Oliver in the Overworld

Little Big Time was a children’s television series produced by Southern Television for ITV during the late-1960s/early-70s and was notable for featuring a musical called Oliver in the Overworld featuring Freddie Garrity (from “Freddie and the Dreamers”). Oliver in the Overworld spawned a soundtrack album with songs written by Albert Hammond and is now a cult collectable, but the television series itself has remained unobtainable simply because like so much of television prior to the 1980s recordings of the show were not kept, so for a long time it was thought that any recorded evidence of Little Big Time was completely lost forever.

However it turned out that someone had recorded at least some of the last ever edition of Little Big Time using a colour home movie camera pointed at a television screen, and an extract taken from this recording albeit in revised form has now been recently uploaded to YouTube for everyone to see. Experience the chaos and wonder that is Oliver in the Overworld:


Back to the top

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.


Back to the top

TV Hardware 1950s-70s

TV Hardware 1950s-70s

1950s TVIn the days before remote controls you had to get out of your seat to make any adjustments to the television set such as adjusting the volume or changing the channel, etc., with the earliest televisions often only being capable of receiving one or two TV channels that were pre-defined for a particular transmitter by the supplying dealer if not done so at the factory.

VHF Channel KnobThese manual controls often had a great tactile feel to them, especially the VHF channel selector which usually clicked when the knob was turned, and there were numerous other controls for picture adjustment (usually concealed at the sides or rear) which occasionally had to be adjusted due to valve-based circuitry drifting out of alignment, hence the importance of the test card and tuning signal broadcasts prior to the 1980s because they were used to correctly set up a television receiver.

1950s TV Shop - Inside 1950s TV Shop - More TVs 1950s TV Shop - Even more TVs

1950s TV Shop - OutsideSo what were the shops that sold televisions like in the 1950s? The pictures above show a typical example – this was the era before the advent of the big superstore, so lots of receivers were packed into a relatively small shop space (though some department stores also sold televisions, of course). The brand names are mainly unfamiliar, and there’s a complete absence of anything resembling a video recorder. Only one set is showing a picture, and it is Test Card C which was a very common daytime sight in this period.

Soon! Independent TV Let us adjust your set and aerial 'now'The dawn of commercial television (ITV) in 1955 – TV shops in the London and Midlands had signs like this one in the window as retailers promoted the forthcoming ITV service.

 Commercial Television ConvertersIf you already had a TV set and wanted ITV as well…prepare to be converted – at a price, of course. In front is a card promoting Ferguson TV’s. “Fine sets those Ferguson’s” was the slogan used at the time.

Ferguson TVsAnd talking of Ferguson, here’s a selection of Ferguson TV’s and radio’s from the mid 1950s. Ferguson were taken over by the Thorn-EMI empire, which then sold the brand to Thomson (100% owned by the French government), though Thomson has now ceased to exist in the UK. Brands like Alba, Bush and Murphy are now the preserve of retailers and mail order catalogues who basically just use the name for their own-branded products.

Inside an Ekco TVThere were many more brands of television prior to the 1980s, most of which have long since disappeared altogether or absorbed into multinational companies. Here is a picture of the innards of an Ekco television of the mid 1950s.

Philips EL3400Moving forward ten years to 1965, and the introduction of one of the first ‘affordable’ video tape recording machines – the Philips EL3400. It was bulky and used an exposed reel of tape, plus it only recorded in black and white despite colour transmissions being available not long afterwards. It also had no tuner or timer facility, so it was only useful with (sometimes) expensive external ancillary equipment such as a separate television tuner or video camera. However, two years before the EL3400 there was a British recorder advertised for sale called the Telcan that was possibly the world’s first domestic video recorder. It could record approximately 20 minutes of 405 line video and audio onto audio tape; a remarkable feat for relatively primitive technology but was a commercial failure presumably due to the short length of its recordings. Only two examples of the Telcan are known to exist nowadays.

Dancers in front of Large ScreenCompared to the Telcan, the EL3400 was a greater success and certainly had its uses, as a group of dancers watch themselves perform on a large video projection screen. The EL3400 did not come cheap because it used a helical scan recording technique also used by professional recorders like the Ampex Quadraplex (the world’s first broadcast quality video recorder), so it was typically found only in large education establishments or used for industrial applications. Also Japanese companies such as Shibaden and Sony were starting to make their presence felt at this time with recorders like the CV-2000 format reel to reel machines which were soon followed by the U-Matic video cassette that proved popular in the industrial and commercial markets.

Monochrome TVThe common face of television in the mid to late 1960s – black and white, dual standard (though lots of single-standard 405 line VHF-only televisions remained in use for many years) with separate controls for 405-line VHF and 625-line UHF transmissions. This was required since from 1964 the new BBC2 service was only available on UHF.

HMV Colour1967 saw the arrival of the first mass produced colour TV’s for the UK market, though their high price and initial lack of colour programming (BBC2 only until 1969, few transmitters provided a colour signal and not all programmes were in colour) ensured slow sales to begin with. The picture shows an HMV Colourmaster which was typical of the sets produced in the late 1960s. Find out more about early colour television on the Colour Television page.

Philips N1500Fast forward to 1972 – though a few lucky buyers may have had access to one in 1971 – and the launch of the first ‘proper’ ‘home’ video recorder with an integrated tuner and timer, the Philips N1500. This close-up view (disregard the Sony machine just visible) shows the sloping front panel with (from left to right) a recording level meter, tape transport controls, and the 1 day, 1 event ‘egg timer’ clock. Each large Philips VCR cassette could record up to 30 or 60 (later 80) minutes; the six channel selector buttons are visible above the transport controls. The only thing to put off a potential purchaser – apart from the relatively short running time – was the steep price tag. However the N1500 was not generally available until the end of 1973; earlier it was only sold to schools and corporate customers, and these customers remained the main purchasers of such an expensive device. The less than 90 minutes maximum recording time would have limited its appeal to wealthy people who weren’t interested in recording long movies, therefore it tended to be only specialist shops and upmarket department stores that stocked the recorder.

The N1500 was replaced by the N1502 in 1976, which was basically an updated N1500 with a more modern case, a digital timer and a few extra features like a ‘Stop motion’ button which froze the picture on-screen. Indeed the N1502 looked almost identical to the forthcoming N1700 which was known to be in development at the time, so the N1502 was probably produced as a stop-gap.

Keracolor - Front Keracolor - Side Keracolor - Controls

Space oddity…Anyone who walked into the television department of a large upmarket department store (such as Harrods in London) in the 1970s may have been confronted with this space helmet-shaped television known as the Keracolor. This rare model is a design classic, and with 1970s style back in fashion a reconditioned Keracolor retailed in 1998 for as much as £800. Produced in Northwich, Cheshire, there were colour and monochrome versions as well as a smaller portable version, and at least the colour sets used a Decca chassis supported by stickle bricks. (Yes, stickle bricks!) The Keracolor brand was revived much more recently but sadly failed to make a discernible impact on the television world, even minus the stickle bricks.

JVC Videosphere - Front JVC Videosphere - Side JVC Videosphere - Controls

Send in the clones…the 1970s saw the rise of Japanese manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere, displacing many established companies both in the UK and abroad. Many of the Japanese products from this period were heavily influenced by European models; the JVC Videosphere pictured here being another helmet-based design. The right-hand picture shows the set’s controls – the thumbwheel controls (from left to right) are for brightness, contrast, and off-on/volume, plus rotary VHF and UHF tuning controls. The example shown here is rare since this monochrome TV usually had an orange casing; even so, compared to the Keracolor it is relatively affordable with a 1998 price of £330. Incidentally, the pictures of both this and the Keracolor were taken from BBC Two’s The Antiques Show.

1976 was the year that teletext receivers were sold in UK shops for the very first time, enabling news and information to be displayed on a television screen at a push of a button, but they still weren’t widely available for at least another year. There had been a public teletext service operational since September 1974, but at the start there were only three teletext receivers in existence and they couldn’t be bought in shops, though an electronics magazine published a guide to building your own teletext decoder in 1975 for those who were technically proficient enough to build one from scratch. The Labgear external decoder was the first to be manufactured and sold to the public, with four channels selectable using push buttons on the front panel and a wired remote control used to select pages and other teletext features such as hold and reveal.

1972 CEEFAXCEEFAX had been demonstrated by the BBC to the public as early as a news report on 23 October 1972, but IBA engineers had been independently working on their own ORACLE system therefore it took two years for the two incompatible systems to be reworked into a single standard known as teletext and for broadcasts to commence, with the acronyms CEEFAX and ORACLE being used as the two brand names for the BBC and IBA (ITV) services using the same teletext standard. The falling price of digital electronics made teletext much more affordable during the 1980s and proved to be popular in the UK, remaining in use until it was made obsolete by the analogue TV transmission switch off.

1977 saw the mass market arrival of a piece of technology that would prove to be very popular for more than 20 years and is still used by many people today, the VCR… (Pictures copyright: Philips Electronics.)

TV Skiing Denis Norden introduces the Philips N1700 The Philips Time Machine Denis Norden with Philips N1700

N1700 VCRBefore the video cassette recorder (VCR) became popular during the 1980s, it was necessary to explain to potential customers exactly what a VCR was and what it could actually do, and those potential customers may not be mechanically-minded either, so the best person to explain what a VCR did in layman’s terms is someone who is recognisably an expert in television but who isn’t necessarily an expert in things mechanical, namely someone like the writer and presenter Denis Norden, therefore Philips were extremely lucky to be able to have Norden present their promotional video demonstrating the benefits of their brand new N1700 VCR. It’s interesting that Philips chose to describe their VCR as simply a “Time Machine” as opposed to a “Television Time Machine” which would have been a much more precise description of what it could do if perhaps a less eye-catching expression.

N1700 VCR and tapesThe N1700 recorded television broadcasts onto the same size cassette tapes as the N1500, with up to 2 hours of record and play time initially available (Long Play = LP) compared to the 1 hour duration offered by the earlier N1500 series machines (including the N1502 which looked very similar to the N1700); this was achieved by slowing the tape speed down and using improved electronics, therefore recordings were incompatible between VCR-LP and the earlier VCR machines. Even longer tapes were later introduced, enabling 3 hours of recording time on VCR-LP recorders in order to compete with the new VHS and Betamax recorders offered by Japanese manufacturers that were launched in the UK during 1978. (Betamax and VHS had already launched in Japanese/US NTSC markets; 1975 for Betamax and 1976 for VHS respectively, so Philips knew that competition for their product was soon to appear in Europe.)

Switch on Press stop Press record and play Select channel

So using the N1700 is as straightforward as: (a) Switching it on; (b) Selecting a TV channel to record from, using the buttons marked 1 to 8; (c) Press the Record and Play buttons down together to start the recording; (d) Press the Stop button to stop the recording. Simple! (The N1500 was nearly as easy to use with perhaps the added complication of setting an audio record level control.)

Rewinding tapeJust like the earlier N1500/N1502 models, the N1700 VCR recorded television broadcasts onto removable cassette tapes, therefore you had to have inserted a tape into the machine in the first place and ensured that there was enough free space on the tape for a new recording, if necessary rewinding the tape to a suitable point (or the beginning) as shown here, but anyone already familiar with audio cassette recording as most people were at that point during the 1970s would instinctively understand such concepts even if people under the age of 25 nowadays would be even more clueless about VCR’s as the average person would have been in the 1970s. The N1700 did the job it was designed to do on a basic level, but it had no remote control and no picture search facility so you had to make use of a mechanical tape counter and/or the tape compartment window to work out exactly how much tape was left for recording/playback.

Setting the timerThe N1700 did have a basic digital timer capable of recording one programme that had a start time at some point during the next three days, which at least was an improvement over the first Philips VCR N1500 that could only manage a recording start time during the next 24 hours (and was a mechanical timer similar to that used on an old cooker); the N1700 timer was set using a sliding control which was moved one step at a time from left to right, setting the day, start time, and programme duration in that order. Simple and relatively foolproof if not the last word in sophistication, but anything more complex would have made the N1700 too expensive when Philips was trying to keep the overall product cost down.

 Optional cameraIf you were really wealthy in the 1970s, you could not only afford a VCR but also have the disposable income to buy an optional camera to plug in the back of it, meaning that you could record home movies on your VCR as long as the lead between camera and VCR was long enough to reach where you wanted to record; fine for recording children playing in the living room or perhaps in the garden from the patio but useless for many other parts of the house or outside. Also the cheap cameras only recorded in black and white, therefore colour recording required additional expense as well as good lighting because the camera tubes weren’t very sensitive to light, so that candlelit dinner party recording may turn out to be a complete washout unless very bright lights were used.

End credits Copyright message An Illustra production

Denis Norden not only presented the promotion but contributed to its script, being a famous scriptwriter himself having worked alongside Frank Muir amongst others in the past, and this showed in the humourous touches employed including various interactions with his wife (whom you don’t actually see), such as getting ready to go out therefore being able to set the VCR to record something whilst away, etc.; this promotion wasn’t just a factual explanation of how to use a video cassette recorder.

Some of Denis Norden's other favourites... Skiiing Canoeing Land yachting

After the practical lesson there were three films intended to be shown in shops for demonstration purposes; skiing, canoeing and land yachting. The skiing film had an accompanying musical soundtrack (Psyche Rock by Pierre Henry) whilst the others featured a natural soundtrack, though there’s another version of the canoeing film with Psyche Rock music also used as a shop demonstration for the N1700.

Grundig produced its own SVR format based on Philips VCR-LP tapes but offering even longer recording times, though it wasn’t popular due to poor availability combined with a near absence of pre-recorded tapes. By 1978 the Japanese-developed Betamax (Sony) and VHS (JVC) videotape formats reached the UK, both offering longer recording times and a wider choice of recorders from different manufacturers compared to Philips’s VCR-LP format. Philips countered by offering a 3 hour tape for the N1700 and the Philips recorder was still the best-selling VCR in 1979 despite the new competition. Philips was also developing a new Video 2000 tape format which unfortunately didn’t reach the market until 1980 when VHS in particular was rapidly becoming established due to greater support from dealers and popularity with schools.


Back to the top

Early BBC schools broadcasts

BBC tv Science and FeaturesBefore the 1980s, schools programmes were almost always watched live as transmitted since there was usually no means of recording them for later use (video recorders only became available to schools from the mid-1960s onwards, were very expensive to purchase and the tapes were pricey as well), so there had to be a delay of at least two minutes before and after each broadcast gave extra time for teachers to file a class of pupils in (and out) of a room that contained a television. In May 1952, the BBC had experimented with schools television via a direct cable link to six schools from Alexandra Palace, but it would be another five years before schools programmes were actually broadcast by the BBC. Under the guidance of Paul Adorian, Associated-Rediffusion commenced the broadcast of schools programmes on 13 May 1957.

BBC Bats' Wings Tuning SignalTelevision sets manufactured before the 1970s made extensive use of valves as opposed to more reliable “solid state” components such as transistors and integrated circuits; these valve-based sets often required adjustment of controls such as brightness and vertical hold before the start of the programme as well as allowing for a period for the TV to have warmed up properly, hence the BBC showing a caption known as a tuning signal for a while before the programme starts which enabled the teacher to make last minute adjustments to the picture settings if required. This Abram Games-designed “angel wings” tuning signal was shown before the start of each days’ broadcast in the 1950s, and continued to be used before schools programmes up until circa 1964, even after its use had been discontinued elsewhere.

BBC Television For Schools (dark)The first transmitted BBC programme for schools (Geography) was broadcast on 24 September 1957 from the Lime Grove studios, with only one schools programme shown each afternoon during term time to begin with, and all the initial programmes such as Living In The Commonwealth and Science and Life were predominantly aimed at older children. A short 5 second filmed ident sequence with orchestral accompaniment was used to introduce BBC Television For Schools (as it was called), and we can perhaps assume that this film was used as an opening sequence for schools programmes until the summer term of 1960; it had certainly been dropped by 1962 when the “Schools Opening Film” was 1 minute long in duration.

BBC Television For Schools (bright)During the last second of the ident sequence, the torch (and the caption) momentarily flickered brighter before the continuity announcer appeared on-screen to formally introduce the programme; something that may also relate to the flashes of light used for the “bat’s wings” logo from the same period. (Indeed, elements of the “bat’s wings” design with flashes of light could be seen being used in schools continuity until October 1961; a year after it was discontinued elsewhere.) Even by 1950s standards, this style of on-screen presentation was surprisingly old-fashioned but presumably a traditional look was adopted in order to appeal to teachers that were reluctant to embrace modern technology in the classroom. However despite an initial lack of programming, schools quickly warmed to the idea of television as a teaching medium and they were eagerly buying televisions to such an extent that they had to be restrained from excessively doing so.

AnnouncerA promotional film This is the BBC gives us a brief insight into the production of schools programmes during the late 1950s; the continuity announcer pictured here is introducing Programme 3 of the series Transport and Communication. The BBC actually referred to schools broadcasts in period literature as being “Broadcasts To Schools”.

Arthur Garrett with Model T carProgramme 3 of the aforementioned Transport and Communication series was all about the history of the motor car, so an example of the very first mass produced car – the Model T Ford – was placed in the studio. The presenter was Arthur Garratt (pictured here next to the car).

The Autumn Term of 1960 saw the introduction of a much more comprehensive selection of BBC schools programming shown during term time, and schools programmes were preceded by the “angel wings” tuning signal followed by a 1 minute-long “Schools Opening Film” accompanied by a piece of music which may have been composed by Lionel Salter. Perhaps surprisingly, nobody seems to recall what this opening film consisted of, but it’s likely to have featured the pie chart tuning signal (see below) because a filmed version of the pie chart featured the 1960-style corporate BBC logo in square boxes. Schools programmes shown during this period included Life in a Physical World and Making Music (1963-72).

BBC Schools Pie ChartThe tuning signal caption shown here is likely to have been first used as early as Autumn Term 1960 (when a morning schools programme was introduced); it was used before the start of each schools programme and consisted of a circle divided into five segments of black, white and three shades of grey in the style of a pie chart on a pale grey background, hence the term “BBC Schools Pie Chart”. From (at least) 1964 to 1967 there was a countdown sequence used before the start of the programme which had the pie chart slowly disappear; the circular chart was divided into small segments, with each segment of the pie chart being replaced by the corresponding segment of a plain clock face (identical to the clock face below minus the second hand) starting from the top, one for each second in a clockwise direction. A piece of music written by Lionel Salter entitled “We are almost ready to begin” was used to accompany the animation from 1964 onwards, and the tune’s duration was 1 minute 55 seconds, with 5 seconds’ silence for the announcement ID. (The first pie chart was also branded ‘BBC tv’ unlike the BBC branding shown here that was used from 1967 onwards.)

BBC Schools ClockFrom 1967 until (at least) November 1974, the ‘vanishing segments’ animation used for the final minute was replaced by this simple clock face with a single continuously moving second hand, though the pie chart itself was still being shown prior to the final minute countdown to the programme start; the accompanying music now being used was usually a percussive piece known as “Guadalajara” that was written by Leonard Salzedo (who also wrote the Open University theme that was the first few bars of a longer piece). Broadcast quality copies (albeit recorded on film) of this pie chart and clock sequence exist before the start of some BBC Northern Ireland schools programmes because an ident was sometimes recorded alongside the programme.

 

Announcement For TeachersOccasionally an “Announcement For Teachers” may have been read during the final minute whilst the clock hand was steadily moving around the face to the 12 o’clock position when the programme starts, with this caption being overlaid on the clock, but more commonly such announcements were made at other times when this caption on its own would have been displayed. (The same caption was also used later in the 1970s for announcements.)

Maths Today - There's always an answerThen of course there were the programmes themselves – BBC Schools programming caters for a wide range of subjects and abilities, with series such as Maths Today and Maths Workshop (for older children); the latter being shown well into the 1970s despite being made in black and white. Programmes were often repeated for the benefit of teachers so that they could try and incorporate them into the school timetable which was often difficult since many schools had no form of video recording at that time.

Where do babies come from?Here is an example of a BBC Schools sex education programme from the late 1960s that would inevitably provide a useful classroom resource triggering a discussion about the facts of life, with television being able to provide a far more powerful illustrative medium compared to books or blackboard drawings for this particular topic.

Greyscale chartVery occasionally the pie chart tuning signal itself would feature as part of an engineering test startup sequence if such a test was scheduled for a weekday morning during term time, in which case the pie chart tuning signal would appear on screen then very slowly fade away over the course of a minute to leave a black screen before appearing again shortly before the start of the first programme. The sequence would also feature a greyscale (sawtooth) tuning pattern with tone.

Unfortunately no recording exists of such a sequence in the BBC archives, but if you have in your possession any video or audio recordings of BBC schools broadcasts that may be of interest please contact us.

BBC1 The next programme for schools and colleges follows shortlyWith more and more schools programmes being made in colour as well as more and more schools acquiring colour TV’s – though there were still a significant number of primary schools in particular that had only black and white televisions even at the end of the 1970s – the pie chart’s days were obviously numbered, therefore something more contemporary was devised for schools programme presentation.

BBC1 Schools Diamond BBC1 Schools Diamond

Dance of the diamonds…From 1974 to 1977 the BBC Schools Diamond animation was used before schools programmes, and the animation was created using perhaps the most elaborate mechanical model ever constructed for programme presentational purposes with mirrors being used to create some of the effect. The diamond starts off being fixed in size but with the lines growing thinner and fatter at intervals before the lines split into several dots whilst diamond shapes formed and changed their size.

BBC1 Schools Diamond (shrinking) BBC1 Schools Diamond (two dots)

Towards the end of the sequence, two diamond shapes would vertically shrink down to a point where they vanished altogether, leading into the start of the programme. Two pieces of music were used to accompany the animation depending on whether the following programme was aimed at primary or secondary/higher education. There was also a pale blue version of the diamond complete with a different, corporate-style rhomboid BBC1 logo shown in Northern Ireland as well as a still caption of a diamond with BBC2 branding used on rare occasions when schools programming was moved to BBC2.

BBC1 Going to Work Follows ShortlyExamples of BBC Schools programmes shown during the 1970s include A Good Read, A Job Worth Doing?, Going To Work, Maths Topics, Mathshow, Merry-go-round for primary school children, Scene, Swim, and Watch. Some of these programmes continued to be produced or shown for years after the 1970s but the introduction of GCSE qualifications (replacing ‘O’ levels, with the first GCSE exams in the Summer of 1988) made some of these old programmes redundant.

BBC1 Music Time Follows Shortly Music Time Presenters Music Time Children

A few schools programmes originally made in black and white continued to be shown throughout the decade, including series like Maths Workshop and Music Time. The promotions for programmes like these might have been in colour but that didn’t necessarily mean that the programme itself was in colour.

BBC1 Schools and Colleges DotsFrom 1977 onwards until the Summer Term of 1983 a “dots clock” was used as a replacement for the diamond animation before schools programmes, with a full circle of dots shown when the clock first appears. When watching the dots disappear one by one clockwise each second as the clock counts down to the start of the programme, you may notice that the dots don’t instantly disappear but seem to shrink as they vanish due to the mechanical nature of the clock. Various pieces of music were used to accompany the clock, including Cat Stevens’ Remember the days of the old schoolyard, a medley of ABBA songs and a rather memorable cover version of the original Star Wars theme. Originally the Schools and Colleges logo in the centre of the clock rotated every so often but it’s very likely that the turning mechanism broke down early on because the logo became static at some point not too long after the clock was first used.

Announcement For TeachersAutumn Term 1983 saw schools programmes permanently move to BBC2 and the use of a dots clock was abandoned at this point in favour of a more conventional “Daytime on 2” style of continuity, though the “Coming Shortly…” method of filling short gaps in the schedule continued for a while longer as well as a 15 second digital countdown timer being adopted later on in the decade. More and more schools now had video recorders so could easily record programmes and play them back at times to suit the lessons as opposed to timing the lessons to fit in with the television programmes.


Back to the top

BBC Gardening: A (potted) history

BBC Gardening: A (potted) history

InterludeProgrammes that featured flowers and plants were produced almost from day one; the very first week of programmes back in 1936 included one featuring prize chrysanthemums. Alexandra Palace (the BBC’s base from 1936 to 1960) has gardens which were an obvious choice to be used if the limited studio facilities were otherwise unavailable, though live outdoor programming was restricted sometimes by the unpredictable English weather.

Gardening ClubIn 1956 the BBC started a monthly series that catered for real gardening enthusiasts, called Gardening Club. It was a big success, to such an extent that it established presenter Percy Thrower as a major celebrity (in a similar vein to Barry Bucknell, who was to be similiarly associated with do-it-yourself programmes).

 Watering IndoorsOutdoor television presents a whole set of challenges (rain, wind, etc.), but mishaps can still happen in the ‘controlled’ indoor studio environment. In order to effectively hear Percy Thrower’s voice, microphones were concealed in the soil (tiny radio microphones were yet to be developed), but once after he had finished putting plants into the soil, he started to water them, and since the concealed microphones were not waterproof…

Colour TestIn 1968 BBC2 were still experimenting with outdoor colour programming; the wide range of colours found in gardens were a natural choice for assessing colour accuracy. Six experimental gardening programmes were made using colour equipment; unfortunately all recordings of these have been lost.

Gardeners' WorldBBC2 (and colour television) was the natural home for gardening programmes, so Gardeners’ World started on Friday 5 January 1968 as a series to fulfill the demand for such programming. The main presenter was (again) Percy Thrower, though this time there were various co-presenters such as Arthur Billett, Kenneth Burras, Alice Coats and Geoffrey Smith. Gardeners’ World – with or without the apostrophe – has continued to the present day, albeit with an occasionally-changing roster of presenters.

Garden Plus AdvertAll was running smoothly until 1976, when Percy Thrower did (in many people’s eyes) the unthinkable and appeared in a TV commercial for Garden Plus fertiliser. His name was already associated with gardening products, but this commercial meant that it was possible for viewers to watch ITV and see him actively endorsing a product, then switch over to BBC2 and see him again in the garden. The result could have confused some people, as well as going against the principles of non-commercial television, so the BBC did what they thought was necessary by sacking him.

Clay JonesLife must go on (after all there’s the grass to be cut…), so Percy Thrower was replaced by Peter Seabrook, who didn’t exactly look like a typical gardener (quote: “He looked more like an accountant”), though the co-presenters such as Arthur Billit, Geoffrey Smith and Clay Jones (pictured) remained the same, helping to smooth the transition. Replacing Percy Thrower was always going to be difficult, but the loyalty of the viewers and the quality of the current and later presenters kept the show going. After all, the show was all about gardening and not personalities.

A new series of Gardeners World Starts Tomorrow Geoffrey Smith

Gardeners World Tomorrow 8.00Geoffrey Smith featured in this promotion for a new series of Gardeners World (sometimes spelt without an apostrophe, as is the case here) in 1981, talking about tomato plants and how they are flowering earlier in the South of England compared to elsewhere in the UK.

Gardeners' WorldThis is what the Gardeners’ World titles looked like in 1982 – at this point the theme music was still the same as it was in the 1970s – with the typeface employed bearing a resemblance to that used by a certain brand of flower seed.

25 Years of Gardeners' WorldGarden technology may evolve with the introduction of more advanced pesticides, plant varieties and garden machinery, but Gardeners’ World still carried on regardless, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1994. The show had been contracted out to independent producers in 1993 and some had complained about the changes, but the show must go on (as they say). In recent years the gardens featured have been in a wider range of locations due to smaller and lighter video equipment becoming available.

Geoff HamiltonOne of the best-loved presenters of Gardeners’ World was Geoff Hamilton (1990-1996), who tragically died from a heart attack shortly before the series Geoff Hamilton’s Paradise Gardens was completed (his brother helped to complete the final episode). His garden (known as Barnsdale) was an inspiration to tired gardeners everywhere; infact there had been two ‘Barnsdales’ (the first one had become too small); the larger final one actually comprising of no less than thirty separate smaller gardens.

Organic versus non-organicAs well as being a well-loved presenter, Geoff Hamilton made one very significant contribution to the world of agriculture (not just gardening), notably the promotion of organic methods of pest control and the elimination of chemicals from the food chain at a time when such methods had fallen out of favour (and organic food was virtually unobtainable). Also he wasn’t afraid to show viewers the results of such organic experiments even if they had failed, since the point of the exercise was to learn from these mistakes, and crucially these organic methods were presented as an alternative to the use of conventional pesticides (which were also used as a comparison) as opposed to only being told one way of doing things.

This proved to otherwise sceptical gardeners that organic methods were not only easy to achieve practically but also often resulted in the production of better quality food. Nowadays organic food can be found in every major supermarket, and that in itself is due in no small part to Geoff Hamilton’s pioneering work in this area.

Alan TitchmarshFrom 1996, Gardeners’ World continued with Alan Titchmarsh becoming the main presenter along with Pippa Greenwood and Gay Search being regular presenters in 1998 as the show reached its 30th year. Alan Titchmarsh subsequently moved on in 2002 to other areas such as replacing Sheridan Morley as the presenter of the Radio 2 Arts Programme, and Monty Don took over as the main presenter.

40 years of Gardeners' WorldGardeners’ World celebrated its 40th year in 2008 and still survives to this day despite competing series such as Ground Force vying for attention. Monty Don had to take a break in 2009 due to health concerns despite his popularity. He was replaced by co-presenter Toby Buckland in 2009, and after a short-lived revamp of the show that used 60 minute-long episodes with added features which had been likened (amongst other things) to elements of programmes such as popular motoring show Top Gear (by featuring a ‘cool wall’) and CBeebies by virtue of featuring young children, Gardeners’ World essentially returned to its roots in 2010 with a reversion to a 30-minute format, with Monty Don returning to the show soon afterwards.

The Secret History of the British GardenAs well as Gardeners’ World there have been other gardening-related programmes including The Secret History of the British Garden, also presented by Monty Don. This four-part series covering the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries was originally broadcast in December 2017 and charted the progress of gardening from when it was a preserve of wealthy land owners and royalty right up to the present day as a mass market hobby. January 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Gardeners’ World and the UK’s love affair with horticulture shows no signs of going away.


Back to the top

BBC Children’s TV: 1970s

Children's Programmes Today on BBC1The 1970s was a period of great change for television in general – at the start of the decade colour had only been available on BBC1 and ITV for a few months (and only from key main transmitters), and over half of programmes were still in black and white. The decade that brought bread shortages, power cuts, disco dancing, decimalisation, ABBA, and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee was also responsible for the following BBC children’s television programmes; just a small number of which are illustrated below for your enjoyment. (Just incase you were wondering about The White Seal, it was a cartoon based on a Rudyard Kipling story.)

Crystal Tipps and Alistair Garden House

Many of the previous decade’s offerings (eg. Vision On, The Magic Roundabout, Clangers) were still going thoughout all or most of the 1970s in either new or original versions, as well as the later colour episodes of Andy Pandy. Crystal Tipps and Alistair (1972) was one of the new offerings from this decade. Crystal Tipps is the one with the frizzy hair and together with Alistair (the dog) they lived in a house.

Ivor the engineCountryside Engine room

Ivor The Engine was a colour remake of an earlier series produced by the legendary partnership of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, whom had produced (among others) Noggin the Nog, Pogles Wood, The Clangers and Bagpuss (see below). It was also a return to the cardboard cutout animation technique used on Noggin the Nog.

BagpussEmily Prof. Yaffle and mice

BagpussBagpuss (1974) was a cleverly-conceived animation based around a saggy old cloth cat in a junk shop, which magically came to life together with the shop’s numerous other inhabitants such as Professor Yaffel the wooden woodpecker which normally served as a bookend. The girl Emily (second picture above) who owned Bagpuss was infact Peter Firmin’s youngest daughter. Many regard Bagpuss as the greatest childrens’ television programme of all time, though some may prefer the all-time classic Pogles Wood or The Clangers from the same Smallfilms stable.

Play School started life as the first proper programme to be transmitted on BBC2’s first day in 1964, after a power cut had wiped out what was to have been the official opening ceremony the night before. Play School soon went on to be a favourite with pre-school children to such an extent that a spinoff series Play Away was created for older children, and Play School itself continued throughout the 1970s right up to its eventual demise in 1988. Each edition was usually first shown on BBC2 in a mid-morning slot followed by a repeat showing on BBC1 for those viewers who couldn’t yet receive BBC2.

Jackanory Studio Kaleidoscope titles

Another children’s favourite of this period (though continuing from the ’60s) was Jackanory, which featured various special guests reading from a storybook. Jackanory has over the years featured some very famous and distinguished guests, including no less than HRH Prince Charles reading from his own book “The Old Man of Lochnigar”. The animated titles featured picture(s) from the book with mirrors to create a rotating kaleidoscope pattern, and the original theme music’s oboe arrangement was changed around the mid 1970s.

RentaghostVanishing spell End credits

The middle of the decade saw what was possibly the BBC’s answer to ITV’s The Ghosts of Motley HallRentaghost, which featured a selection madcap adventures involving beings of a spectral kind. In the centre picture Mr. Claypole (the jester) is about to perform a vanishing spell.

BBC children’s output also comprises of factual-based programming such as Blue Peter and Record Breakers – as well as being informative they set out to entertain as well. These programmes often had lavish Christmas specials which often include additional entertainment; a case in point being the extravagant All Star Record Breakers of Christmas 1977 that was perhaps one of the more extreme examples.

The All Star Record Breakers Alpine horn Roy Castle

The show kicked off with the song “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket”, which was interspersed with facts about the universe such as the brightest star in the sky. The presenter Roy Castle (pictured with a paper star) had ample opportunity to show off his musical and dance skills, and a record was also broken during the show for the world’s largest tap dance, complete with an iconic overhead shot of the tap dancers circling the Television Centre fountain.

Tap Dance Record Pantomime Kenneth Williams

Much of the programme revolved round elaborate pantomime sequences that featured guest stars such as Kenneth Williams (pictured above centre, on the left side of the picture) who was the ‘storyteller’, and the facts and feats were incorporated into the ‘action’ as the story developed.


Back to the top

Baird’s early experiments

John Logie BairdJohn Logie Baird is often credited with the invention of television, though in reality it was the culmination of various independent discoveries. However Baird was responsible for bringing various elements together and promoting the idea of television commercially to such an extent that it became a reality.

John Logie Baird's HouseBaird, although a Scot, had lived in London for much of his life. And he had also suffered from ill health for most of his life as well, so on the advice of his doctor he moved to the South Coast of England to live in the seaside resort of Hastings. Against medical advice, he carried on developing his ideas for various inventions both large and small, including the one that interested him the most – television.

Wall PlaqueLynton Crescent was to be the place where Baird managed to finally realise his dream; that of the transmission of an image without the use of wires or any form of trickery. He had been following the various attempts made by other people to transmit pictures with great interest, and very soon he was to attempt to do the same as well.

Experimental Set-upHe built his pioneering equipment using what odds and ends he could lay his hands on, such as an old tea chest, an old bicycle lamp, cardboard from a hat box, an old biscuit tin, darning needles, string and tallow wax. With this he managed to construct a mechanical scanning system for the transmission and reception of images – he received help from local people in order to fund the experiment.

Baird's Experimental SystemBy the end of 1923 John Logie Baird, through sheer determination had finally managed to build what was effectively the world’s first complete television transmitter and receiver. Its achievements may today look relatively modest but by the standards of the day it was a technical miracle – the speed of both the transmitter and receiver had to be perfectly synchronised in tandem for an image to be viewable.

Spinning Disc with Cross ImageThe very first transmitted image was that of a simple cross made of cardboard (visible on the right hand side of the picture); the camera and transmitter were a few feet away on the other side of the room. In January 1924 the Daily News reported on this feat, and public interest rapidly grew as a result of this successful experiment. Mr. Twigg the landlord was rather less impressed though – since Baird had electrocuted himself twice and caused a small explosion, he evicted Baird from his lodgings. The first chapter of television history had effectively drawn to a close.


Back to the top

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.


Back to the top

ITV: Independent television

View On Band III Channel 9

From 1936 to 1955 there was only one television channel in the UK (and nothing at all during World War 2), then the ITV (Independent Television) network came along which unlike the BBC was funded entirely using revenue from advertisements shown between programmes. Another key difference with Independent Television (or ITV as it became known later) soon became apparent as the transmitter network expanded over the following years, namely that different companies were contracted to provide the television service for different regions of the British Isles, with the size and nature of those regions being determined by geographical factors (the availability of suitable transmitter sites) combined with technical considerations (frequency availability) and financial considerations determined by the population size that each transmitter served. Indeed, the three most populated regions of England (London, the Midlands and the North) were originally awarded separate broadcasting franchises for weekday and weekend broadcasting because it was felt that (for example) having one franchise serving millions of people in London seven days a week would lead to one franchise holder making much more money compared to other franchise holders and that company would end up dominating the network as a consequence.

Having different TV broadcasting franchises for the second channel naturally resulted in different programmes being produced in different regions, though it soon became apparent that there was a requirement to share certain programming with other franchises due to cost considerations. Also many more programmes were broadcast live due to the high cost of film recording – video recording only became commercially available in 1957 and was also extremely expensive – therefore many programmes were broadcast simultaneously on different franchises at the same time, though certain franchises occasionally declined to show programming for various reason(s).

ITN NewsITN (Independent Television News) provided news programmes for the ITV network and the organisation still does so today. The first bulletin was transmitted at 10pm on 22 September 1955 on ITV’s opening night, and introduced a less formal style of news broadcasting to the UK imported from America, which was in direct contrast to the cinema newsreels and still pictures that the BBC used. The appropriately-named Christopher Chataway presented the first programme, and him, along with Robin Day and Ludovic Kennedy, became household names.

Tyne Tees Television Channel 8To begin with, independent television started life in London with Associated-Rediffusion providing the London weekday service plus ATV providing the London weekend service, but over the next few years the ITV network expanded with the addition of more regional franchises covering various parts of the United Kingdom. This caption from Tyne Tees (North-East England) gives the VHF channel number. Many TV sets produced before 1955 were often only capable of receiving one channel and these sets needed a “set-top convertor” to enable additional frequencies to be viewed.

ATV PresentsThe news was not the only thing different about the new service. ITV, in contrast to the licence fee funded BBC, was more ‘downmarket’ in its approach, showing quiz games and popular light entertainment shows in order to attract viewers to the channel; many of these formats such as Associated-Rediffusion’s Double Your Money were imported from America. The caption shown here is the start of the title sequence for Sunday Night at the London Palladium, presented by Jack Parnell, and produced for the ITV network by Associated Television (ATV), which was the company that held the London ITV weekend franchise until 1968. ATV also held the Midlands ITV franchise (weekdays only until 1968) up to 1982 when ATV essentially reinvented itself as Central.

Beat the Clock with Bruce ForsythSunday Night at the London Palladium was basically a traditional variety show format adapted for television, but it also featured what was the novel addition of a quiz show segment (Beat The Clock, shown here with Bruce Forsyth as the presenter). This entertainment mixture proved to be very popular for many years with audience figures often exceeding 20 million in its heyday, firmly establishing ITV as the home of popular entertainmentand the format has been revived on more than one occasion.

Granada Goes On-Air At 4.50Granada Television was the third ITV franchise to launch in 1956, initially serving the North-West of England, Yorkshire and (unofficially) parts of North Wales, and over the years Granada outlived all the other franchises to form the modern ITV plc that it is today. The company started life as a chain of cinemas, entering the world of television rather reluctantly to begin with until its management was convinced of commercial television’s long term worth. Granada is famous for several programmes, especially Coronation Street (a long-running soap opera) and World in Action. (Photos above and below courtesy of Transdiffusion.)

Independent Television For SchoolsITV started showing schools programmes as early as 13 May 1957, when Associated-Rediffusion (managed by the forward-thinking Paul Adorian) established the first regular schools broadcasting in the UK; the BBC following suit by September, initially showing one programme each afternoon. Many teachers were initially suspicious of using television as a teaching tool in the classroom, especially as they had to fit lessons around the showing of various programmes (not an easy task) with no means of recording them until the mid-1960s. Schools broadcasts also helped to lessen the perception that ITV consisted purely of mass market entertainment.

Armchair TheatreThe ITV franchises may have produced ‘populist’ drama such as soap operas along with even more lightweight quiz and variety programming shown during the early evening, but ITV proved that there was a sizeable audience for more serious drama offerings such as the ABC-produced Armchair Theatre that featured one-off plays; indeed Armchair Theatre outlasted ABC and continued when Thames was formed for the London weekday ITV franchise in 1968.

Westward Channel 9 Channel 12The 1960s saw a further expansion of the ITV network, which finally enabled ITV programmes to be viewed in most parts of the country. Westward Television was arguably the first of the “second wave” of ITV franchises to start broadcasting in 1961, following on from the initial batch of franchises which had included Southern and Tyne Tees as well as the pioneers Associated-Rediffusion and Granada. At this point it seemed fairly obvious that ITV franchises were now capable of making money, though the first and only ITV company to go bankrupt whilst still holding a franchise (WWN) was soon to follow.

News at 101967 saw the introduction of News at Ten, the half-hour news bulletin that became the cornerstone of the ITV schedule for over thirty years before being dropped in 1999 for a few years. ITN has always produced the news bulletins for the ITV network despite competition from other news providers in more recent times such as Sky News, and has also produced news bulletins for Channel 4 (and Channel 5 during its early years as well as nowadays).

ITA Emley MoorITV’s Picasso Period…Up to the advent of colour in 1969 there was something called the ‘Picasso’ tuning signal, which was unofficially named after the famous artist by virtue of its style. (What Picasso himself would have made of it is unknown, but he surely would have given nodding approval.) The example pictured was broadcast exclusively from the Emley Moor transmitter in Yorkshire, with various other transmitters transmitting their own individual identifying captions that helped engineers and viewers to tune and adjust their receiving equipment. Old sets needed much more attention in this respect compared to their modern counterparts which are plug-and-play devices based around computers.

Peyton PlaceITV’s first major shakeup caught almost everyone by surprise. The popular and respected ABC, whom prior to 1968 owned the (now extinct) Midlands and North of England weekend franchises had just expected to have been given one of the remaining major ITV franchises – London weekdays in particular being the coveted favourite – but being specifically asked to create a new ITV franchise company was a twist that nobody foresaw. Peyton Place was the very last programme to be transmitted by Rediffusion London in 1968 before the newly-created Thames Television took over as the London weekday franchise holder. ATV took over the Midlands franchise full-time with the weekend split being abolished.

Rediffusion London ProductionThames Television was created from the television production divisions of ABC (51%) and Rediffusion (49%) with ABC’s parent company ABPC being in overall control. With the new company structure, ABPC took the opportunity to change the ITV franchise name from ABC to Thames; a reason for doing this was that it would avoid confusion with the totally unrelated US and Australian ABC networks, especially when relating to international programme sales. After the creation of Thames, both the ABC and Rediffusion brands continued to be used for other purposes (cinemas and cable television to name but two) by their respective parent companies since only their ITV franchise operations had been affected.

HarlechAs well as the changes listed above, TWW (Television Wales and West) were ‘dispossessed’ and replaced by Harlech Television, a company named after Lord Harlech but which was soon to be renamed HTV since the Harlech name (rightly or wrongly to many viewers) reflected a Welsh bias to viewers in the West of England. The HTV franchise has since passed through the hands of UNM (United News and Media) and Carlton before Carlton was ‘merged’ with Granada to create what is now known as ITV Cymru Wales. Pre-programme company idents (as such) were no longer used from the beginning of 1988.

World Of SportWorld Of Sport was ITV’s famous Saturday afternoon sports programme presented by Dickie Davies which ran until 1985, and typically featured football (On The Ball), Australian rules football, stock car racing and the very popular wrestling matches that made household names of wrestlers such as Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki, etc., as well as horse racing and other sports. Recently ITV revived the World of Sport brand for wrestling events and other purposes.

Boxing Day With ITVVarious regional ITV companies became nationally well known for their contributions to the ITV network; for example Anglia became famous for its wildlife series Survival as well as its downmarket quiz Sale of the Century (“From Norwich, it’s the quiz of the week…”), Southern Television produced Out of Town presented by Jack Hargreaves, and the derestriction of ITV’s broadcasting hours in 1972 enabled Yorkshire Television to produce Emmerdale Farm which continues to this day as an evening soap just known as Emmerdale.

Independent Television For Schools Independent Television For Schools Independent Television For Schools Independent Television For Schools

The English ProgrammeFor many years, Independent Television for Schools and Colleges programming shown on ITV followed the same pattern, namely a picture was shown on screen accompanied by music, with the picture being replaced by a countdown clock with vanishing divisions showing for the final minute before the start of the programme.

Independent Television For Schools and Colleges - WestwardSchools programmes also enabled smaller ITV franchises like Border, Grampian and even Channel to fulfil their franchise requirements in terms of supplying networked ITV programmes. Various ITV schools programmes included A Place to Live, the ‘A’ Level chemistry programme Experiment, and arguably the most famous ITV schools programme of them all, How We Used To Live.

A Place To LiveHere’s a later example of the Independent Television For Schools clock as used in the 1980s with a different clock face and font style. No commercials were shown before or during the programmes intended for schools and colleges, and this practice continued until ITV schools programming was moved to Channel 4 at the start of 1988.

ITN News at 5.45The 1980s started with a degree of uncertainty for the ITV contractors, as the second franchise review took place. Three familiar ITV names – ATV, Southern and Westward – were displaced by newcomers Central Independent Television, TVS (Television South) and TSW (Television South West) on January 1 1982, with one surprise being the loss of ATV because they were still a very successful ITV franchise holder, though Central were in essence just a ‘reorganised ATV’ with greater local commitments forced upon it by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). With improved local provisioning in mind, another change were made to the South East with the Bluebell Hill transmitter in Kent broadcasting TVS (which had pledged to improve the South-East of England’s local news service from new regional studios at Maidstone) instead of Thames/LWT.

TV-amAlso ITV gained a new national breakfast television service provided by a completely separate contractor – TV-am, which began broadcasting a little more than a year after the other changes (1 February 1983), going on-air shortly after the BBC had launched its own ‘spoiler’ Breakfast Time programme on BBC1.

O.T.T. on TVSNew franchises, new ideas…With three new ITV franchises wanting to attract and keep their viewers, there was an outburst of creativity on the ITV network over the next two or so years, though the end results were perhaps understandably mixed, with Central having the most luck network-wise and TSW getting the wooden spoon prize for (not) getting their shows on-air nationally. Central replaced Pipkins with Let’s Pretend and launched O.T.T.; an adult version of Tiswas which had little difficulty in attracting viewers but controversy forced it off-air after only one series.

Spitting ImageRather more successful shows produced by Central during its first few years included Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, which proved to be very popular and so were quizzes such as Bullseye and The Price Is Right; ATV’s Crossroads soap continued but was axed in 1988, and so did the drama Boon. In 1984 the popular satirical puppet comedy Spitting Image made its debut, though its first series featured a studio audience (an idea that was subsequently dropped).

C.A.T.S. EYESBeing a significant newcomer to the ITV network, TVS came up with some new ideas of its own including detective drama C.A.T.S. Eyes, science series The Real World which featured ex-Tomorrow’s World presenter Michael Rodd and featured a 3D TV experiment with free coloured lens glasses supplied with copies of the TV Times; TVS also produced kids’ TV offerings On Safari and the Saturday morning show No 73. The only programmes that TSW managed to make an impact with on ITV were basically the quiz show Sounds Like Music, daytime canine competition That’s My Dog which also had the distinction of being the first ITV programme to have a commercial sponsor (Pedigree Chum dog food), plus the children’s cartoon series Tube Mice.

ITV Where There's LifeExisting ITV franchises also launched new programming such as Yorkshire Television’s science show Where There’s Life, Thames Television’s Button Moon for young children, and Granada produced The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the hugely successful drama series The Jewel in the Crown in 1984, so ITV was still proving that it could be a force to be reckoned with despite all its recent upheavals. And 1985 saw the launch of long-running dating game show Blind Date, produced by LWT and presented for many years by Cilla Black.

ITV First Among EqualsITV continued to prosper during the second half of the 1980s as the new franchises bedded in, and the established ITV players continued apace; Granada adapted the novel First Among Equals into a 10-part drama series shown in 1986, and Thames’ long-running Strike It Lucky (later renamed Strike It Rich) quiz hosted by Michael Barrymore started in October of the same year. In 1988 Thames produced a highly controversial edition of current affairs programme This Week entitled Death on the Rock which some claim was a significant factor in Thames subsequently losing its ITV franchise even though this was officially denied; the same year also saw the launch of long-running drama series London’s Burning. Despite these successes there were clouds on the horizon for the ITV franchises in general; new technology such as the introduction of satellite television and the rapid growth of cable television networks meant theoretical new direct competition for ITV’s prized ad revenue – could ITV’s long-held “licence to print money” be finally coming to an end?

ITV Yorkshire Television (1989)With the launch of Sky satellite TV in 1989 (and rival BSB soon to follow), some people at ITV thought that it would be opportune to create a more unified appearance for a TV channel that essentially comprised of a collection of separate regional TV broadcast franchises which happened to share much of their programming, hence the English Marshall Pockett agency were commissioned to produce a new identity package for ITV featuring a new logo plus generic-looking idents (within each ident, the ‘V’ of ITV showed part of the regional company logo), and other presentational elements intended to be used right across the ITV network, with a new theme tune composed by Lord David Dundas (also the composer of the original Channel 4 theme 4 Score). However not all of the ITV franchises adopted this new look, with the Channel, LWT and TVS franchises totally ignoring it from a local perspective, plus nearly all of the ITV franchises that did use the generic package ended up abandoning its use after only a year, with the notable exception of Grampian Television who continued to use their ITV generic ident right up until 2006 and the STV takeover.

TVS Thanks for watchingPrior to the post-2002 ITV franchise consolidation process, there were many more companies owning various individual ITV franchises that permitted them to broadcast to individual regions, and these franchises are reviewed every couple of years, with licence renewal not being an automatic process at this point, as many companies subsequently found to their cost. Thames, TVS, TSW and TV-am all lost their franchises and were replaced by Carlton, Meridian, Westcountry and GMTV at the start of 1993. The manner of which the franchise renewals were conducted in 1991 was highly controversial, and Thames Television losing its London franchise was certainly a point of huge contention. ITV programmes produced during this period included Yorkshire Television’s highly successful comedy drama adaptation of H.E.Bates’ novels entitled The Darling Buds of May.

Meridian Break BumperCommercial television sometimes uses what is known as a ‘break bumper’ which is a very short (typically less than 2 second) animation with no music shown just before and/or after the commercial break – the picture is taken from one which was used by Meridian Television. Occasionally ITV companies used a simple animation between each commercial as well (technically known as an ‘optic’ or ‘ad spacer’); the one used by Westward Television featured a rotating hexagon of all things, something perhaps adopted with Channel Television in mind because for many years Westward provided the ‘parent’ programme feed for the smallest ITV contractor serving the Channel Islands.

Westcountry LiveWith the new ITV franchise holders came new early evening regional news programmes in their respective regions: for example, Carlton introduced London Tonight, Meridian introduced Meridian Tonight (replacing TVS’s Coast to Coast) whilst Westcountry introduced Westcountry Live as a replacement for TSW Today.

ITV - TV from the heartTV from the heart…ITV’s new image as introduced on 5 October 1998, which includes a new lower case itv logo (replacing the 1989 design) and colour scheme. Designed by English and Pockett, the theme of hearts introduced throughout ITV’s on-screen presentation is meant to symbolise ‘warmth’ and ‘cuddliness’, though presumably ITV executives nearly had heart failure when they learnt of the BBC Choice ‘three hearts’ ident that also introduced during 1998. However not all companies made use all the changes, eg. Meridian and others frequently used their own style of ident/break bumper and appended their own logo to generic ITV trailers. LWT for some reason decided to create their own idents based around the hearts theme, perhaps to make their own output a bit more distinctive compared to Carlton’s weekday presentation. 1998 also saw the beginning of a successful long-running big money quiz: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?.

ITV TV Gets Better March 8The next (and not uncontroversial) change was the axing of News at Ten from March 8 1999. Since 1967, News at Ten had been a regular feature of the ITV weekday evening schedule and it had also been a condition of the ITV franchise holders that they were to show it regardless, meaning that it was impossible to start showing a movie at (say) 9 pm without being interrupted by anything but commercials. After many complaints, the ITC forced ITV to reinstate its 10pm bulletin at least for four days a week; it was known as the “ITV News at Ten“, though it wasn’t too long before this idea was abandoned for a shorter bulletin in a later slot. Nowadays both ITV and BBC One have major news bulletins at 10pm.

Carlton (1999)From Monday 8 November 1999 – a year and a month after the ITV ‘heart’ logo was introduced, all English ITV franchises (except the Carlton-owned regions) adopted the ITV “generic” look for their on-screen presentation. The Carlton example is taken from the Midlands (Central) region which used orange as a background colour.

Central NewsBehind the scenes at ITV there have been many upheavals within many of the franchises since the mid 1990s with numerous mergers and acquistions; the net result by 2000 being that Granada owned all English ITV regions apart from London weekdays, the Midlands and the HTV West/South West of England (Westcountry) which were owned by Carlton, but even that was going to change by 2004 when Granada finally ‘merged’ with Carlton to create one company holding what were still several individual ITV franchises until the Digital Economy Act abolished them in 2010. Nowadays ITV owns all of the former franchise regions (including UTV and Channel) apart from STV covering the whole of Scotland.

Central News StudioThe studio set of the early evening regional news programme Central News at Six (shown here) demonstrates how the star theme used by Carlton had been utilised (note the star pattern on the backdrop of the news studio). Nowadays all the English ITV regions use the same style of general presentation, with virtually identical studio sets employed throughout the regions. (Furthermore, some former regions have now been merged with each other, for example Yorkshire and Tyne Tees.)

ITV Schedule Christmas 1999This ‘programme menu’ shows the lineup of programmes for ITV for Christmas Day 1999, which is dominated by a selection of programmes designed to try and attract the largest popular audience possible. ITV has in recent years performed relatively poorly in terms of audience share on Christmas Day, so this illustrates a clear attempt to reverse the trend, despite advertisers being less bothered about advertising on Christmas Day in spite of a potentially large captive audience.

End of CrossroadsThis picture illustrates something that is starting to become more commonplace during 2001 on both ITV and BBC One; notably End Credit Promotions (or ECP for short). Whilst the end credits of one programme are being shown (in this case for an episode of the ill-fated revival of Crossroads) in one part of the screen, a promotion for another programme is being shown at the same time.

Pop Idol2001 saw the introduction of the first of a succession of big money-making light entertainment formats for ITV with Pop Idol; a singing contest featuring a hitherto novel combination of premium rate interactivity features (phone voting) and reality TV elements (namely, getting to know the contestants personally). This formula was subsequently adjusted by show producer Simon Cowell for the launch of The X Factor in April 2004, replacing Pop Idol in the UK, although the Pop Idol format continues to be used in certain other countries. A more traditional form of peak time weekend entertainment launched in June 2002 on ITV, namely Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.

ITV Ant and Dec IdentOctober 2002 saw ITV1 launch a new look as part of a concerted effort to restore its image. ITV’s audience had been in steady decline over the last few years whilst (amongst other things) it concentrated efforts on the failed ONdigital/ITV Digital project. The new look featured various ITV personalities (such as Ant and Dec, pictured here) appearing before programmes, showing them as being “off duty” as part of short sequences, though an even more fundamental change at this point was that regional names such as Granada and Meridian were no longer used except for local news bulletins and sometimes seen just before regional programmes, plus some of these names were abandoned altogether at this juncture, eg. ITV1 London is used seven days a week with the LWT brand dropped (although the London region was at this point still controlled by two companies with Granada operating at the weekend and Carlton during weekdays).

The final transformation: On 2 February 2004 Granada finally merged with Carlton to create one ITV company (“ITV plc”) for England and Wales when shares in the unified company were first traded on the Stock Exchange, though STV (Scottish/Grampian, formerly SMG) and UTV (Northern Ireland) remain separate entities at the time of writing. (Channel Television remained independent until 2010 when it was taken over by ITV plc.) The Granada name was adopted as the network production brand for a while, whilst the Carlton name promptly disappeared into the history books like so many of its ITV franchise predecessors, though the Granada brand nowadays only exists in the North-West of England as part of the title of the regional news magazine programme Granada Reports; the fate of several of the previous ITV franchise brands.

A new unified look was introduced for ITV1 and ITV2, with ITV3 being created soon afterwards when Granada bought out BSkyB’s share of the digital channel (Granada). ITV4 was subsequently launched in 2005 with a new style of ITV logo that would be adopted elsewhere during 2006; the original plan was to scrap the Men & Motors channel but its continued popularity led to a reprieve and the ITV News Channel ended up being scrapped instead ostensibly due to the popularity of “on-demand” news (the ITV News Channel closed on 23 December 2005).

ITV suffered more than most from the decline in viewers experienced by nearly all television channels from the late-1990s onward, which was caused by numerous factors including most notably a large increase in the number of channels available via the uptake of digital television. With advertising revenues and market share still suffering from double-digit declines, ITV introduced a completely new look for its channels along with a new ‘itv’ logo in an attempt to reverse its declining fortunes, though it was (and still is) the most popular commercial television channel in the UK by a fair margin.

Michael Grade's AppointmentAt this point, what ITV really needed was a manager with a proven track record within the media industry as well as being deeply familiar with the history of ITV and its inner workings as a programme maker. Step forward Michael Grade, who was convinced of a need to return to his old employer in order to revive its flagging fortunes, even if his return to ITV in November 2006 was going to be relatively short-lived. Indeed Grade left the BBC at what seemed to be a critical point during licence fee negotiations which had taken place in conjunction with Mark Thompson, so this move was rather surprising yet welcome for ITV, all things considered. Whatever your views on Grade, his name gave some much-needed reassurance to ITV’s shareholders at an important juncture.

ITV1 End Credit PromotionThis caption illustrates the style of end credit promotion used by ITV around this time, showing what is coming up next on various other ITV channels. Note the mention of a (short-lived) ITV Play channel, which was forced to close due to industry-wide concerns over the use of premium rate phone lines for viewers to call in order to answer quiz questions. ITV Nightscreen still continues to be shown at various times during the early morning.

ITV1 HD IdentITV formally launched a high definition version of ITV1 on 2 April 2010 with six regional variations, and is available on Freeview HD unlike the high definition versions of other ITV channels due to a lack of available bandwidth, though not all new programmes were produced in HD at the time. ITV HD initially launched as a trial channel to Telewest cable TV customers in 2006 as well as being a limited experimental terrestrial broadcast in the London area from Crystal Palace, and was launched primarily for the showing of World Cup games as well as other programming such as films, Poirot, and a remastered version of the 70s sci-fi epic Space: 1999. 2009 saw the ITV HD channel appear on Freesat and Freeview HD (rebranded ITV1 HD), but the HD service was still limited to the hours of 18:00-23:00 7 days a week until the official launch; the same year also saw the demise of long-running arts series The South Bank Show in December, an occasion seen by some as the death of serious factual programming on the channel.

End of The BillA long-running institution came to an end on 31 August 2010 with the final episode of The Bill (Part 2 of a story entitled ‘Respect’). Produced by Thames Television, it started life as a one-off drama entitled ‘Woodentop‘ in 1984 which then got turned into a series, and its cast rapidly became household names as the series increased in popularity. The Bill went through several changes throughout its lifetime, including the controversial adoption of soap opera-style storylines (along with several cast changes), alienating many of the drama’s core fans before reverting back to predominantly self-contained stories using a regular cast as had been the case from the beginning. It has been claimed that the final nail in the coffin for this series came with an abrupt move to a post-9pm timeslot with barely enough notice given so as to modify existing stories for the extended hour-long slot, hence the end result proved to be relatively unsuitable despite some strong storylines.

DaybreakWhen ITV had an opportunity to acquire the independent Channel 3 breakfast TV franchise held by GMTV by buying out Disney’s share of the company it did so, and a new breakfast show was soon created for ITV1 – Daybreak, which launched on 6 September 2010 and isn’t to be confused with a programme of the same name broadcast by the TV-am franchise. (The breakfast television franchise remained classed as a separate entity within the 2010 Digital Economy Act passed within the last weeks of Gordon Brown’s Labour administration.)

ITV Daybreak StudioPoaching Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley from the BBC was supposedly going to be a ‘safe’ option in an attempt to somehow transplant the popularity of BBC One’s The One Show into breakfast time television, but by doing so ended up alienating loyal GMTV viewers who had become accustomed to its cosy charms, and just as GMTV had slowly evolved to become more like its TV-am predecessor, Daybreak soon made changes to its format in order to become a little more like its GMTV predecessor, though BBC One’s rival Breakfast News continued to outperform Daybreak in terms of popularity and Daybreak‘s sinking fortunes caused ITV to have yet another rethink and yet another borrowing from the past with the launch of Good Morning Britain in April 2014 (sharing a title with TV-am’s original breakfast time show).

ITV Balloon Ident (2013)January 2013 saw ITV’s biggest identity and corporate rebrand in 12 years, and a brand new curvy and joined-up lowercase logo was just one of several changes. Gone was the designation of ITV1 for the most popular channel; it’s now just known as ITV because that’s how most viewers refer to it (apparently). In theory doing such a thing might make distinguishing between ITV the broadcaster and ITV the channel a little tricky, but ITV has basically copied Channel 4 in this respect. All ITV channels had a simultaneous presentational makeover; the ITV channel gaining several new idents where the different colours of the logo change as the ident progresses, with the logo only becoming fully-formed at various points, taking a cue from the nature of Channel 4’s acclaimed idents on this occasion.

ITV News Studio (2013)Unsurprisingly ITV News also received a makeover at the same time, with a more sober single colour treatment of the logo and a very contemporary feel applied to the studio with a designer combination of creamy white, navy blue and a wooden floor. All the regional news studios were updated similarly, and the colour scheme also applies to the graphics and associated promotional material. As of 2013, ITV’s programme portfolio includes the acclaimed period drama Downton Abbey, recently-introduced period drama Mr Selfridge, and the new Saturday evening entertainment show Splash! that features celebrities diving into a pool, though the early evening cookery contest Food Glorious Food! turned out to be less appetising to viewers than originally expected.


Back to the top

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.


Back to the top