In 1936 the BBC became the world's first broadcaster of a regular high-definition television service. In the beginning, the gaps between the programmes would be filled with tuning signals (also known as test cards) or on-screen announcers.
The first attempt at proper branding came in 1953 when Abram Games was commissioned to design the BBC's on-screen identity. He was famous at the time for designing the logo for The Festival of Britain of 1951.
His Television Symbol, shown right, was a brass model whose centre circles could rotate. For BBC Scotland the spot in the middle was replaced by a lion. There were also other regional variations as well as a matching clock.
This new "bat wings" logo replaced the BBC coat of arms on screen, and would be seen before programmes such as Quatermass II.
1962 saw the first example of the BBC lettering in boxes. Initially the letters were slanted with the boxes upright. Later, this would evolve into the familiar BBC corporate logo, with slanted boxes.
This map ident was seen before programmes such as That Was The Week That Was.
Perhaps a map of the British Isles was not thought grand enough to represent the BBC, because soon the ident gave way to a 3D map of the world. Shown below is the clock that accompanied this first spinning globe. Notice the boxes now slope with the letters, as they would for many years to come!
The first globe lasted only a few months. Above is the second incarnation.
1964 - BBC 2 begins
In September 1955, BBC Television had a new, commercial rival when ITV launched. Both stations were broadcasting in the VHF band using 405 lines for the pictures. When in April 1964, the BBC began a second channel, it was broadcast using a new standard. This time the pictures were transmitted in the UHF band and contained 625 lines. For viewers, this meant that to watch BBC 2, a new dual-standard TV set was required.
The mascot of the station, as far as I recall, was a zebra, hence the stripy effects in the logo. But the station launch was advertised by a pair of animated kangaroos. "Hullabaloo" represented BBC 1, as it would now be known, and in her pouch was her new baby, "Custard", representing BBC 2. Hullabaloo was so-called because BBC 1 was about song and dance. After hours of fruitless brainstorming, so the story goes, a BBC bigwig decided the baby kangaroo should be called Custard since custard goes with everything!
1967 - First broadcasts in colour
Screenshot by Sean Hughes
The first colour pictures in the UK were broadcast by BBC 2 in 1967 when it covered Wimbledon. Colour broadcasts officially began on BBC 1 and ITV on November 15th, 1969, when they joined BBC 2 by launching a service in 625-lines on UHF. (Colour was never available on the old VHF system, which continued running until the 1980s.) To receive colour, once again a new television set was required. To encourage viewers to get one, TV stations heavily promoted their use of colour by adding a reference to it on their idents.
Take the two idents above, change the colours and the typeface and you end up with this set from 1972.
The BBC 1 COLOUR globe was frequently seen in Monty Python's Flying Circus, which featured spoof continuity announcements.
By the mid-70s, the slanted BBC corporate logo was all but forgotten, save for an appearance on the BBC 2 clock.
BBC 2 kept the same colour scheme but got a new symbol made up horizontal stripes. The revolving cube was replaced by a cylinder device, which made the white stripes rotate one way and the light blue stripes rotate the other, before meeting back up again to form the number 2.
On BBC 1 there was another change of colours. The typeface of the lettering also changed to Futura Bold. The new globe appeared sometime after Christmas 1974.
By the 1980s, the "futuristic" stripy lettering, which had been experimented with on programme slides and other captions, had been adopted on the idents for both channels.
The BBC 2 ident changed first, and was quite a departure from previous incarnations in that it didn't exist on film, nor was it a model housed in the Noddy room. Instead, the symbol, designed by Oliver Elmes, was played out from a solid-state device, created by BBC engineers. Not only could this produce a still image, but it could also show two moving sequences, animated by the BBC Computer Graphic Workshop. Each animation lasted four seconds. The first began with a black screen onto which the stripes and the number were magically drawn from left to right by an invisible hand. The second showed the symbol disappearing, again from left to right, as if the pen was filled with black ink.
The BBC 2 logo was seen in spoof continuity announcements in Not the 9 O'Clock News and The Young Ones.
The BBC 1 globe and the clocks for both stations still existed as mechanical models. But after the success of the solid state 2, the clocks were also soon to become digital entities, leading to some subtle design changes.
The ring in the middle of the clock face was replaced by a solid dot, the hour markers were also changed and on BBC 2 the logo beneath the clock would finally have all the different shades seen in the main ident.
The BBC 1 globe was modified for a couple of special events in the 80s.
In 1982, the BBC celebrated 60 years of broadcasting, with a week of commemorative programmes. This 60 BBC Years globe was used to introduce them.
In 1984, because of a technician's dispute on the commercial channels, the BBC had exclusive coverage of the Olympic Games. These days, the International Olympic Committee, like all brand owners, gets very upset if its 5-ring symbol is modified like this.
In 1985 the globe went virtual, as a new computer generated identity for BBC 1 was introduced. It first appeared at 7pm on Monday, February 18th, when Wogan began his new thrice-weekly chat show. Twenty-four hours later, the new globe would be introducing a brand new soap opera called EastEnders.
Find out more about the virtual globe on the BBC 1 1985 page also in this section.
It wasn't until Easter 1986 that BBC 2 got its new logo. This was designed by BBC Senior Designer, Alan Jeapes, who also, incidentally, designed the opening title sequence for EastEnders.
For the first time the digit "2" was dropped in favour of spelling out the number. The ident could be animated to show the letters emerging from the white background, or to show the letters disappearing into the background (which was often seen at closedown). When there were subtitles on Ceefax, the hard-of-hearing ear symbol was added between the first two letters.
The corporate logo gets a make-over
In 1988, the BBC decided that if it was to compete effectively with its commercial rivals, it would need a strong corporate image to make its products stand out in the market place. A new corporate logo was commissioned to be used on its stationery, videos, books and even paper cups. The new image, designed by Michael Peters, looks back to the old, traditional BBC logo, but is updated by underlining the slanted boxes. An animated ident was produced with a jingle, which was used for BBC promotional films (e.g. to tell us how good value our licence fee is), BBC videos and exported programmes.
The three colours are those of the phosphors on a colour television (the primary colours of light, also used in the BBC "TWO" logo). There were also national variants. BBC Scotland had its underlines all in blue; BBC Northern Ireland used three green underlines; BBC Wales used all red. (In peculiarly British fashion there is no BBC England.)
In the 1990s, Martin Lambie-Nairn's design company took over responsibility for the BBC's idents. Lambie-Nairn had earlier successfully created the idents for the launch of Channel 4 and had also worked on branding the BBC's 9 O'Clock News.
A new look for both BBC 1 and BBC 2 was unveiled on Saturday, February 16th, 1991. A new logo for the Open University was seen first, with the new BBC 1 ident being launched by Philip Schofield and Sarah Greene before that morning's Going Live!.
This ident was loosely based on the traditional globe and was designed by Daniel Barber. The solid-state devices that had generated the twin-stripe 2 and the COW were decommissioned, as the new globe was played out from modified laserdisc players.
On BBC 2, there were a whole load of different idents, all featuring the escapades of a large "2". It was this set of idents that, it is said, have proven the worth of strong branding. Within six months of the new package going on air, the perception of BBC 2 had changed from that of a formal, stuffy channel and the audience had increased, even though the programmes themselves had largely remained the same.
Although each channel had a different style, Lambie-Nairn brought back a consistency to the idents - both featured the BBC corporate logo underneath a large numeral, clearly identifying the channels as well as the broadcaster.
The corporate logo gets another make-over
After only six years, the BBC decided another re-launch was necessary. This time not only would Lambie-Nairn tackle the two BBC channels, but also the BBC's corporate logo. The old one, the Beeb said, was no longer up to the job. Apparently, it just didn't "work on screen". To make it work, the coloured lines underneath the three lozenges were banished, the sides were straightened from their 17.5-degree slant, and the typeface was changed to Gill Sans. Oddly, Lambie-Nairn reportedly claimed the 1988 logo hadn't been modern enough. Yet after its make-over, the new, simpler logo is very reminiscent of the BBC's first from 1932. And the new typeface, based on that used on the London Underground and other London Transport, was invented in the 1920s.
The cost of the new look was reported by some sources to be over £5m spread over three years, which covered everything from the designing of the idents to having new letter-heads printed.
When the change was first rumoured back in August 1997, Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the National Heritage Select Committee said, "It seems to me there could be a more useful way of spending licence-payers' money. This confirms that while the BBC is funded by the tax-payer and theoretically accountable, in fact it does exactly what it wants to."
New logos for BBC Radio