Though the BBC was created in 1922, a formal BBC brand did not evolve until fairly late in the corporation’s history. Initially, a mix of straight type or decorative design motifs were used – see for example the elaborate tracery of the initials found on the mosaic floor of the original reception of Broadcasting House (opened 1932).
In 1936, the BBC became the world’s first broadcaster of regular high-definition television, but there was still no specific or consistent use of BBC branding – on or off air. Instead, the gaps between the programmes were filled with early test cards or with on-screen announcers.
The first attempt at a proper brand image came in 1953, when Abram Games was commissioned to design an on-air image, probably hastened by the imminent arrival of commercial competition. Games, who designed the logo for the Festival of Britain in 1951, created the logo nicknamed the ‘Bat’s wings’ logo, an elegant and rather ethereal image which captured the spirit of the times. In reality, it was an elaborate mechanical brass contraption, with a tiny spinning globe in its centre – for BBC Scotland, the spot in the middle was replaced by a lion.
This logo would appear before such programmes as Quartermass II.
By the early 1960s, the ‘Bat’s Wings had been superseded by the BBC TV logo within a circle, behind which would appear a map of Britain split into broadcast regions. This set the style for a succession of circular images, which became the BBC’s recognisable on screen identity.
The channel’s most famous emblem, the globe, appeared in its first guise on 30 September 1963. The first such ident featured the continuity announcer speaking the words ‘This is BBC Television’ over a spinning globe while a BBC TV caption would appear.
BBC 2 begins
The launch of a second channel in April 1964 saw the creation of BBC 1 and BBC 2 brands, with the distinctive horizontal stripes across the screen.
A big publicity campaign was mounted to launch the new channel, using the rather playful symbol of a kangaroo with a baby in its pouch, with the even more unlikely names of Hullabaloo and Custard (visuals drawn by artist Desmond Marwood). The evening of the launch was famously marred by a power failure in West London, and at one point candles even appeared on the screen.
First colour TV
The first colour pictures in the UK were broadcast by BBC2 in 1967 when it covered Wimbledon, to be followed by BBC1 in 1969. Then BBC 1 introduced the first version of the now famous ‘mirror globe’ – a rotating globe with a flat globe as visual behind it. The inclusion of the word ‘colour’ in the station ident could be
viewed as a subtle reminder to the vast majority of the rest of the viewers still watching in black and white to buy a colour TV set. This BBC 1 colour globe was frequently seen in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which featured spoof continuity announcements.
The mirror globe was revised in 1972 to use a more ornate font, and then from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s the BBC 1 ident comprised various fonts, but always on the same deep blue background.
Before the introduction of computer-generated graphics, the BBC idents were all mechanical models filmed by a black and white camera. The colour was added electronically, making it extremely easy to change the colour for each new look.
In the 1980s, the futuristic stripy lettering was introduced for BBC 2 (designer, Oliver Elmes). In terms of its manufacture, this was a major departure – in that it did not use a model nor did it exist on film. Instead, the symbol was played out from a solid state device, which could produce both a static image and a moving
sequence. The BBC 2 logo animation lasted four seconds, and showed both logo and stripes appearing and then magically disappearing. This logo was seen in spoof continuity announcements in series such as Not the 9 o’clock News and The Young Ones.
After the successful transition of the BBC 2 logo, the BBC 1 globe and clock were also subtly refined.
By 1985, computer graphics technnology had progressed sufficiently to retire the mechanical mirror globe in favour of a new computer-generated globe, which showed a semi-transparent blue globe with golden continents and gold BBC 1. Created by the BBC graphics and computer departments, it was launched just before Wogan, a new chat show presented by Terry Wogan. Twenty-four hours later, it introduced a new soap called EastEnders.
BBC 2 got a new make over in 1986, when the digit ‘2’ was dropped in favour of ‘TWO’ (designer, Alan Jeapes). The ident was animated to show the letters emerging from a white background, or to show the letters disappearing into the background – as was often seen at closedown.
The new corporate logo
In 1988, mainly because of growing commercial competition, the BBC decided it needed a stronger, more unified corporate brand image – to be used on and off air, and across all its commercial product. The new image (designer, Michael Peters) looked back to the traditional BBC logo but updated it by slanting the boxes and adding three coloured flashes unbderneath the logo blocks. The latter colours represented the phosphors on a colour television (the primary colours of light).
In the 1990s, Martin Lambie-Nairn’s company took over responsibility for the BBC’s idents, having already worked on the re-branding of BBC News. And so a new look was unveiled for BBC 1 in February 1991 just before Going Live!. It was a version of the traditional globe, but with a much more distinctive use of the numeral ‘1’.
BBC 2 played out this focus on the lead numeral with even more distinctiveness, all featuring the escapades of a large ‘2’. Within six months of the new package going on air, the audience perception of BBC 2 had shifted from that of a formal and stuffy channel to something much more exciting. Audience figures had also increased even though the content had remained largely the same. Although BBC 1 and BBC 2 had markedly different styles, this rebranding brought a clear consistency to the idents, and redefined the impact of on air branding across the industry.
In 1997, the globe was dramatically reinvented through a sequence of hot air balloon images, filmed on location around the UK. Over the next two and a half years, no fewer than 59 different variations of the BBC One balloon were produced. The thinking behind this new on screen identity was to take the consistently used BBC globe image and to reinvent it as something both local and national.
As ever, these idents became a feature of the British media landscape, and were cleverly parodied in the opening titles of The Ben Elton Show.
Another corporate revision
Later in the 1990s, the BBC decided a revision of the wider corporate identity was needed, as the current slanting logo did not work very effectively on screen – so the sides were straightened from their idisyncratic 17.5 degree slant, the colour flashes were removed, and the typeface was rendered into Gill Sans.
There is a neat symmetry here, as Eric Gill who created this original typeface was also the key sculptor for the BBC on the original Broadcasting House project in 1932, so once again, the past is echoed and yet freshly reinvented.