1985 was a year of relaunches for BBC One. The new globe, EastEnders and Wogan all brought a new momentum to the channel. But the revamp of the Nine o’Clock News this week in 1985 was also a key move.
The new look programme programme introduced computer graphics and a two-presenter format. In line with the BBC News trend at the time, it also moved away from any obvious corporate or generic image.
By 1985 the look of the Nine o’Clock News was horrendously dated (clip of the programme in 1982, with the style of presentation still in use by 1985). The graphics still came off 35mm slides and the beige set looked, as one presenter later said, about as sophisticated as Albanian state TV.
It was only 4 years since the programme’s last revamp but in that time graphics had moved on enormously. Overnight in 1985 the programme became much more contemporary in appearance.
Interestingly – and possibly unintentionally – the new logo was reminiscent of the Nine’s previous spell with two presenters in the early 70s.
The look owed much to the Six o’Clock News which was launched a year earlier (example from late-1986). The graphics were similar but not the same. The modern Six really showed up the dated Nine.
True, the Nine’s “space invaders” title sequence has now aged badly but it was bold at the time.
Interestingly the sequence is actually more sophisticated than it might seem. A series of visual dots and dashes head into London then they join together and are disseminated (example from early 1987).
This is not unlike the basic premise of the very different Lambie-Nairn titles introduced for the Nine three years later. Despite its success, the 1985 revamp was not to last.
The Nine was to be the flagship for John Birt’s transformation of BBC journalism after 1987.
From about October 1987, there was a notable change in the content of the programme – there was even more analysis and fewer lighter stories near the end – but there were no significant superficial changes.
Then in October 1988 came a rebranding which also restored a single presenter format. Indeed the actual format after 1988 was much closer to the one abandoned in 1985 although the content had evolved and the programme’s visual execution was much more contemporary and sophisticated.
Looking back, the 1985 look and feel may almost look like a temporary deviation from the more traditional format of the BBC’s flagship news bulletin.
But at the time the changes seemed successful. The only question is why a flagship programme was ever allowed to become so dated that it needed such a radical relaunch. Could modern graphics and a less utilitarian set simply have been introduced anyway?
PICTURED: BBC Nine o'Clock News opening titles. COPYRIGHT: BBC.