4: I do like that one with the Indian dancers. It’s colourful, it’s bright, it shows diversity.

Viewer 2: I don’t know what Oneness means. I don’t know what it’s all about.

Viewer 1: I understand the concept. It’s about bringing the country together after what has been a divisive year. But then the execution itself – it’s just not very good. They’ve not really done a very good job.

Comments regarding the Bhangra Dancers ident

Viewer 2: I think these new idents are boring and they’re not creative enough.

Viewer 3: They’re not very successful as idents because you can’t really tell what they are.

Viewer 1: There’s a breathtaking lack of creativity and thought. Does it represent the BBC in all its glory? Sadly I don’t think so.

Viewer 4: I don’t think they identify what the BBC is about. I don’t find them entertaining. I don’t find them…make me want to watch them – they’re not interesting in that respect. They’re not drawing me in. I don’t want to find out more.

Viewer 2: I think they’re all boring and dull.

Viewer 4: I think refreshing is a good thing to be done and it should be done frequently. But these are just not working for me.

General comments on the idents

What industry professionals think

With many groups and individuals within the industry relying on collaborations with other organisations and agencies, it’s perhaps not that surprising that very few senior people currently active in the industry would want to go on the record and criticise the work of another group – particularly when that group happens to be one of the scale and influence of the BBC.  That said, the Oneness campaign has suffered an unprecedented level of derision on social media, from members of the public and creatives.  Suffice to say, Oneness is not well regarded.

Occasionally, a big name will stick their head above the parapet and make their opinion known.  Brian Eley – former creative director at Lambie-Nairn and Dunning Eley Jones) – is one such individual.  Speaking to the Carlton Media website in 2018, he had this to say about Oneness:

It is interesting to see the BBC One Martin Parr sequences. I mean, that is almost going back to the Carlton people [idents]. To be BBC One is really tough. Somehow by being populist and down to earth and self-effacing and casual about it you kind of destroy what is special about BBC One. So I think it is the end of a road there.

I think if I were in charge of that now I would go back to something much more ‘graphic’ and much more ‘drama’. It risks trivialising the news. I’m sure there are older people looking at it and going “My God this is so embarrassing. What are they doing? She has hardly got any clothes on. I mean, how can we talk about Syria?”

I have sympathy for that. I think it’s a very delicate area. I think some of the skills have been lost, which may be something to do with the desktop production area – the quick and casual way in which things can be created. You used to shoot things on 35mm and it was like cinema-style production values. So you were very careful about what was shot and how you edited it.

Brian Eley: writer, designer and creative consultant (former creative director at Lambie-Nairn and Dunning Eley Jones)



PICTURED: BBC One ident - Sea Swimmers, Clevedon. SUPPLIED BY: The TV Room. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

Posted by The Voice

  1. Brilliant summary of a truly appalling branding campaign.


  2. The one introduced since lockdown showing cups of tea being filled up with hot water from the kettle with completely fake enhanced sound effects is totally dull and unimaginative. Much like the rest of them.


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