History of the BBC

History of the BBC

The BBC logo story

Mosaic floor of Broadcasting House
BBC logo on reception floor of Broadcasting House (1932)
 

The first logos

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.

 

Bat's wings logo

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By the early 1960s, the 'Bat's Wings had been superseded by the BBC TV logo within a circle, behind which would appear a map of Britain split into broadcast regions.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.

 

BBC1 globe

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.

 

BBC2 stripes

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

BBC mirror globe

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 1970s

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.

 

The 1980s

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

BBC 2

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.

 

BBC1 gold globe

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 Two

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).

BBC angled logo 1988

 

 

 

 

The 1990s

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.

 

BBC balloon

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

BBC blocks

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.

 

BBC radio logos

Following on from the mother brand revision, the entire suite of BBC Radio logos were re-designed in the next decade, to make them both distinct and coherently joined up as one family.

 

 

 

 

The 2000s

A change in BBC One Controller saw the BBC One balloon image replaced by a sequence of new idents, 'Rhythm & Movement', featuring a new multi-cultural theme, with a range of dancers dancing to different musical styles. Some viewers

accused the BBC of being overtly politically correct, as one of the dance numbers involved disabled dancers in wheelchairs, while other users were dismayed that the longstanding globe motif had been abandoned after 39 years.

 

Rhythm and Movement

After six years, the idents were replaced by a new circular motif, with content much more diverse than previously seen: swimming hippos, motorbike stunt riders, kites, and surfers. Launched in 2007, the then BBC One Channel Controller, Peter Fincham saw the new branding as both a clear recognition of the BBC brand story and of the channel's heritage as well as a new symbol of people coming together – in the way that BBC One brings audiences together.

 

Further creative excursions around BBC on air branding have included regular Christmas interpretations, often with direct links into famous BBC brands or programmes, such as the witty and playful interpretations around Wallace and Grommit in 2008.

 

The story of the BBC brand is – like most brands – one of consistency and reinvention. Over the years of its history, it has become one of the most distinctive brands internationally, now used across a variety of platforms and recognised with immediacy and clarity by millions of people around the world.

 

Some content of this feature is adapted from an article published at 625.uk.com by Andrew Wiseman. Used with permission.

 

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