Fondly remembered BBC TV idents turn 30

It was the day when everything changed but everything stayed the same.

The 1991 revamp of BBC Presentation was the most significant overhaul of the identities of both BBC channels.

  • For the first time, both channels got completely new looks on the same day which covered every single detail of presentation: idents, clocks, slides and menus.
  • For the first time since the mid-1970s, the corporate BBC logo was an important part of the look. Indeed this was the first time for a long time that even the BBC logo had featured prominently on BBC Two.
  • Trailers were revamped with standardised endboards for the first time.

The new look was a revelation and was under development for some 18 months or so. It is believed to have been instigated by the head of presentation Pam Masters after she returned from Channel 4 in conjunction with the channel controllers.

The basic aim was to give a consistent look to BBC TV and develop the brands and identities of the two individual channels.

What are obviously test idents which explore possible concepts have since appeared online. Their relatively basic execution – not to mention the poor rendering of the continents in the BBC One globe – make it obvious these were only works in progress.

VIDEO: test BBC One and BBC Two idents. SUPPLIED BY: YouTube Channel – The TV Museum. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

The need for a consistent look was obvious as BBC TV prepared for a multi-channel age.

In retrospect it seems incredible that the BBC corporate logo was ever dropped from the corporation’s most visible service in the first place or that even the BBC brand could be masked on its second most visible service.

One of the first clear signs of the need for a marketable logo was in that week’s Radio Times. Print versions of the logos appeared in the listings pages which had been revamped ahead of the arrival of all-channel listings a fortnight later.

And yet so much also stayed the same in that revamp.

There were no changes to the schedule – whereas in 1985 the new globe was part of a relaunch of BBC One.

There were no other changes to the style of presentation – instead piecemeal changes continued gradually.

And even on BBC Two, the radical new idents took a while to make their full impact. Initially there was a little caution with their use – the relatively conservative ones like Glass and Paper Cut-Out often featured.

BBC Two looked more stylish and modern but it took a while for the ‘2’ to develop its quirky personality and realise its potential.

The changes were not without controversy. Within the BBC some were unhappy the idents had not been created and produced in-house.

The proof of the package’s success is its longevity. There were no major changes until the next revamp in October 1997 while BBC Two’s look right up until 2018 evolved from that 1991 package.

So would a new look to bring consistency back to BBC TV and other BBC services be welcome now? Discuss.




Posted by Andrew Nairn

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