Wake up! It’s TV-am

Wake Up! It's TV-am

Breakfast TimeThere had been occasional attempts at breakfast television in the UK previously (Yorkshire Television’s Good Morning Calendar for ITV (Yorkshire region only) in 1977 and later on BBC1’s Swap Shop tried an earlier start with AM-UK), but the market for breakfast television was still considered to be limited in the UK because it was thought that most people might be too busy to watch television at that time of the day. Once a commercial breakfast television franchise had been created and awarded to TV-am in 1980 alongside other ITV franchise changes, TV-am’s launch was scheduled for 1 February 1983 in order to avoid the other ITV franchise changes at the start of 1982 as well as the launch of Channel 4 the following November. However the BBC decided to get in first with a ‘spoiler’ programme, namely Breakfast Time on BBC1 which launched a month earlier, and much to TV-am’s dismay (they were due on air shortly) it was not the serious news programme some thought it might have been, but was a direct competitor which helped to hit TV-am’s initial viewing figures badly. Later on, Breakfast Time was scrapped and replaced with a more serious BBC Breakfast News format.

TV-amTV-am followed swiftly afterwards, launched with a barrage of publicity on 1st February 1983. It featured a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar presenters (David Frost being the key figure) and had a ‘bright and breezy’ approach to waking the nation up in the morning. Expectations were set high for the new service, but in reality there were several unanswered questions; most notably just how many people in the UK were prepared to watch television instead of listening to the radio at that time of day especially given the BBC1 competition.

Daybreak - Coming NextThe main breakfast show’s title Good Morning Britain – a title since revived by ITV but with no connection to the TV-am original – deliberately echoed the similar US programme Good Morning America, and the British show had much in common with its American counterpart, such as the use of an on-screen clock, and the use of a caption to tell viewers what was to follow the commercial break. TV-am also made other programmes to show during its allocated time slot, such as Daybreak (the same title also used much later by ITV for its unconnected breakfast show), Data Run, and Wacaday presented by Timmy Mallet.

Good Morning BritainAfter the commercial break had finished, this caption was shown, which also features the on-screen clock (showing ten past nine, in the bottom-right hand corner). By April TV-am’s future looked bleak – viewing figures had plummeted to about 100,000, partly courtesy of what was considered to be surprisingly strong competition from Breakfast Time. (Anyone remember Russell Grant’s horoscopes?) So Greg Dyke was brought in from London Weekend Television to try and improve things – David Frost was replaced by Nick Owen and TV-am went downmarket, successfully reversing the drop.

Daily Mirror Bingo NumbersAt the time there was a craze among tabloid newspapers for running bingo competitions, so a bright idea was to tell the viewers what the day’s numbers were so they didn’t have to buy the newspaper. Occasionally the numbers were misread, though any mistakes were inevitably corrected. Nick Owen bizarrely had to dress up in a beefeater’s outfit and blow a trumpet to introduce this part of the programme!

Roland RatRoland Rat was also introduced as part of the April shake-up. Created by David Claridge and introduced to TV-am by Anne ‘Teletubbies’ Wood, Roland Rat proved to be very popular with the viewers and gave the breakfast start-up a much needed shot in the arm. Rat mania even spawned two UK Top 40 records in 1983/4 – Rat Rapping and Love Me Tender. Anne Diamond also had to work alongside ‘Roland Rat Superstar’ which must have been a tough act to keep up with! Thankfully Roland Rat is still very much alive today…

Commander PhilpottThe weather forecast was presented by Commander Philpott, whose style was certainly different from the competition – come to think of it anything else past or present. ‘Stiff upper lip British’ was perhaps the best way to describe the Commander’s technique.

TV-am Eggcup 1983This caption was shown at the end of the programme, with one egg cup added to the picture for each year since 1983 (1984 = two egg cups displayed, etc.), though in later years only a few of the cups actually appeared in the caption. TV-am was a programme contractor in its own right, and was independent of the other companies that formed the ITV network.

Chris TarrantTV-am also promoted its shows at other times on the ITV network, with this example promoting Chris Tarrant and Roland Rat appearing on Christmas Day 1984 and a Princess Anne interview shown on Boxing Day.

TV-am Sky News CaptionTV-am did its own news gathering in early years, but later on the news was provided by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News until TV-am’s demise at the end of 1992.

TV-am 1983-1992TV-am were among the losers when the ITV broadcasting franchises were reviewed in 1991, so from the 1st January 1993 TV-am was replaced by GMTV. This picture was the very last to be transmitted by TV-am; the colour of the main scene was faded moments before the picture faded abruptly. An era had come to an end.

GMTVTV-am’s replacement, GMTV (which prior to 2004 was part-owned by Carlton, Granada and Disney) to begin with tried to establish its own identity but slowly evolved over the years into something that looks very similar to TV-am, and also provided signed news and additional cartoons on ITV2 during the same timeslot for a while under the GMTV2 banner, though (like TV-am) GMTV and ITV are technically two separate entities that just happen to use the same channel. Whilst GMTV was a separate entity from ITV, if ITV wanted to ‘borrow’ time from GMTV in order (for example) to show a sporting event, it had to compensate GMTV somehow (either financially or by giving GMTV additional air time) as a result. GMTV ceased to exist after ITV plc bought out Disney’s share of the broadcaster and what was still a physically separate commercial television franchise became fully integrated into the ITV channel as Daybreak. Later on the separate breakfast franchise was abolished by the Digital Economy Act and Daybreak has since been replaced by Good Morning Britain; nothing to do with TV-am but using the same name as TV-am’s original breakfast show.

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TV Offal

Inside Victor Lewis-SmithThey say that restaurant critics make lousy chefs…but do television critics make lousy television? Victor Lewis-Smith is an established television critic (for the London Evening Standard) as well as writing for several other publications, and in the past Lewis-Smith had presented TV programmes such Inside Victor Lewis-Smith plus features within other shows such as BBC2’s TV Hell. His newspaper columns don’t just cover television but also nostalgia, so it’s only logical that he should also have a strong interest in television nostalgia.

TV Offal TitlesTV Offal

TV Offal started life as a one-off pilot programme shown on 31 October 1997. It’s incredibly difficult to summarise, but the Channel 4 press release made a valiant attempt at a precis, so to speak: ‘Having scoured the skips and bins of TV broadcasting and plundered the graveyards of student television stations, Victor has, in his own unique and bizarre fashion, constructed an archive programme that treats its material (celebrity and otherwise) with a savage combination of satire and scatology. But, in his own words: “It isn’t another It’ll be Alright on the Night, because you can tell from what you see that it’ll be anything but alright on the night.”‘ (According to television expert Andy Emmerson, that strange-looking clock in the opening titles was used by early-1960s French television.)

TV LogosFrom this you might have deduced that TV Offal pokes fun not only at programmes but also at programming formats and ‘celebrities’, as well as anything else that could related to television and broadcasting culture such as test cards and ident (station identification) sequences. Despite the parodying tone, it becomes rapidly self-evident that Victor himself actually revels in these ephemera of TV culture, though it’s equally obvious that he really means it when he mocks celebrities such as Noel Edmonds or Vanessa Feltz. The audio used in the link sequences is almost uniquely (for television) styled in the form of radio jingles, notably jingles specially commissioned from the world-famous American jingle producers JAM.
Animal Hospice

Animal HospiceIt seemed that viewers and critics other than Victor himself liked the pilot show, so Channel 4 went ahead with commissioning a series of six half-hour programmes which ran from May 22nd 1998, shown on Friday evenings at 11 pm. Late night Channel 4 is not exactly viewing suitable for children (as programmes such as Eurotrash or The Word have graphically illustrated), so TV Offal was able to use this scheduling to its advantage in order to show the sort of things that would have made ‘clean-up tv’ campaigner Mary Whitehouse reach for the typewriter…

Rainbow Christmas Tape SketchMuch of the source material used by TV Offal comes from a little-known (outside of the TV industry) phenomenon known as ‘Christmas tapes’. These are unofficial compilations of programme and continuity-related material made by TV station staff in their spare time which often comprised of a collection of ‘outtakes’ (presenters fluffing their lines, etc.) compiled from such incidents recorded during the previous year but also may include clips specially recorded for the tape, originally intended for the staff’s own amusement only and not for transmission; the clip showing the Rainbow (kids’ TV show) team letting off steam with ‘the bad language’ being a prime example. The excerpt used in the pilot episode came from a Christmas 1978 tape produced by Thames Television staff.

Kamikaze KaraokeEvery TV Offal featured one or two “Kamikaze Karaoke” sketches, whereby some of the most famous popular/classical music acts are seen performing, but their voices substituted with singing that is off-key/has different lyrics/etc., superimposed upon the same or similar musical backing. Guaranteed to bring the most egoistical superstar crashing down to earth, singers and acts which had been given the “This is what he sounds like to me” treatment included Pavarotti, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Bob Marley, Nigel Kennedy, Vanessa-Mae and that Manchester foursome Oasis.

It's the Gay Daleks!Probably the most controversial of TV Offal‘s regular features is the Gay Daleks: “They’re camp! They exterminate! Better watch your backs! It’s the Gay Daleks!” You either feel that the sketches are crude, tasteless and offensive, or they’re a splendid parody of both the Daleks and of gay cultural stereotypes; late night Channel 4 viewers (on the whole) would interpret them as the latter which is probably just as well given the content. Apparently they were popular with the gay community, though later attempts to produce a cartoon series based on the Gay Daleks did not materialise due to rights issues involving the Terry Nation estate.

Was he worm-food?Another semi-regular feature that straddles the commercial break is “Assassination of the Week”. This sketch parodies the voyeurism that certain programmes seem to exhibit, namely, before the commercial break an assassination attempt is shown, and viewers are invited to guess “did they live or are they worm-food?”. After the break the rest of the film is shown and the answer is given, though there was a twist when the assassination of JFK was covered. Other politicians featured included Imelda Marcos, the woman which had a very large shoe collection.

The Pilots that CrashedTV Offal often featured “The Pilots that Crashed”; one-off programmes that never got any further than the pilot episode or shows that had a very limited run. Perhaps controversially, the show featured “The Development of the Television Test Card” in show 2 which wasn’t a failed pilot programme; indeed it was a one-off show (made in 1985) aimed at a specialist audience as reference material therefore it was never intended to be commissioned as a broadcast series. But it featured one of Victor’s favourite subjects (as anyone seeing any earlier material of his would testify) so he couldn’t possibly ignore it!

STOICTV Offal regularly featured clips from the archives of student or hospital television stations, often featuring celebrities either before they became famous or making a guest appearence. Famous people featured included Michaela Strachan, Phillippa Forrester, and Christopher Biggins. The picture is taken from the ident used in 1969 of STOIC – Student Television of Imperial College (London).

Hughie GreenA TV Offal show wouldn’t be complete without one of Victor Lewis-Smith’s “specialities”, the wind-up phone call. He calls a famous person or organisation pretending to be someone else, with either hilarious or deeply embarrassing results. “Victims” included Carlton Television in the first show, the late Hughie Green and Mary Whitehouse. However the alleged ‘call’ to Mary Whitehouse landed Victor in a spot of bother, and it’s also interesting to note that phone calls of this nature are no longer permitted to be broadcast on UK television under Ofcom regulations.

Associated-Rediffusion Television LimitedThe show is produced by Victor’s own production company, Associated-Rediffusion Television Ltd., which happens also to be the name of the ITV contractor that served London weekdays from 1955-1968. Victor bought the rights many years ago when it was simply ‘gathering dust’, and he even featured the voice of Redvers Kyle who was a regular continuity announcer for A-R in the 1950s (amongst others), in show 4. There will never be a commercial release (DVD/video download, etc.) of the TV Offal series because producer John Warburton found it difficult enough gaining copyright clearance for many of the clips used simply for television transmission.

Ads InfinitumSo, to paraphrase the “Assassination of the Week” feature, what happened next? The answer is the cleverly-titled Ads Infinitum – two series of ten-minute programmes shown on BBC2 (the first series in 1998), which (as the title suggests) are all about television or cinema adverts. And as for TV Offal itself, the only repeat showings were some compilation programmes (‘the best of’ or ‘the worst of’, depending on your point of view.) subsequently shown on Channel 4. These days Victor Lewis-Smith is occasionally still involved with television production and continues to be a newspaper TV critic and columnist for publications such as Private Eye; recent productions include Alchemists of Sound for BBC Four, You’re Fayed! for Channel 4 and a documentary The Undiscovered Peter Cook for BBC Four featuring some of the satirist’s personal diaries, letters, photographs and recordings.

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The Secret Life of Machines

Tim Hunkin and Rex GarrodEver wondered how everyday home appliances such as a fridge, fax machine, or central heating operated? Even if you hadn’t, The Secret Life of Machines series set out to explain simply and clearly how these (and more) items perform their functions. Presented by Tim Hunkin (right) and Rex Garrod, three series of programmes were produced for Channel 4 in 1988, 1991 and 1993 (the third series was entitled The Secret Life of the Office); all pictures shown here are taken from The Secret Life of the Television Set which was the last programme in the first series. Other programmes have since been produced that have names prefixed with “The Secret Life of…” (e.g. The Secret Life of the Zoo), but they are unrelated to The Secret Life of Machines/The Secret Life of the Office.

Selenium CartoonA special feature is the use of (often humourous) cartoons that are used to illustrate ‘moments in history’ which are relevant to the appliance under discussion. This picture is taken from a cartoon used to show the moment when it was discovered that selenium can cause an electrical voltage to change dependent on the amount of light shining on it.

TV CutawayTim Hunkin (the main presenter and architect of the series) may look exactly like the stereotypical image of “the professor”, but contrary to this he presents technology in a very straightforward and easy to understand manner and manages to do so in a way that can keep the interest of both novices and experts alike. His secret is possibly that if you’re not afraid of technology and you understand how an item works you can “deconstruct” an item into its various simpler components, and also avoiding unneccesary complexity when explaining how something operates.

CRT cross sectionSo how did Tim get into television? After gaining a Cambridge degree, he took on a series of bizarre commissions ranging from firework displays to mechanical sculptures. Back in 1972 he had drawn some cartoons for the Cambridge University newspaper Stop Press (the first one was about drawing cows!); this lead to a whole series of witty and factual cartoons for the Sunday Observer magazine colour supplement from 1973 to 1987 entitled “The Rudiments of Wisdom”, covering everything from acids to zoos (they were republished later in a book). Anticipating change at The Observer, Tim developed a proposal for a television series and his agent sent it to Channel 4. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rex's Plasma LampDon’t try this at home kids! (Or for that matter, adults as well!) Who else would probably construct their own plasma lamp using the high voltage line output transformer from an old television set?

Camera Recording PlaneHumour can help make something more memorable, as many academic lecturers are sometimes keen to point out. A cartoon showing that the electronic-scanning Marconi-EMI system cameras (as opposed to the large fixed-position Baird mechanical scanning cameras) were much more versatile by showing someone using one to record a flying aircraft, and then showing the poor camerman being knocked over by the low-flying aircraft!

Garden ClockSo what do Tim and Rex do when they’re not making television programmes? Well they make models and other mechanical devices for various organisations such as exhibitions and television programmes, and these were often featured to illustrate concepts throughout the series. This wind-powered mechanical clock was developed for the Liverpool Garden Festival some years ago.

Bradford MuseumTim Hunkin also designs and builds a lot of those ‘hands-on’ museum exhibits that interact in some way with the visitor; he designed this section for the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, Yorkshire. Amongst other commissions he has also developed for the Science Museum in London.

Bradford Museum CRT DiagramHere is an example of a display from the Bradford museum, showing how an electron beam generates a spot of light when it hits the phosphor-coated front surface of the cathode-ray tube.

String ModelTim and Rex are not afraid of using anything unusual to illustrate something that they are trying to explain – here they are using string with ink dots on it to illustrate how a television picture in constructed using scanning lines and dots of varying brightness.

TV Funeral PyreTo conclude the first series they built an amazing funeral pyre consisting of old television sets which were faulty in some way but were not worth repairing. The stack of sets were all switched on when the flames were lit, and as the end credits rolled the TV screens flickered and died in turn as the flames rose higher and higher. However it has now been revealed that they wrongly thought the end credits would be less than a minute long therefore the fire was designed to burn quickly, meaning that they had to make the most out of using a relatively small quantity of film footage.

The programmes still have a cult following both in the UK and abroad; they can be legally watched on YouTube or downloaded from various sources and are well worth watching, even if some of their content is now inevitably out of date. Nowadays televisions are basically a computer connected to a wide-screen flat display that’s constructed using either LCD (usually with LED backlighting) or OLED technology; they have much more common with a laptop or tsblet/smartphone compared to models using the now-obsolete CRT.

Artifax ProductionThe programmes were mainly Tim Hunkin’s own work, though he had assistants to help him with various tasks such as production. Tim feels that although the shows were popular there was a danger that they were becoming “too formula-based”, so there are no further plans for any more “Secret Life” programmes – however in 1998 he planned to develop a TV series about photography which unfortunately didn’t materialise. Meanwhile he has numerous projects to keep him occupied; he gave a Science Museum talk entitled “Illegal Engineering” which was all about security and safe-cracking, and recent commissions include a Pirate Practice arcade machine installed at Southend Pier in 2012. He also has a “mad arcade of home-made machines & simulator rides” at Southwold Pier in Suffolk entitled “The Under The Pier Show” as well as machines at Novelty Automation based in London. Rex was last seen on the programme Robot Wars as part of a team which lost in a final.

More information about The Secret Life of Machines including how to watch them and what Tim Hunkin has been up to more recently can be found on Tim Hunkin’s own website.

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QD: The Master Game

QD: The Master GameOver the years there have been many varieties of quiz show, from the intellectual (such as Call My Bluff) to the unashamedly populist Play Your Cards Right. QD: The Master Game was fundamentally similar to shows such as the mid-1980s TVS-produced Ultra Quiz, though it also had an affinity with the more intellectual shows. To briefly summarise – over five half-hour programmes (shown Monday to Friday on Channel 4 in 1991) an initially large number of contestants take part in a series of intellectual challenges; the number of contestants are reduced through elimination to a more manageable number for the final stages.

Tim and LisaSo what exactly did QD stand for, apart from yet another quiz game? An ongoing competition that took place during the five days when QD: The Master Game was shown was for viewers to guess what QD stood for, with the answer being revealed on Friday. To guess this one required knowledge of Latin and/or access to a Latin dictionary, since QD was an abbreviation for the Latin ‘quinque dies’ (or five days) – though if QD had reminded you of the famous abbreviation QED (quod erat demonstratum) you were probably half way there! This illustrates clearly that QD was not going to be just another ordinary quiz show.

Tim and LisaThe presenters were the experienced Tim Brooke-Taylor (who was one of the Goodies – a popular BBC comedy show of the 1970s) and Lisa Aziz, who was the daughter of Khalid Aziz (he was a presenter who had worked for TVS, the ITV company who had also coincidentally produced Ultra Quiz). It seemed obvious that QD: The Master Game‘s format had been influenced by shows like The Krypton Factor along with the aforementioned Ultra Quiz.

QD SignsThe studio set was fairly elaborate and must have cost quite a lot of time and money to construct (Noel Gay Productions must have been confident of QD being commissioned as a full series). This view of the studio gantry shows the large signs showing the days of the week: the appropriate one being lowered into view. The show also used video effects heavily, with captions spinning into view and an elaborate title sequence (which unfortunately we don’t have in its full form).

The £5000 Master GameBy Friday (the show from which all of these pictures were taken) the number of contestants had been reduced to six, and all of them remained ‘in play’ in order to decide which person was to receive the £5000 prize.

Leader boardThe person with the highest score at the start of Friday’s play (Tony Hodgson) was rarely troubled during the show and went on to win the final prize, though the prize for the contestant who was the most popular with the studio audience had to go to Wilba Luff, who was extrovert yet likeable (Wilba incidentally is a nickname for William). Simply mentioning his name provoked cheers and yelps from the audience; indeed the very concept of “getting to know the contestants” is very much a part of modern ‘reality’ TV formats and QD: The Master Game along with Ultra Quiz employed an “emotional journey” factor as part of their appeal years before programmes like Pop Idol were shown.

ContestantsFingers on buzzers! The challenges were a mixture of practical tests (see below) and general knowledge/memory tests; one which featured in Friday’s show was that the contestants had to try to memorise the contents of a book full of abbreviations – they were then tested on how much of the book they had actually remembered, though in this case some of the questions could be answered if you had good general knowledge skills. An example question: What does IMF stand for? (Answer: International Monetary Fund.)

Logo DesignOne of the ongoing challenges during the week was for the contestants to design a graphic logo which incorporated QD and the European flag symbol. No prizes for guessing who won this round…the others sadly didn’t stand much of a chance!

TV and Video TapesThere must be at least six video copies of QD in existence, since the ‘losers’ (and I’m assuming Tony Hodgson as well) received a video cassette of the entire week’s programmes. The runners-up also each received this neat-looking 10″ television/video combination to play it on. Tony (to win the £5000) then had to answer 30 questions (based on all that he had done during the five days) in three minutes, which he did – but only just.

Winner Tony HodgsonTony Hodgson (centre) received his cheque for £5000 at the end – he was asked how he would spend the money. He replied that he would possibly buy a computer for educational purposes for his family (sensible chap that he is). We’ve worked out that at the time his options would have been either a 66 MHz 486 DX/2 PC or Apple Mac Quadra 900 4/160 (the latter leaving no change from £4095, and little change for extras such as a single-speed CD-ROM). Overall the general feeling was that both the contestants, the studio audience, and (hopefully) the viewers had enjoyed these five days in 1991.

QD AddressDespite the enthusiasm shown for the pilot, Channel 4 did not commission a full series; the official reason given (according to Tim Brooke-Taylor) was that it would have cost too much. Unofficially its demise may have been down to simply the fact that the relevant commissioning editor wasn’t too keen on the idea in the first place – it was Bill Cotton who came up with the idea, and his friend Michael Grade just happened to be head of Channel 4. QED. Tim also said that “I loved the scary week and cannot speak highly enough of the contestants and the production team. I also have a copy and am proud of the whole thing. But don’t ask me about commissioning editors.”

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Anatomy of a football match

Marching BandThis feature is not about football or soccer itself (there are lots of other sites catering for football fans), but these pictures of the match between England and Scotland that took place at Wembley Stadium on 26 May 1979 help illustrate the BBC’s style of television presentation of football matches during the late 1970s/early 1980s, including the various on-screen captions that were used.

England TeamThis comprehensive graphic display was used for team details at the start of the match together with the team’s crest. The England team of this era featured famous players such as Kevin Keegan, Steve Coppell and Trevor Brooking who was later to become a familiar face on BBC1 as a football pundit.

Scotland TeamAnd ditto for the opposing team – in this case Scotland.



Antonio Garrido, PortugalThe referee (Antonio Garrido, from Portugal) was deemed important enough to have an on-screen caption all of his own. He checks his watch, waiting for play to begin.

Goal MouthThis (enlarged) view of the goal mouth shows some of the advertisement hoardings used at the time. Note the advertisements for Bush and Murphy – two electrical brand names that were prominent in the 1970s – the Bush brand is now owned by Sainsbury’s who own the chain of Argos catalogue shops in the UK and Ireland, amongst other concerns.

BBC Action ReplayThe advent of video disc recording in 1968 meant that action replays (including slow motion and still frames without any interference) were possible without any delay involved in rewinding a videotape, though this was confined only to the last 33 seconds of play which was being recorded in a continuous loop. The BBC showed briefly an onscreen caption (which included the BBC logo) at the beginning of the replay to let viewers know what they were watching; not long afterwards – well at least by January 1980 – this reminder was used far less often presumably because viewers had been long accustomed to this sort of thing.

(Peter) BarnesWhen something of note happened during the game (such as a goal being scored) a caption would often briefly appear identifying the person involved – in this case Peter Barnes who scored the equalising goal for England shortly before the half-time whistle.

England 1 Scotland 1These were the days before the occasional use of a permanent on-screen display of the current score – viewers had to keep track of the game themselves for much of the time, in which case you had to be watching from the start or have a friend tell you the score. Hence this graphic was very important when it appeared – it also incorporated a football-shaped clock with a white band indicating elapsed time since the start of play.

Half Time - England 1 Scotland 1At the end of half (or full) time this noticeboard-style caption was used which helpfully gave details of who scored what goals and when. Also note the absence of any form of electronic scoreboard or large screen display(s) in the stadium which are so common today.

Marching band leaving pitchThe marching band (a regular fixture during the interval to ‘entertain’ the crowd during and before this period) barely had the chance to leave the pitch when play started again!


Full Time - England 3 Scotland 1Match over – Ron Greenwood’s England team had beaten Jock Stein’s Scotland (something that wasn’t entirely expected) and the team captains (Dalglish and Keegan) swapped shirts.

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The power of five

The power of five

Channel 5 Tuning EngineersIn the late 1980s attention was diverted momentarily to satellite tv in the guise of BSB, though this was ‘merged’ with the News Corp.-owned Sky service in 1990. Initially it was envisaged that the remaining terrestrial allocations would be used for local services, but a change of heart caused by a lack of suitable applicants combined with a desire to generate revenue caused a fifth ‘national’ service to be born. It was essentially a two-horse race, with the winner having to arrange for thousands of video recorders, games consoles, etc. to be adjusted because a common frequency used to distribute video signals (UHF channel 36) was widely used by Channel 5. Retuning delays forced a planned December 1996 launch to be postponed.

Channel 5 Tuning SignalChannel 5 was launched on Saturday March 30 1997 into what was a much more hostile media climate than what existed at the start of the previous four services. As well as the other four terrestrial channels, Channel 5 has to compete against the numerous and growing number of satellite channels, as well as (arguably) ‘new media’ services such as the internet (which was starting to grow rapidly at the time); these rival services also happen to attract mostly the young target audience that the new channel was aiming at. To cap it all, due to the restricted coverage, less than 70% of the country could receive it, and many of those that could had to suffer an inferior picture due to many transmitters operating on a lower power.

The Spice GirlsWho better to launch a new tv channel wanting to portray a young image than the hottest popular music act of the moment which also happens to have five members as well! Enter the Spice Girls, performing a song based on Manfred Mann’s “5-4-3-2-1” (same tune, different lyrics: retitled “1-2-3-4-5”). Trivia time: Channel 5 is the only terrestrial station never to have had a test card (though before launch it did have a tuning signal caption), and has provided a 24-hour service from day one. It was also the only terrestrial station to feature a permanent on-screen identification ‘bug’ or DOG (digitally originated graphic) at the time, though they subsequently made the symbol less prominent before ditching it altogether with the change from Channel 5 to “Five”, then it appeared again with a later rebrand.

Tim Vine and Julia BradburyTim Vine and Julia Bradbury presented the very first programme at 6 pm, showing highlights of forthcoming programmes. The channel (like those before it) was aiming to be different from existing services, though some of the ideas were ‘borrowed’ from various sources. The concept of a short news bulletin (except during movies) every hour is similar to many radio stations, and having a ‘stripped and stranded’ schedule whereby the same type of programming is shown at the same time slot every weekday was a practice already adopted by various satellite channels.

A Channel 5 ProductionThe channel’s programming arrangements are identical to that of Channel 4; most programming is provided by ‘independent’ producers, though some of the production companies that were originally used such as Grundy were owned by Fremantle Media (now Talkback Thames), whose parent company (Bertlesmann/RTL) at the time owned a majority share in Channel 5.

Kirsty YoungWhere Channel 5 really innovated was its news service. As well as the concept of short hourly bulletins which was new at least to terrestrial television in the UK, there were differences in the presentation and content of the main news programme (initially shown at 8:30 pm). Channel 5’s original lineup of news presenters included Kirsty Young (pictured), Rob Butler, Scott Chisholm and Charlie Stayt.

Channel 5 UpdateOriginally produced by ITN (who also provide ITV and Channel 4 news programming), Channel 5 News aims to be highly visual yet informative but at the same time less formal in style – for example the presenter does not sit at a desk as is traditional. The end result has won various awards. Kirsty Young later moved to ITV, and Sky took over production of Five News for a while before it reverted back to ITN more recently.

Channel 5 Monday ListingHere is Channel 5’s first Monday evening lineup with wildlife, property, a film and comedy all featuring in the schedule as well as news bulletins every hour. None of the featured programmes are still on-air.

Family AffairsGeneral purpose tv channels try to feature at least one soap opera in their schedule; the home-grown effort is entitled Family Affairs which finished at the end of 2005, though the channel for a while also showed imported US soaps such as Melrose Place and Sunset Beach which were hitherto only viewable on satellite channels in the UK. Nowadays it is Neighbours that fulfils the channel’s soap opera quotient; something that used to be shown on daytime BBC1 from 1986 to 2008.

100%The early evening period (originally 5:30-6:30pm) during Monday to Friday was initially used for now defunct quiz shows such as 100% (pictured) and Whittle; the latter being suspiciously similar in format to a quiz previously tried by ITV and then dropped. 100% featured three contenstants answering 100 multiple choice questions – the person at the end with the highest percentage of correct answers wins £100 and is invited back to appear on the next show. This format was later extended for 100% Gold (for older people) and 100% Challenge (featuring winners from Mastermind), as well as a variety of special one-off programmes devoted to specialist subjects.

Wildlife SOSChannel 5 often shows programmes featuring animals of some description, whether it is about the work of a wildlife sanctuary (Wildlife SOS, pictured), or wild animals in continents such as Africa.

Channel 5 IdentFor its first four or so years, Channel 5’s audience share was still small compared with the other four terrestrial channels, but the channel’s majority shareholder (Bertlesmann/RTL) had other plans. Indeed RTL openly declared that they were no longer interested in acquiring any part of ITV and are concentrating their efforts instead on improving Channel 5’s audience figures in the UK which included a major investment in new programming. However Channel 5 still had a decidedly downmarket image that sometimes even included soft porn after the 9 pm watershed, so major moves were required to improve this situation.

Saving Private RyanWith Dawn Airey as programme controller (she recently defected to BSkyB), some radical moves were made in order to improve Channel 5’s programming along with its reputation. Its one quality import, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was heavily promoted in quality newspapers, and changes were made to the schedule such as the axing of Night Fever and the acquisition of Home and Away which was originally shown on ITV. The channel even put in a bid for The Simpsons which caught Channel 4 by surprise and helped escalate the bidding war as a result, but better programmes were just one part of its quest for self-improvement.

Channel 5 Pool IdentIn order to convince more people to start watching the channel on a regular basis, some drastic action was taken. Firstly what was known as Channel 5 is now simply known as Five, with the word being used in lower case as a logo. The rebranding was accompanied by a whole new presentation package which includes a mixture of new live action-based and plain idents with the word ‘five’ often appearing and disappearing with a 3D effect; the ‘five stripes’ device (shown above) also being abandoned in preference to individually using five shades of five colours for text and background colours.

Five - Caution RatingBut it didn’t stop there – Five scrapped the contentious permanent on-screen logo for the time being so it would be identified more closely with the other four terrestrial channels. Five’s presentation package was developed by the same agency (Spin) that worked on the previous Channel 4 idents, hence some general similarities between the two channels’ overall presentation until Channel 4 changed its on-air identity on 31 December 2004. The channel was at this point 100% owned by RTL, the Bertlesmann-owned company that operates various other European TV channels, after UBM (United Business Media) sold its stake in July 2005, but that state of affairs wasn’t to last forever.

Channel Five Storm Ident Channel Five Balloons Ident

Not too long after RTL gained control of the channel, Five gained a new identity package in 2006 comprising of outdoor-themed idents that featured four-letter words such as ‘live’ ‘rush’, ‘free’, etc., being visually formed using objects (such as lightning from a cloud or flying balloons); after Christmas 2006 the individual words were replaced with the channel name ‘five’ as can be seen from the above balloons example. Spin-off channels Five Life and Five US were also launched in the same year; Five having previously leased its two Freeview channels to Top Up TV in 2003.

Five Is TenMarch 30 2007 was Channel Five’s tenth anniversary, and the channel celebrated with an evening of special programmes featuring (amongst other things) a group of ten year-olds interviewing the potential future prime minister Gordon Brown, ‘reality TV’ offering The Ten Demandments, and a light-hearted quiz entitled Blame it on the Spice Girls. Quite. Also Channel Five acquired the rights to show the Australian soap opera Neighbours, of which it started to show from 2008 when the BBC’s contract expired.

Five - Tuesday 8pm Ship Rescue: The Devon DisasterIt wasn’t long (October 2008) before Channel Five had yet another image makeover, with a change of font for the FIVE logo which now appeared in capitals within a circle and yet more idents as a consequence. Earlier that same year, Dawn Airey had been rehired from ITV and promptly went on a cost-cutting spree at the channel. Programmes shown during this era included Paul Merton in India, Grey’s Anatomy, Police Interceptors and the return of quiz Going for Gold along with the CSI franchise acquired via a pan-European deal with parent company RTL.

Richard DesmondDespite all the hard work, it just wasn’t enough. Five’s German owner RTL was rapidly running out of patience with what it had dubbed “the English patient” in its European channel portfolio, having written off a large debt in 2009 and made a decision to only concentrate on owning broadcasters and channels that were either first or second in terms of popularity in their native countries, meaning that it was now actively willing to sell off Five to another company. BSkyB had long been suspected of being a potential buyer of Five, but it had primarily concentrated on pay-TV broadcasting via satellite with its free-to-air channels on Freeview being an ‘accidental’ sideshow perhaps to avoid its desirable channel slots falling into the hands of competitors, therefore the eventual buyer of Five turned out to be Richard Desmond and his media empire which includes the Express and Star newspapers. The company changed hands on 23 July 2010 for £103.5m.

Channel 5 IdentFrom Five to 5…Another thing on Richard Desmond’s to-do list was changing the name back to Channel 5 because he felt that the original brand resonated more strongly with the public, and he wasted no time in doing such a thing, therefore new idents, etc., were commissioned to go with the new name.

5 NewsWith the new identity came a new look for 5 News, which still maintained the “standing up” ethos that Channel 5 had made its own from the beginning.

Big BrotherPerfect match…Upon acquiring Five, Richard Desmond made several bold and somewhat rash claims relating to what he wanted to do with the broadcaster that were probably not meant to be taken seriously, such as acquiring EastEnders of all things (!!!), but he did say he wanted to make a big programming acquisition from another channel. That turned out to be Big Brother: a reality TV series which had gone into decline when shown on Channel 4 as well as being perceived to have tarnished Channel 4’s reputation as a broadcaster, therefore Desmond was able to acquire the rights to Big Brother when they came up for renewal. Big Brother, Celebrity Big Brother and their various spin-off programmes have been solid performers for Channel 5, which proved how good the fit between programme format and broadcaster turned out to be.

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Welcome to Channel 4

Even before BBC2 came on the air in 1964 there had been a debate concerning who should own a fourth television channel. ITV wanted it because (as they pointed out) the BBC with the advent of BBC2 had two channels whereas ITV had only the one, though by 1979 ITV’s viewing figures were exceeding the combined BBC1 and 2 figure so this argument started to sound weak (even if many TV sets had their fourth button marked ‘ITV2’ since it seemed logical). Back in 1964 the Conservative Party promised ITV that it would get the fourth channel if they won that year’s election – they didn’t win, so the issue was postponed as other factors took precedence. Work was progressing slowly, though by 1979 it seems that progress towards a fourth channel was at last starting to make some headway.

The 1979 General Election was predicted to be the crucial factor as to what the fourth channel would be like. If the Labour Government was returned to power again, the fourth channel would be run by an organisation known as the OBA (Open Broadcasting Authority). This was a popular choice (as opinion polls showed) since it would be completely different from the established channels’ programming, being community-based and non-profit making. However it was predicted that it would only have (roughly) a 2% audience share, and there were unanswered questions in relation to funding such an enterprise.

That did not happen (of course); the Conservative Party came to power, led by Margaret Thatcher – they were predicted to give the new channel to ITV in order to give them their ITV2. Another alternative discussed at the time was to create an entirely separate new commercial channel (the approach favoured by the advertising agencies – they hoped that the aggressive competition between two openly competing commercial channels that would be the result would drive down advertising rates); but the end result was surprisingly different from those proposals mentioned even if it featured common elements from all three approaches.

Original Channel 4 IdentAlthough initially regulated by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) with financial cross-subsidy from the ITV franchises, Channel 4 was a broadcaster designed to be independent from ITV, but due to a perceived high risk of financial failure such measures were necessary along with ITV franchises providing some of the programming and being responsible for the channel’s advertising sales, effectively leaving Channel 4 to do what it wanted without having to specifically pander to any of its advertisers. Its remit was and still is essentially similar to BBC2, namely producing specialist programmes for a smaller audience as well as popular programmes, though to begin with Channel 4 was unique in that the majority of programmes were commissioned from small independent production companies.

CountdownChannel 4 launched with a sequence showing clips from various forthcoming programmes, but the very first programme to be shown on Channel 4 when it finally launched on 2 November 1982 was Countdown. Based on a long-running French TV quiz format entitled Des Chiffres et des Lettres (Numbers and Letters), Countdown started life as an regional (Yorkshire) ITV programme entitled Calendar Countdown earlier in 1982 before being commissioned for Channel 4 by controller Sir Jeremy Issacs.

Richard WhiteleyCountdown is a fairly ‘genteel’ quiz based on games that use numbers and letters, and is the only Channel 4 programme apart from Channel 4 News which is still being produced today. The very first presenter to appear on the new channel was none other than Richard Whiteley, who was a familiar face to ITV viewers in the Yorkshire region (Yorkshire TV – now owned by Granada – produces Countdown for Channel 4). Richard became a cult figure nationally as a result of presenting Countdown though he sadly died in June 2005 after an illness.

Ted MoultOne familiar face that appeared on the very first edition of Countdown was that of Ted Moult, who was known nationally to many people as a gardener and also from his appearances on other TV quiz shows. And one person making her TV debut was Carol Vorderman, who was initially just employed as the ‘resident statistician’ and was presented as a graduate from Cambridge University; she of course was later to take greater responsibility for both the letters and numbers games.

The letters T N E M A R H I BThe very first Countdown ‘letters game’ produced this selection of consonants and vowels – T, N, E, M, A, R, H, I, B – of which the two contestants were able to think of two seven-letter words ‘raiment’ (an item of clothing) and ‘minaret’ (a thin tower that’s part of a mosque) respectively. Note the different colour scheme used for the letters board compared with that used today.

Countdown End of Part 1There were other notable differences between Countdown when it first launched and the same show as it appears today; the contestants do not have name labels and there were two guests in ‘dictionary corner’ as well as Carol Vorderman on hand to make sure that everything ran smoothly.

Vauxhall Cavalier AdAnother difference between Channel 4 and the other channels was that all programmes were shown across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but commercials could either be shown nationally or in specific regional areas (based on the ITV regions). The first commercial to be shown on the new channel was for the Vauxhall Cavalier 1600 GLS.

Are you taking the tablets? Follows shortlyChannel 4, like BBC2, got off to a shaky start but for different reasons. A disagreement concerning actor’s pay for commercials shown on the fledgling network resulted in an industrial dispute that prevented actors from appearing ‘on camera’ in commercials. This resulted in either a small number of commercials being shown or no commercials at all (depending on the region), at least until the dispute was resolved. Wales has a separate service called S4C with its own Welsh language programming (as well as showing programmes from Channel 4) which had launched the previous day.

IBA: CH4 Test CardChannel 4 transmitted programmes in the evenings only to begin with, so Channel 4’s test card was a familiar sight for viewers tuning in during the morning and daytime. Unlike BBC2 a new television set was not mandatory, and the fact that the UK UHF transmitter network had from the outset been designed to offer four channels meant that no new aerial was required. Also unlike previous channel launches most of the transmitters were already set up so most of the population could receive the channel (apart from some remote areas).

Central Productions for Chsnnel FourVarious ITV franchises made programming contributions to the Channel 4 (and S4C) schedule alongside independent producers, including hard-hitting drama Walter produced by Central Television, Countdown produced by Yorkshire Television, 4 What Its Worth produced by Thames Television, amongst numerous others.

Channel 4 ClockThe new channel tried out some brave programming ideas in its early years. The Friday Alternative was a hard-hitting politically controversial current affairs show with some key differences; no presenters were visible, there was a left-of-centre political bias and it made heavy use of computer animation between video footage. Indeed The Friday Alternative proved to be so controversial it triggered a row between Channel 4 News producer ITN and Channel 4, forcing the channel into commissioning Diverse Reports as a replacement instead.

Channel Four NewsChannel 4 News, the 50 minute-long peak time news bulletin along with (perhaps amazingly) Countdown are the only two survivors of Channel 4’s original schedule that continue to be shown to this day. Early critics of the channel dubbed it “Channel Bore” or “Channel Snore”, though it’s naturally easy to knock something if it’s trying to be different.

BrooksideAs well as all the arty experimental programming there were much more down to earth offerings like the soap opera Brookside produced by independent production company Mersey Television. Brookside used its own private housing estate as a set, which was unusual for a drama series at that time as opposed to the more normal practice of using a constructed set in a large television studio which gets dismantled and stored away when not in use, but for continuing drama like Brookside, Coronation Street or EastEnders, a permanent set makes a lot more sense. When Brookside came to an end in 2006, the Brookside Close properties were renovated and sold off as private properties, enabling anyone with enough money to actually live in a piece of televisual history.

Treasure HuntAnother very popular programme shown during the first few years of the channel’s life was Treasure Hunt, a quiz show presented by Kenneth Kendall that featured two contestants in a TV studio with a library of reference books to help them find and solve clues that could be found within a particular geographical area and within a 45 minute timescale that ultimately led to a cash prize if they were successful.

Treasure Hunt Studio with displayed clueEach Treasure Hunt clue consisted of a card with a printed riddle that gave cryptic details of a location where the next clue could be found; the first clue was read out in the studio at the start of the game and the contestants then had 45 minutes to find the remaining clues that were usually positioned miles apart from each other in different locations, meaning that the contestants had to solve each clue using reference books in the studio and then give verbal instructions to a ‘skyrunner’ (Anneka Rice, later Annabel Croft) via an audio link without any form of visual assistance between the two in order to direct the skyrunner to the location where the next clue is hopefully located.

Anneka RiceTreasure Hunt’s skyrunner had the use of a helicopter to quickly travel to various locations, though inevitably she usually had to do some running and/or borrow other forms of transport in order to actually get to the clue in question from the helicopter landing site. A map on the studio wall showed the approximate location of the helicopter at any given point, and the remaining time in minutes:seconds was often displayed on the screen, with the clock stopping for a while as soon as each clue was found. All the clues had to be solved before the clock reached zero, though there was an additional clue located nearby for a bonus prize if there was still sufficient time remaining (something that almost never happened).

1984 CaptionThis style of promotion was used by Channel 4 during 1984, featuring an Orwellian “Big Brother”-style stone slab with added ‘4’ logo which appeared at the end. A wide variety of imaginative programming appeared on the channel during 1984, including Let’s Parlez Franglais (an adaptation of Miles Kington’s magazine feature), Night Beat News (a newsroom comedy also produced in a Welsh language version), and a television opera entitled Perfect Lives. Daytime programming also commenced in 1984 with Channel 4 Racing.

The Last ResortBy the mid 1980s programmes such as The Word and The Last Resort gained notoriety and media coverage, making Mark Lamarr and the sharp-suited Jonathan Ross stars (among other people). What started life as Friday Live grew into Saturday Night Live was instrumental in changing the whole face of British comedy, launching a whole selection of ‘alternative’ comedians such as Ben Elton (who presented the show), Harry Enfield and Jo Brand. Channel 4 has also commissioned films such as My Beautiful Launderette, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Slumdog Millionaire. The ‘youth’ show Network Seven was hugely influential in relation to programme production trends, even though the show itself had only a very small audience.

Special Discretion RequiredChannel 4 has never been afraid to be controversial. In 1987 the channel decided to experiment with using what was known as the ‘red triangle’; the idea being was that the triangle would be displayed in the top left hand corner of the screen throughout programmes that featured scenes containing violence or explicit sexual content, effectively serving as a content warning. Opponents to this idea said that this would be an excuse to show even more sex and violence, and viewing figures for programmes that featured the red triangle conversely went up. Within months the whole experiment was quietly dropped.

Open College on FourThe Open College was a short-lived attempt to replicate the higher education success of the Open University on Channel 4, and to this end there was an agreement between the Open College – a new educational entity independent of Channel 4 that was created by the government of the day – and Channel 4 to transmit educational programmes from 1988 onwards with Channel 4 providing assistance in terms of resources and time to the approximate value of £1m per year. Open College programmes included Make It Count presented by Fred Harris, but unlike its Open University counterpart, Open College proved to be a failure and the project was soon abandoned.

Channel 4 Christmas 1990 IdentDuring the Christmas period in 1990 Channel 4 used this ‘psychedelic four’ with flashing colours as a special ident. As well as being controversial, Channel 4 produces the usual quizzes, soap operas, current affairs, etc., that can be found on other mainstream channels therefore catering for a very wide cross section of the population as a result.

Channel 4 Circles IdentIn the 1990s Channel 4 started a continuous 24-hour service, and then in 1997 controversially ditched its original ‘coloured 4’ in favour of using a white ‘4’ symbol in conjunction with either circles or squares, as shown here. This was also one of the first examples of the use of real people as part of idents as opposed to showing just a symbol or static drawing of some description; an idea which was to be later copied by many other broadcasters.

The change did not meet universal acclaim – indeed Channel 4’s image was soon to change again much sooner than expected (see below) due to a perceived unpopularity of its new circles-based identity. On January 1 1999 Channel 4 stopped promoting ITV programmes (and vice versa) as the ties between ITV and Channel 4 were finally cut – Channel 4 was now effectively an independent broadcaster.

Channel 4 Stripes IdentOut with the old, in with the new – Channel 4 introduced its second image ‘makeover’ on 2 April 1999. The unloved circles were ditched in favour of a simple square-shaped logo in combination with scrolling bands of colour; at the same time Channel 4 controversially also tried using a DOG (digitally originated graphic) on its digital feed, meaning that ONdigital and SkyDigital viewers of the channel are treated to a permanent on-screen symbol similar to that used by Channel 5 at the time. This however was later removed because of complaints from viewers, though Channel 4 HD has an on-screen logo presumably to help promote/distinguish the high definition service from its standard definition channel.

Old-style Merlin TrailerCompare and contrast: this picture was taken from the end of a programme trailer that was shown just before the April 1999 changes were introduced to the channel. The old-style ‘4 in a circle’ is just visible in the top right hand corner of the picture.

New-style Merlin TrailerAnd this picture was taken from the end of the revised style of trailer for exactly the same programme. Note that the screen is now essentially divided into two areas, with the larger left area being free for the display of programme information whilst maintaining the logo on the right side of the screen.

Channel 4 Lines identSince the ‘square’ look was introduced, subtle changes were subsequently made; at one point the ‘4’ square occasionally flipped across the screen into position, though in other respects the presentation had changed relatively little apart from the introduction of ‘split screens’ at the end of programmes along with ‘now and next’ menus. (Sometimes background images were used behind the moving lines for idents as in this example.) In July 2000, Channel 4 introduced a brand new reality TV show based in a house containing people who are continually watched by cameras and aren’t allowed to leave until they are evicted, namely Big Brother.

Channel 4 Hay Blocks IdentThe last day of 2004 saw the launch of Channel 4’s new ident package, which essentially saw the return of the Channel 4 logo building up in three dimensions, except this time the logo is formed using building blocks comprising of abstract pieces of landscape such as hedges, concrete blocks, road signs or bales of hay for a surreal effect as the sequence progresses.

Channel 4 News StudioOther changes were introduced at the same time including a new look for Channel 4 News (essentially swapping its black and purple colour scheme for new titles and studio appearance in white and blue colours) as well as two new styles of programme promotion, though some minor tweaks were made to Channel 4’s presentation soon after launch. Also note that Channel 4 News was one of the last regularly-broadcast programmes shown on one the main five channels to switch over to widescreen broadcasting as opposed to using the older 4:3 standard, presumably due to cost reasons and/or various other news sources still providing video in the 4:3 aspect ratio at the time.

The Queen in 3DFor a week in 2010, Channel 4 jumped on an emerging but short-lived bandwagon for 3D television with a special week of programmes featuring old 3D film footage taken of The Queen and various other people, places and objects. The experiment was essentially similar to the 3D experiments previously conducted by ITV franchise TVS in 1982 which required viewers to wear cardboard glasses with specially-tinted cellophane lenses that were given away with each copy of the TV Times, except that the colour tints used in the Channel 4 experiment were different therefore you couldn’t reuse the same glasses, so you most likely had to obtain new glasses that were made available from branches of Sainsbury’s supermarkets (and a few other places) in order to watch those broadcasts.

10 O Clock LiveEver since Channel 4 decided to get rid of Big Brother from its schedule in 2009 (last broadcast in 2010 on Channel 4), there has been a dilemma of exactly what programming to replace it with, especially as Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother occupied so much of the schedule. A new weekly series looking back at the week’s events from a comic perspective – 10 O’Clock Live – was introduced in 2012, with other comedy offerings such as Stand Up for the Week and panel game 8 out of 10 Cats forming part of the schedule. The controversial Big Fat Gypsy Weddings reality series and its spinoffs generated lots of publicity but not all of it was positive, therefore those have somewhat inevitably been cancelled as well; other reality shows include One Born Every Minute, The Secret Millionaire, and the controversially-titled The Undateables, as well as educational series like Embarrassing Bodies and How Britain Worked. However Channel 4 has thankfully commissioned a selection of high quality drama series that have partially helped to restore it former reputation for quality programming, namely series like Black Mirror which somewhat distorts reality to make a satirical point, Complicit and the US import Homeland.

London 2012 Paralympic Games Breakfast Show Paralympic Games Menu Paralympic Games Studio

Paralympic Games IdentFollowing on from the hugely successful London 2012 Olympic Games would be a daunting task for anyone, but a combination of goodwill and the promotional skills of Channel 4 turned the following Paralympic Games into a huge success likewise, no doubt helping to make stadium events a sell-out (for the first time in Paralympic history) and generally raising the profile of various sports and competitors. A late evening programme shown during the Games entitled The Last Leg, presented by comedian Adam Hills alongside television newcomers Alex Brooker and Josh Widdecombe who discussed the Games and interviewed Paralympic athletes, became so successful on its own merits it was recommissioned after the Games as a comedy review of the week with celebrity guests. March 2013 saw the introduction of Gogglebox; a series showing families watching and talking about various television programmes in their own homes, which proved to be popular therefore inevitably spawned variants such as Gogglesprogs (featuring children) in 2015 and a one-off ‘Brexit Special’ in 2016.

Channel 4 News Clock (2015)In September 2015 Channel 4 introduced a new and highly abstract on-screen identity featuring the blocks that make up its logo appearing in different forms, using short computer-generated animated sequences; four of these created ident sequences (one shown before each programme) formed an entirely fictional ‘story’. Pictured here is an abstract ‘clock’ animation which immediately preceded the Channel 4 News at 7pm; the hidden clock hands ‘twitched’ but didn’t actually rotate though the blocks themselves did move clockwise once each second. Channel 4’s logo only occasionally appeared in its complete form at certain points between programmes.

Channel 4 Ident (2017)By 2017 Channel 4 introduced fresh computer-generated idents that are more ‘conventional’ in nature, replacing the previous four animated story sequences but keeping most of the rest of the channel’s presentation package as introduced in 2015. They all feature a cartoon figure made out of blocks that does various things, this time accompanied by an acoustic guitar version of the Fourscore theme as originally used back in 1982. 2017 also saw the introduction of The Great British Bake-Off to Channel 4; a baking competition series made by Love Productions but originally commissioned and shown by the BBC. However Channel 4 won the rights to The Great British Bake-Off after a furious bidding war triggered when Love Productions decided that it may be better off moving the popular format to a rival broadcaster.

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This is the BBC

This is the BBC

Alexandra Palace TransmitterThe BBC (British Broadcasting Company, as it was known at the time) started the world’s first regular high definition – ‘high’ in this case being relative to what was technologically possible at the time – public television service at 3 p.m. on 2 November 1936, transmitting 405-line black-and-white pictures from Alexandra Palace (London) to an audience of less than 400 sets. The transmitter range was only 30 miles, and programming was very minimal to begin with – an hour in the afternoon and an hour in the evening, and nothing on Sundays until February 1938 – due to a lack of budget and studio facilities (only one studio available until 1938 when the second studio housing the Baird camera was recommissioned) and also due to early concerns about eye strain, though staring for long periods at a small flickering screen must have been difficult.

Control PanelLord Selsdon’s Committee, set up by the Postmaster General in 1935 had advised that the BBC should hold a public trial of the two systems proposed – Baird’s 240-line mechanical scanning system and Marconi-EMI’s 405-line electronic scanning system, so both systems were used on alternate weeks with each system’s equipment housed in separate 40 foot long studios. The Marconi-EMI system was so obviously superior in all respects that the Baird system was dropped by February 1937; Baird’s camera was fixed and required the subject to be specially lit, compared with Marconi-EMI’s cameras which could even be used outside with an extension lead. Baird had tried to overcome camera restrictions using an “intermediate film system” where celluloid film was rapidly processed and fed into an optical scanner, but it became fairly obvious that this cumbersome and expensive technique was merely a stop-gap compared to the Marconi-EMI system’s future potential.

BBC Interlude (Fish)Before World War 2 television was slow to catch on, largely due to the limited range of the transmissions, lack of programmes, and the cost of the receivers (£60 upwards) meant that typically only wealthy people could afford them, so programming was aimed generally at this audience; especially as the BBC itself was controlled by people from these affluent social groups.

Coronation 1953Television was still very much in its infancy when the service restarted in 1946. One set per street was common, and families often visited friends or relatives who had a set in order to watch events such as the Coronation in 1953. Also only two studios were available until 1949 when the BBC opened eight new West London studios (one ex-variety theatre and the rest were converted film studios).

BBC Television Service ClockAfter World War 2 a comprehensive transmitter building programme ensured more people outside heavy populated areas such as London could watch television, though it was slow to progress due to funding restrictions. In 1949 television reached the Midlands, Manchester in 1951, Scotland in 1952, then Wales and the West Country. Lack of signal coverage didn’t stop people living in ‘fringe’ areas putting up large aerials in an attempt to receive some form of television picture even if the end result was unwatchable from time to time due to nearby interference, even though for the first few post-war years television was heavily restricted to a small number of programmes each day, typically starting with a demonstration film in the morning and concluding with a news broadcast being relayed in sound only. Large gaps between programmes were very common, with interlude films or tuning signal captions being displayed between programmes.

BBC Bats' Wings IdentOn December 2 1953, the BBC introduced a new symbol for use as visual identification (or an ident) for its Television Service, which quickly gained the nickname of “bat’s wings” due to its shape, and was the world’s first animated television ident symbol. Two ‘eyes’ rotated in the centre of a mechanical model whilst flashes of light shone on the wings at quarter-turn intervals; this was constructed as a mechanical model and the animation was filmed because the model was too fragile for regular use. The concept was developed by talented designer Abram Games, who was commissioned by the BBC on the strength of his emblem design for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

BBC Bats' Wings ClockGames also designed this clock as well as static cards featuring a simplified version of the same logo. Both the animated symbol and the clock remained in use until the end of 1959, but static captions featuring the symbol continued to be used until October 1960, whilst elements of the symbol (such as miniature lightning flashes) continued to be used for Schools programming until October 1961. During the mid-fifties, television was becoming more ambitious in terms of quantity and breadth, especially as post-war rationing was gradually coming to an end; programmes during this era included Mainly For Women, quiz show What’s My Line?, comedy series Emney Enterprises, drama serial The Grove Family, children’s favourite The Flowerpot Men and the groundbreaking six-part science fiction drama Quatermass and the Pit.

BBC News 1950s BBC Robert Dougall

News Control RoomTelevision was starting to prove that the coverage of news and current events could combine the immediacy of a radio news report with visuals which were far more up-to-date than a cinema newsreel, even if news bulletins in particular were somewhat restricted in terms of what was achievable with the resources available to them. The use of still photographs to illustrate news stories (as opposed to moving pictures) was extremely commonplace, with regional news programmes in particular continuing with the practice into the 1980s primarily due to a lack of resources.

Richard BakerThe early post-war BBC news bulletins were often almost identical in format to the newsreels shown in cinemas, but competition from Independent Television News from 1955 onwards caused the BBC to adopt a more flexible presentation format for its bulletins. Shown here is Richard Baker presenting the 6pm news bulletin.

BBC TV Outside BroadcastPost-war improvements in television technology meant that outside broadcasts of events such as horse racing were not only technically feasible but a wireless link meant that the action could be relayed back to the studios in real time from a moving vehicle for a truly live broadcast with no need to rush-process reels of film.

Video Tape RecorderThe advent of video recording using magnetic tape in 1956 not only meant that programmes could now be easily recorded and reused, but also allowed for the recording of outdoor and indoor events for replaying at a more convenient time. Shown here is one of the first videotape recorders that was housed at the BBC’s Lime Grove studios; early videotapes were unreliable so the recording had to be replayed by a technician to check the quality of the recording before it was used for broadcast. Due to the high price of both the recorder and the tapes, the tapes were frequently wiped and reused after a programme had been shown or after a later repeat showing, therefore many programmes were not kept for posterity as a consequence unless they were judged to be of particular importance.

Peter DimmockVideo playback was particularly useful for the replay of sporting events such as horse racing, though good quality and immediate slow motion action replays had to wait for the invention of magnetic videodisc recording in 1968, and the replay time of these early disc recorders was limited to less than 30 seconds. Pictured here is the presenter of Sportsview, Peter Dimmock.

BBC's TonightCurrent affairs is a very important part of the schedule, and uses the medium of television to effectively cover the background to current news stories with a greater depth than is generally possible with a conventional news bulletin; here is Cliff Michelmore presenting an episode of Tonight. Other similar programmes include Panorama, which was (and still is) the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme that usually tackles a single topical issue in depth.

Dixon of Dock GreenDixon of Dock Green, with Jack Warner as PC Dixon was a long running police series that was rather old-fashioned in its approach even when it was first shown, but was popular nevertheless and lasted right up until 1976 when the competition (such as Z Cars and Softly Softly Task Force) started to make it look way past its “sell-by date”.

Barry BucknellThe increase in viewers combined with competition from ITV by 1955 lead to new programme ideas being explored. From 1956 onwards, Barry Bucknell (pictured here) presented do-it-yourself projects on television, firstly as a contributor to About The Home which was then followed by his own series, entitled Barry Bucknell’s Do It Yourself. Just like many contemporaneous studio-based productions, this was broadcast live, resulting in the occasional (and inevitable) on-screen mishap. He then went on to present the much more ambitious house renovation programme Bucknell’s House in 1962, featuring a house in Ealing bought for £2,250. This area of programming was relatively neglected during the following decades until the advent of Changing Rooms in 1994, though there was On the House shown in the mid 1980s.

GrandstandGrandstand was the name of the BBC’s long-running sports magazine programme that was broadcast between 1958 and 2007, mainly on Saturday afternoons when much of the sporting action took place. Peter Dimmock presented the first three programmes but David Coleman then took over the role of presenter who was followed by Frank Bough, Des Lynam, Steve Rider and a slew of guest presenters during its final years up until Grandstand‘s final broadcasts during the last weekend of January 2007. It was most likely axed because the BBC now had fewer rights to broadcast sport than it did in the past due to increased competition from other broadcasters; notably pay-TV sport channels provided by broadcasters like BSkyB and BT.

BBC Map Ident 1960 BBC Z Cars at 8.25

BBC Clock 1960The above images illustrate the style of programme promotion used circa 1960, with its contemporary style and bold graphics replacing the Abram Games-designed “bat’s wings” symbol; elements of the new design had been introduced during 1959 prior to its formal introduction in 1960. Note the “BBC tv” italic letters appearing in separate square boxes similar to the modern BBC logo style, and the clock kept the unusually long second hand previously used for the “bat’s wing” clock. However this presentation style didn’t last nearly as long as the Abram Games symbol, with the introduction of the first of a succession of various globe symbols used to identify BBC Television soon to follow together with changes in style for the BBC corporate logo.

BBC Television CentreWith television now rapidly becoming the dominant broadcasting medium in the UK, the BBC needed somewhere that was much bigger than Alexandra Palace to accommodate its production requirements, therefore a new headquarters known as BBC Television Centre was commissioned and built on a suitable site in West London, with construction commencing in 1952 and Television Centre was ready for use by June 1960. From the air, the Television Centre buildings appear to take on the shape of a question mark, because that layout was thought to be best for the site in general.

First NightThe BBC naturally wanted to show off its new Television Centre building to its viewers, so a special light entertainment programme was shown on 29 June 1960 in order to do just that, logically entitled First Night. Not all of the BBC’s departments moved into the new building straightaway, with (for example) the News division not moving into Television Centre until 1969. The Open University was to make use of otherwise-unused Alexandra Palace studio facilities from 1970 onwards.

Eurovision Song Contest From the BBC Television Centre in London

The 1963 Eurovision Song Contest came from London due to the United Kingdom winning the previous year’s contest, giving the BBC an opportunity to show off its still relatively new Television Centre headquarters to a much bigger Eurovision audience worldwide.

BBC1 'Watchstrap' GlobeThe introduction of BBC2 in 1964, which enabled extra programmes which were not necessarily of mass appeal to be shown, and eventually colour was introduced to (what was now known as) BBC1 by the end of the decade. Some very memorable and ground-breaking programmes were being produced during this period which are still being shown around the world today, such as Steptoe and Son, and the long-running Doctor Who series began. Other programmes shown during the late 1960s included the popular sitcom Beggar My Neighbour, soap The Newcomers and football club drama United.

Weather MapThe weather forecast had progressed from the use of hand-drawn maps to the use of magnetic symbols by the mid-1960s as shown here, and this style of map continued to be used for several years after BBC1 had started broadcasting in colour in 1969. Before the use of magnetic symbols, everything had to be hand-drawn which was a time-consuming practice as well as being rather inflexible; the whole map obviously had to be redrawn if a correction was required.

BBC East AngliaDespite BBC1 getting the go-ahead to start a colour service in 1969, the regional centres were inevitably slower to upgrade all of their equipment to provide a colour service due to cost reasons, and it was several months before Television Centre was fully colour-equipped. The news magazine programme Nationwide incorporating reports and features from the various regions also started in this particular year, and some of the regional contributions weren’t produced in colour until the end of the 1970s. (Inside Out is perhaps the modern spiritual successor to Nationwide even if The One Show has a similar mix of features and studio discussion pieces.)

BBC 50 1922-19721972 was the 50th anniversary of the BBC, though at that time less than 20% of viewers had a colour television despite a colour service being available on all three channels since 1969; the BBC’s summer Olympic Games coverage did however help to boost colour television sales during 1972. Notable BBC1 programmes broadcast during the early 1970s included Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game (its initial title) which started in 1971, science fiction drama Moonbase 3, drama series Owen, M.D., plus the popular sitcoms Are You Being Served? and the very long-running Last Of The Summer Wine began in 1972.

BBC1 Futura Globe (1975)By the mid 1970s most families had at least one television set, and nearly all of the populated regions of the British Isles could receive television pictures in some form even if it was only a 405-line monochrome signal. Sitcoms and studio-based light entertainment were of extremely high quality during this period, with many classic programmes produced including It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, The Good Life and The Liver Birds. The Two Ronnies, The Morecambe and Wise Show and The Mike Yarwood Show featured in what many people now consider to be the BBC’s greatest ever Christmas Day schedule in 1977.

First given a public demonstration in 1972, the BBC-developed CEEFAX information service commenced public transmissions in September 1974 though it wasn’t until 1976 when suitable set-top boxes for the service were available to buy in any quantity.

Roy North with Basil BrushThe Basil Brush Show started life as a children’s programme in 1968, showing on Thursdays just before the early evening news, but by the mid-1970s it had moved to an early Saturday evening slot and was now a very popular mainstream family entertainment show, featuring top singing stars like Cilla Black, Demis Roussos and Petula Clark that often did a comedy duet with fox puppet Basil as well as singing on their own. Basil is shown here with Roy North, who became Basil’s human sidekick in 1976.

AngelsAngels was a popular drama series set in a fictional (St. Angela’s) hospital, and is just one example of the BBC’s prodigious drama output from the 1970s. Indeed Angels survived until the early 1980s and was the spiritual predecessor to Casualty (which started in 1986) and its later spin-off Holby City which are now shown on a regular basis. Other drama offerings from this period included historical drama I, Claudius, and science fiction series Blake’s 7 began in 1978.

BBC News (1978) Angela Rippon (1978) Michael Elkins Caption (1978)

Beirut Map (1978)Pictured is what a typical BBC News bulletin looked like in 1978, with Angela Rippon being the newsreader. There was still a predominance of photographs used during this period as opposed to the video clips that typify modern news bulletins, though national news bulletins were steadily becoming more sophisticated in their visual presentation.

BBC1 Saturday 14 April 1979Here’s an example of a BBC1 Saturday evening programme schedule as broadcast on 14 April 1979. At this point virtually all new programmes were now being produced in colour, though there were still a significant number of people that didn’t have colour televisions; 1976 being the year when colour TV licences outnumbered those issued for black and white. 1979 also saw the broadcast of what was the most ambitious natural history series commissioned up to that point, namely Life on Earth, presented by David Attenborough.

Blankety BlankBlankety Blank was a popular BBC quiz show which was first presented by Terry Wogan (famous for having his long stick microphone bent by Kenny Everett), but was later presented by Les Dawson. Then the series was revived with Lilly Savage at the helm, followed by ITV giving the idea a brief revival itself but none of these revivals matched the popularity of the original series.

60 BBC Years (1982)1982 was the 60th anniversary of the BBC, and the “60 BBC Years” slogan was also used at the bottom of the BBC1 globe ident for a while as part of the celebrations. September that same year also saw the introduction of a new light entertainment series: The Late, Late Breakfast Show, which featured a selection of occasionally dangerous stunts performed by members of the public in the “Give It A Whirl” slot that resulted in several injuries and a death that caused the show to be cancelled in 1986. The Late-Late Breakfast Show was presented by Noel Edmonds who at that point was famous for presenting breakfast shows both on the radio and Swap Shop on BBC1, hence the tongue-in-cheek title.

Falklands Crisis (1982)1982 was also the year of the Falklands War, with the BBC naturally devoting significant coverage to this particular news story allowing for the limitations of war reporting. Also the raising of the wreck of the Mary Rose was shown live on television in the same year.

Breakfast Time Starting Tomorrow 6.30The start of 1983 heralded the launch of breakfast television, with the BBC getting in first with their Breakfast Time before the new TV-am ITV franchise started over on Channel 3. Frank Bough and the team turned out to be just what the nation was waiting for in terms of breakfast television in the morning, and the new TV-am got off to a bad start to the day as a consequence.

BBC1 Saturday 6 June 1987By January 1985 the old 405-line VHF network had completely closed down, and a full daytime television schedule launched in 1986 that included Neighbours, the Australian soap opera which is still being shown on Channel 5. By 1989 the BBC and other broadcasters also faced competition from the newly-emerging satellite services (Sky and BSB, with Sky eventually taking over BSB to form BSkyB). Pictured is an example of what a Saturday evening’s viewing on BBC1 looked like on the 6th of June 1987.

BBC News Darkened Studio (1986) BBC News Titles Light Beam (1986) BBC News Title Drawing (1986)

BBC 9 O'Clock News (1986)This graphic style used for BBC News has the nickname of “Star Wars” due to the logo appearing to be constructed in space using a beam of light; it certainly seemed to match the mood of the period in terms of its drama and pomposity.

BBC1 'COW' Globe - Ceefax 888The 1980s was also the era of the video cassette recorder or ‘VCR’; although such devices were available in the 1970s (and earlier) it was this decade that saw them become widely available and (by 1987) inexpensive thanks to the aggressive pricing of Far Eastern-produced machines such as Amstrad. Teletext became commonplace on more expensive sets and included on some of the cheaper ones too, and Nicam stereo sound was introduced towards the end of the decade, initially from certain transmitters only.

BBC 1991 Laserdisc GlobeAll smoke and mirrors? The globe above was replaced with this smoky light reflecting version in 1991, together with the return of the 1960s typeface. The word ‘Stereo’ appeared in the top-left hand corner when a programme with a stereo soundtrack followed – BBC1 was the last established UK channel to formally introduce Nicam stereo, which it did in September 1991, but not all major transmitters had been upgraded to carry the digital signal from day one.

BBC Balloon (1997)The change from a globe to a balloon (albeit with a globe pattern) came at the same time as the BBC changed its onscreen font to Gill Sans in October 1997, which was part of Martin Lambie-Nairn’s corporate vision for the BBC. The adoption of Gill Sans was something that was both traditional and forward-thinking in terms of looking better when displayed in the new widescreen format and when decompressed from a digitally-compressed datastream compared with the old sloping rhombus typeface that dates back to the 1960s. A variety of short video clips are used featuring the BBC balloon in different locations around the British Isles (above a castle, behind a suspension bridge, etc.), meaning that the balloon usually had a different ‘view’ before each programme as opposed to the essentially static backdrop that the globe had.

Perfect Day: GardenPerfect Day: ProjectorPerfect Day: Lou ReedPerfect Day: QuartetPerfect Day: Heather SmallPerfect Day: SunsetPerfect Day: Tom JonesPerfect Day: Twilight

Whatever your musical taste it is catered for by BBC Radio and TelevisionAlso launched at the same time as the new corporate look for the BBC was perhaps the most successful UK TV-based promotion of all time; it was based around a simple concept, namely that the BBC offers a huge variety of different types of music, catering for almost every taste on its numerous radio and television services.

This is only possible thanks to the unique way the BBC is paid for by youSet to the soundtrack of Perfect Day, a song originally performed by Lou Reed who also appears amongst the numerous celebrities who both take it in turns to sing and appear on screen, with a slide projector showing various images interspersed with the celebrities. Also note the thin black bars appearing at the top and bottom of the pictures, indicating that it was one of the first BBC productions to be produced in widescreen format, though the widescreen format was only formally introduced with the introduction of digital widescreen broadcasting the following year.

BBC - You make it what it isThis version of Perfect Day was released as a charity record and sold more than a million copies in the UK, reaching Number 1 in the singles chart and most likely to have been a major factor in the popularity of this particular promotion, though it has to be said that the promotion itself was exquisitely produced and directed therefore is essentially a work of art in its own right.

BBC One Massai Warriors Ident (2002)March 2002 saw a radical new look introduced for BBC One; the main channel logo now appears in a box just like the BBC Two logo, but more controversially the globe as a centrepiece has now been banished to the history books, and instead various sequences using dance as a theme have been introduced. The whole emphasis was to introduce a modern multicultural ‘feel’ to the channel, but whether the identity of the channel had been diluted as a result is open to debate, especially as the channel’s presentation package only lasted four years before being replaced by something else.

Test your PetSeveral programming ideas were tried in 2004 with mixed results; Test your Pet, presumably intended to be educational in relation to animal training but ended up being closer in spirit to to the somewhat infamous but fun Pets Win Prizes. As well as testing pets, humans were equally tested in Come and Have a Go… If You Think You’re Smart Enough, consumer issues were aired in the short-lived Brassed Off Britain, detective drama Murphy’s Law received an airing but something rather more enduring also debuted soon afterwards – Strictly Come Dancing, a dance competition show which rapidly became very popular and continues to this day. And the following year saw the rejuvenation of an old idea which also proved to be just as popular.

Tonight 7.30 Doctor WhoBy 2005 Lorraine Heggessey had been replaced by Peter Fincham as controller of BBC One, and the general consensus was that Heggessey had left the channel in a relatively strong position in terms of its drama output with a newly rejuvenated Doctor Who alongside other popular series like New Tricks, proving that it is still possible to have a drama series that appeals to the whole family, though the channel was criticised in the BBC Annual Report for perhaps running too many repeats in peak time. Hustle and A Picture of Britain were other examples of popular programmes, plus The Kumars at No 42 being an example of a programme transferred from BBC Two to BBC One.

The One ShowAugust 2006 saw the first four week trial run of The ONE Show, but its debut had notable differences compared to what the series became when it returned as an (almost) regular fixture of early weekday evenings on BBC One starting from July 2007, notably a different co-presenter alongside Adrian Chiles (Nadia Sawalha), plus a different title sequence with different music as well as the studio being based in Birmingham (the studio overlooked a canal).

The ONE Show MapDuring the 2006 trial there was a more formal use of a map showing different UK locations where each regional feature originated from. The ONE Show was thought of by some people as being a spiritual successor to Nationwide, but this was perhaps more the case for the trial run with its map-based presentation as opposed to the revamped final version which had essentially become just a succession of studio-linked features.

Adrian Chiles and Nadia SawalhaThe ONE Show‘s trial run was judged to have been a success but several changes were made including the moderately controversial step of moving the show’s studio base to London as well as employing Christine Bleakley as a co-presenter since Sawalha was no longer available, though both Chiles and Bleakley were later lured by ITV in order to head up their new GMTV replacement, Daybreak, but that didn’t work out as expected therefore both are now employed on different projects within ITV productions. (Chiles was and still is noted for his football punditry.)

BBC North West Tonight News UpdateAlso included immediately after The ONE Show during its 2006 trial was a short regional news opt-out billed as an “news update”; illustrated here is the BBC North West Tonight News Update, presented by Gordon Burns who has now retired and been replaced by Roger Johnson (ex-BBC South Today).

BBC Circles IdentWhat comes around…The dance and movement idents were inevitably replaced by new idents in 2006, and Red Bee Media had been contracted to produce their replacement. For inspiration they looked at some of the early 1950s BBC Television Service idents which inevitably used some form of circle as part of a tuning signal for viewers to adjust their TV sets, and everything from the Abram Games “bat’s wing” symbol to the later globes also featured a circle as part of their design, so Red Bee proposed that a new identity theme should be based around the concept of circles. New idents were produced which featured real life circular elements such as hippos, surfers, dancing children and the moon, plus the channel logo was given a new and bolder treatment. A circle signifies ‘togetherness’ in the eyes of the branding consultants, but whether viewers actually made the connection remained to be seen.

Life On Mars Tuesday 9.00 BBC1 ColourThe second series of the critically-acclaimed drama Life On Mars (about a policeman who thinks that he’s living in 1973) was shown on BBC One and repeated on BBC Four during February and March of 2007. Red Bee Media was given the contract to produce promotional material for this series, and the end result was an imaginative collection of various items such as bus shelter posters and promotional clips which had been given a retro 1970s-style treatment.

BBC1 Colour Life On Mars GlobePlus each episode of Life On Mars on BBC One began with a widescreen recreation of the style of globe ident that was in use during this era, whilst viewers in Wales were treated to a different, genuine mechanical globe complete with a voiceover provided by a continuity announcer who had worked during the early-’70s period. (Though BBC Wales didn’t actually use this type of globe until 1974.)

Andrew Marr's History of Modern BritainOther BBC One programmes in 2007 included the rather ambitious series Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain which attempted to cover a huge subject in five programmes broadcast between 22 May and 19 June, and its critical success resulted in a follow-up series entitled Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain.

BBC Election 20102010 saw a General Election in which a coalition government was returned, given no overall majority in the House of Commons. The BBC was on-hand to provide its comprehensive results service as is normal for such occasions, with its BBC News channel also providing rolling coverage once the main programme had drawn to a close.

Helen Skelton and Barney HarwoodThe first major department to move from London’s Television Centre to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays was children’s television, with the Blue Peter garden following Blue Peter to its new Salford home and is now a rooftop garden. This picture is taken from the very first Blue Peter to be broadcast from Salford, with the two regular presenters arriving via dramatic means – Helen Skelton by helicopter and Barney Harwood by jet ski.

BBC North West Tonight BBC North West Tonight - Oxford Road

And finally…BBC North West Tonight was the last department to move out of Broadcasting House in Oxford Street, relocating to its new home in the BBC’s new MediaCityUK complex at nearby Salford, and is now based alongside the BBC’s children’s TV and sport departments (amongst others) that had already relocated there from London. Manchester’s Broadcasting House was opened in July 1976 and had formerly been the home for everything from Mark and Lard to Life On Mars over the years. Demolition of Broadcasting House commenced in August 2012 and had been completed by the end of March 2013.

Tower Bridge2012 was certainly a busy year for the BBC in terms of large public events; firstly there was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with its associated river pageant and concert to cover as well as the London Olympic Games later in the year. The BBC’s coverage of the pageant was, however, not one of its finest moments due to several technical problems meaning that many of the planned live links with boats taking part in the pageant had to be cancelled, inevitably resulting in land-based presenters such as Fearne Cotton being left with the task of filling in much more frequently than originally intended.

The Diamond Jubilee ConcertThankfully the BBC’s coverage of the Diamond Jubilee concert went much more smoothly, even if there were a few complaints about concert sound quality from some viewers. Various big-name acts took to the stage, including Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Robbie Williams, Tom Jones, Sir Cliff Richard, Grace Jones doing a highly memorable routine with a hula hoop to Slave to the Rhythm, and Madness performing on top of Buckingham Palace whilst various images were being projected on the front of the building. The end result was a concert which was watched by an average of nearly 15 million viewers.

Olympic Divers Olympic Runners

Olympic StadiumOnce in a lifetime…The London 2012 Olympic Games promised the biggest sporting spectacle the UK had ever seen, therefore it was the BBC’s obligation to provide the best and most comprehensive coverage possible for its viewers. Indeed the BBC devoted a very significant chunk of its resources to the Games as a consequence, which included an extra HD TV channel for digital terrestrial (Freeview) viewers, 30 additional HD channels for viewing via satellite, cable or online plus other radio and online resources. It wasn’t surprising therefore that an elaborate animated promotion was commissioned to promote the BBC’s wide-ranging coverage of such a major event.

2012 Olympics Opening CeremonyShown on BBC1, BBC One HD and also on the BBC HD channel in 3D, the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony was watched by a peak of 27 million viewers; that’s roughly half the population of the UK tuning in to watch at least some of the ceremony’s live coverage. Danny Boyle was responsible for producing and directing the ceremony’s elaborate routines, set design and special effects that culminated in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by eight promising young athletes using the Olympic torch that had previously been carried around the UK by various selected individuals over the previous weeks.

MirandaDespite recent distractions such as the aforementioned Olympics and Diamond Jubilee as well as the upheaval of moving staff and equipment out of Television Centre prior to its redevelopment, BBC One as a channel has continued to be a strong performer in terms of popular entertainment, factual programming, drama and comedy, with shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Frozen Planet, Africa and Call the Midwife all attracting attention, with Miranda, Mrs Brown’s Boys and Outnumbered being three of the most popular comedies produced by the BBC in recent years. (Mrs Brown’s Boys is actually a co-production with Irish broadcaster RTÉ, who gets to broadcast each episode before the BBC does.)

CBBCAnother important event for the BBC happened on 21 December 2012, which was the very last occasion when CBBC programmes were broadcast in a block on BBC One. Showing selected children’s television programmes on BBC One in the future isn’t out of the question, and there were plans to show series such as Horrible Histories in a teatime slot where they can be appreciated by a family audience as opposed to the (predominantly) children (and their parents) audience of the CBBC and CBeebies channels. Childrens’ television has perhaps been changed the most radically by the digital TV revolution, namely that many parents quickly opted to choose dedicated childrens’ TV channels for their children to watch when given the choice to do so.

BBC Where Next - Old Studio BBC Where Next - Coronation BBC Where Next - BBC Micro

BBC Where Next GlobeWhere next…2012 also saw the BBC on the receiving end of some bad publicity in relation to the alleged antics of a now-deceased DJ and TV presenter Jimmy Savile, with some people thinking that BBC management at the time had some knowledge of Savile’s behind-the-scenes misbehaviour even though it’s almost certain that management at the time knew relatively little (if anything) as to what really happened, as well as most of his lewd behaviour occurring outside of BBC premises. Anyway, this breaking news story subsequently led to two misreporting mishaps primarily involving the BBC’s Newsnight current affairs programme that were most likely caused by major staff changes made in short succession leading to mistakes being made, but these incidents did somewhat tarnish the BBC’s reputation for scrupulously accurate current affairs reporting as a consequence, hence something was clearly needed to act as a PR offensive in order to repair the damage.

Where Next?Visually impressive in its design and scope, “Where Next?” sets out to remind the BBC’s viewers of all the good things the BBC has done over the years in terms of both programming and innovative firsts, starting with the British Broadcasting Company’s first radio broadcasts followed by the first TV broadcasts, the first live outside broadcast, the 1952 Coronation coverage, satellite broadcasting, the start of colour broadcasting on BBC2, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, CEEFAX, computer literacy with the BBC Micro, Newsround, Live Aid, Morph, Walking With Dinosaurs, The Office, Planet Earth on the iPlayer, Doctor Who and the online video streams for the 2012 Olympic Games, seamlessly linking one clip to another using all manner of visual trickery, and ending in a succession of BBC logos shown below an enduring symbol of BBC television, namely a globe.

Final Television Centre Weather ForecastMoving out…As the BBC Television Centre site was now going to be substantially redeveloped to include apartments and office space amongst other uses including new television studios, the final BBC One news broadcast from the ‘old’ Television Centre took place on 18 March 2013, followed by programmes shown on 22 March comprising of a concert featuring the group Madness followed by a farewell programme: Goodbye Television Centre, both broadcast on BBC Four. Originally tried as a one-off Christmas special in 2015, 2016 saw the introduction of Michael McIntyre’s Big Show as a series with celebrity guests and features based around members of the public which recall earlier entertainment formats such as Noel’s House Party and The Late Late Breakfast Show.

Oneness Skaters IdentBBC One’s on-screen identity based around circles had served the channel well for ten years but by the start of 2017 it was inevitably considered to be time for a new look for the channel. A new identity package was introduced that was built around the concept of ‘oneness’, namely the shared experiences of groups of people such as roller skaters (pictured), an exercise class, wheelchair athletes, tandem cyclists, night kayakers, etc., and inevitably this invited some comparisons with the dance-and-movement idents used from 2002-2006 except this time there was no dancing and no accompanying music.

Sounds Like Friday Night2017 also saw the delayed completion of Television Centre refurbishment under new owners, with BBC Studioworks (a separate private company) now in charge of Television Centre’s three studios and post-production facilities which officially re-opened on 1 September 2017, with programmes such as the new music show Sounds Like Friday Night already making use of them.

BBC One Christmas Lights Ident 2017Christmas 2017 saw the introduction of a new festive package of idents and on-screen graphics, and it soon became clear that there was a new star of the show (so to speak). A promotional animation featuring a girl and her father where the girl suffers stage fright at a school concert proved to be popular with many viewers, and also formed the basis for short ‘stings’ and idents shown during the Christmas period such as this pictured ident where father and daughter are trying to fix Christmas lights.

BBC Action LineFrom early 2018 the BBC began a gradual corporate-wide roll out of a new font entitled ‘Reith’ to replace Gill Sans (Gill Sans also requiring an expensive corporate licence for its usage), though the new font wasn’t generally used for on-screen presentation until October 2021 when a new look was introduced across most of the television channels. Some areas such as News and online had to wait a little longer before updating, so initially the BBC logo refresh wasn’t as comprehensive as it was back in 1997.

The beginning of 2020 saw a major global COVID pandemic breaking out which necessitated a fundamental rethink of ‘Oneness’ as a branding concept for BBC One, because if groups of people could no longer safely congregate together for fear of transmitting a potentially deadly virus, showing groups of people as ‘Oneness’ would obviously be no longer appropriate. Hence ‘lockdown Oneness’ was introduced, with a new selection of idents showing groups of people, pets or objects in separate rectangles but congregated together virtually, therefore showing solidarity with people confined to their homes for health reasons. Likewise various programmes were badly affected by social distancing measures introduced to avoid infection; the production of drama series such as EastEnders were put on hold and other programmes such as Have I Got News For You, The One Show and The Ranganation were rejigged to avoid using studio audiences as well as making use of ‘virtual guests’ using video links.

BBC Three Is Now On TVOne surprise was the return of BBC Three as a TV channel in February 2022. Obviously it was thought that BBC Three was still a valuable proposition as a traditional linear TV channel and it still wasn’t as relevant when restricted as an iPlayer-only service. Clearly linear TV is still appreciated by lots of young people despite the rise of the BBC’s iPlayer and commercial streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

Thank youThe worldwide decline of the ‘soap opera’ (serial drama) combined with recent budget cuts caused by government freezing of the TV licence fee (still the BBC’s primary income at this point) meant that the BBC took a decision to cancel medical drama series Holby City. On air since 12 January 1999, Holby City was basically a complementary series to Casualty. The last episode was transmitted on 29 March 2022 and Holby City as a whole was fundamentally a ‘love letter’ to the NHS.

BBC Lens Ident1 April 2022 finally saw the previously-delayed introduction of new ‘lens’ idents based around a rotating ‘sphere’ or lens effect incorporating two or more live action scenes. Several idents feature different scenes including a dance floor, park bench, skateboard park and outdoors late at night.

BBC 100 Years2022 represents a major milestone for the BBC as a whole, being the 100th anniversary of both the BBC being incorporated as a company (18 October) and the first 2LO broadcast on November 14…

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