1980s BBC One Scotland identity crisis

One of the strangest chapters in the story of BBC One branding in the nations runs from the autumn of 1983 to February 1985. During this period, the BBC’s main channel was known as BBC Scotland north of the border. And it was a complete mess.

The amended BBC Scotland logo looked uncomfortable on the globe – even more so after an unfortunate,  tacky redesign in the autumn of 1984.

The name implied BBC Scotland was a distinct channel from BBC One rather than a mere regional variation. Except, of course, there was still BBC One network continuity for much of the daytime and network trails were also broadcast.

Network slides were sometimes seen for various practical reasons. And even the PM5544 test card shown during local trade tests was still badged as “BBC 1”.

VIDEO: BBC One Scotland junction. TX DATE: 14th October 1984. SUPPLIED BY: YouTube Channel – Sticky tape ‘n’ rust. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

Did a single viewer come to think of the channel itself as BBC Scotland? The reasons for the failed experiment – because it must now be seen as that – are lost in time. But what might have been the thinking?

The most obvious thought is that they were trying to copy BBC Wales which was in many respects a genuinely distinct service from BBC One. But the reasoning in Wales was much clearer. BBC Wales as a full service predated the launch of BBC Two – the name never changed and was, in a sense, a legacy.

Until 1982 BBC Wales disrupted the network schedule to a far greater extent than any other nation and region because of Welsh language programming and a large amount of timeshifting. It was important to make it clear whether a viewer was watching Wales or the network service which was receivable in much of the Principality from  an English region.

It’s thought Wales also covered virtually all junctions – including children’s programmes – unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland. Radio Times even amended the header on listings pages to read “BBC Cymru Wales”.

Or perhaps the move was an attempt by Scotland to highlight the fact the corporation’s Glasgow headquarters were not some mere branch office? True – but the vast majority of programmes were from the network.

And it would be interesting to know if the move required the consent of the Presentation Department in London or even those far higher up.

At this same point in time, director-general Alasdair Milne (who was once the BBC’s head in Scotland) is thought to have stopped a plan to allow Scotland to opt out of the last 20 minutes of Sixty Minutes – the part which was a topical magazine.  

Whatever may have happened, both Sixty Minutes and the BBC Scotland channel name did not last.

In February 1985, the new COW globe brought the return of the BBC One Scotland name. (Announcers in Wales still referred to BBC Wales though and announcers in Belfast briefly spoke of BBC Northern Ireland later.)

But there is a footnote. Between 1991 and 1997, the name “BBC Scotland on One” was officially used (though verbally only) – in line with the policy in Wales.  In practice though, it tended to be used only for more formal announcements such as news junctions. Soon announcers tended to simply say “BBC One” before network programmes and, yes, “BBC Scotland” before opts.

And today BBC Scotland is the name of a distinct service.

So do any former announcers, pres staff or managers know what was the reasoning behind the 1983 move?

It was certainly an interesting experiment even if it’s implementation proved unsuccessful and short-lived. And even if a change does not work out, it does not mean someone was wrong to try.



PICTURED: BBC One Scotland ident (1984). SUPPLIED BY: YouTube Channel - Sticky tape 'n' rust. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

Posted by Andrew Nairn

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