BBC News

This page looks back over 60 years of BBC News television presentation. Also in this section is a page looking back at the first 20 years of BBC News 24/BBC News channel.

The BBC launched its first dedicated television news service on 5th July 1954. Previously it had taken the form of a recording of the BBC Home Service 9pm news bulletin, broadcast without pictures in a late night slot, and the less topical Television Newsreel. The presenters were Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall, but at first they did not appear in vision, for fear that facial expressions would suggest the presenter had opinions on the news. Instead the news was read over a series of still images and maps.

However just over a year later, with the imminent launch of ITN promising a less stuffy news service, the BBC relented and Kenneth Kendall became the first in-vision newsreader on 4th September 1955, presenting from a studio at Alexandra Palace.

The long-running BBC News theme 'Newsroom One', composed by Peter Hope, was introduced around 1965, accompanied by a simple title sequence. The presenter's name caption appeared at the end of the bulletin, not the beginning, and there was no closing music or titles, simply a straight handover to the weather. This practice (as well the opening music) would remain until 1981. In 1969 BBC News left Alexandra Palace for Stage IV at BBC Television Centre, from where the first bulletin was presented on 20th September.

14th September 1970 saw a significant change - in response to ITN's News at Ten, the BBC moved their 8.50pm bulletin to 9.00 where it became the more substantial Nine O'Clock News. Richard Baker, Kenneth Kendall and Robert Dougall took it in turns to present on a weekly basis.

A revamp for the Nine on 13th November 1972 saw the introduction of double-headed presentation for the first time on a BBC News bulletin. The newsroom backdrop was not real, however - it was achieved using the still-new CSO process, and as such the background confusingly did not change according to the camera angle used.

The other bulletins on BBC1 - a five minute update at 1.25pm (12.55 from 1973) and ten minutes at 5.50pm (extended to fifteen minutes at 5.45 in 1972) - retained the same look for several years. This image comes from a Monty Python mock bulletin but shows the real set that was in use at the time. The background image was also achieved using CSO.

8th March 1976 saw a new, common look brought in across all the BBC1 bulletins. The simple title sequence showed the two circles moving together and the programme title appearing. At this point the five minute lunchtime bulletin was renamed Midday News and extended to fifteen minutes at 12.45pm (1.15 in the summer when Pebble Mill at One was on its summer break) and the 5.45pm bulletin, which moved to 5.40 on 6th September 1976, was now called Evening News. Meanwhile the Nine O'Clock News returned to single-headed presentation. All three bulletins would now be presented by the same person. During this period Angela Rippon became the BBC's first female newsreader since Nan Winton's brief tenure in 1960.

In late 1979 the opening titles changed to blue and were even more basic - the background image was now static, and the title simply zoomed out from the centre of the screen. The sets were also changed. The Nine had a wood-effect backdrop, whilst the other bulletins used either a plain blue background, or this rather more busy backdrop. Some of the longest serving newsreaders left around this time, including Peter Woods and Kenneth Kendall; joining the team were Moira Stuart and Jan Leeming. Some things didn't change - the theme tune 'Newsroom One' was still in use, and there was still no closing music or titles, except on the Nine.

A major revamp to the BBC news programmes came at the start of September 1981. A new title sequence was introduced, the first to be computer-generated. Often nicknamed the 'chinese lantern' or 'venetian blinds' titles, there were different variants for each programme. Not only that, there was at last a new theme tune, and a closing version too!

The 1981 changes coincided with the introduction of a half-hour News After Noon at 12.30pm (1.00 in summer) with Richard Whitmore and Frances Coverdale. At the same time the Evening News was extended by five minutes. Presenter changes saw seasoned journalists John Humphrys and John Simpson take over the Nine O'Clock News. Unlike the other news programmes, each story on the Nine was accompanied by an pictorial inset.

Richard Baker ended his thirty-year newsreading career on New Year's Eve 1982 when he read his final Evening News. Following the demise of Nationwide in 1983, Sue Lawley joined the team on the Nine, while the Evening News was briefly swallowed up by the ill-fated Sixty Minutes. (Click here for more on the BBC's early evening current affairs programmes).

The mid-1980s saw the main news programmes on BBC1 each gain their own distinct look. First up was the Six O'Clock News, which replaced Sixty Minutes on 3rd September 1984, with Sue Lawley and Nicholas Witchell presenting together. A more advanced computer-generated title sequence accompanied the theme tune by George Fenton, composer of many BBC News themes in the 1980s and 1990s.

One year later, on 2nd September 1985, the Nine O'Clock News was relaunched with the superb 'flying fish finger' titles, a powerful new theme tune, and double-headed presentation with Julia Somerville and John Humphrys. And then on 27th October 1986, with the start of BBC1's daytime television service, News After Noon was replaced by the One O'Clock News, bucking the trend by switching from double to single-headed presentation, with Martyn Lewis newly poached from ITN.

By now the BBC had decided they only wanted trained journalists presenting their main daily bulletins, which meant that long time newsreader Richard Whitmore found himself relegated to only the short hourly updates in the morning, and weekend bulletins. Those weekend and bank holiday bulletins continued to use the 1981 titles, albeit having turned from red to blue in 1985, along with an updated backdrop.

On 31st October 1988 the Nine was relaunched with a 'back-to-basics' approach. Michael Buerk and Martyn Lewis took turns to present in a return to single-headed presentation, and the fish fingers were replaced by the infamous transmitter mast opening titles. Viewers complained that the new symbol had 'fascistic undertones', and that the newsroom backdrop was distracting. This look was also used on the weekend and holiday bulletins.

It wasn't until 13th April 1993 that there were any further changes to BBC News presentation, when at last it was the end for the nine year-old Six O'Clock News titles, and the unpopular Nine O'Clock News transmitter. Replacing these disparate looks of the different programmes, the new virtual reality look was designed to bring a more coherent appearance across BBC News's output.

Almost everything on screen, from the cut-glass titles to the presenter's backdrop, was computer generated. However there were still differences between the main programmes, with variations in the opening titles and the backdrop, and each theme tune being an orchestral re-recording of the previous one, George Fenton once again on composition duties. In particular, the Nine used a darker colour scheme than the other bulletins.

By the late 90s, the virtual look appeared cold and dated - indeed, the corporation's own 24 hour news service, BBC News 24, which started in November 1997, was bringing a fresher approach to presenting the news. Click here for more on BBC News 24.

So on 10th May 1999 BBC News presentation moved into a new era. Created by Lambie-Nairn, who designed it to be a much warmer, accessible approach, the cold blue set and strident orchestral music was out, and in came cream-and-red set and titles, and a strange new 'drums-and-beeps' theme tune composed by David Lowe. For the first time regional headlines were incorporated into the opening sequence - first on the Six, then later on the other daily bulletins.

Virtual reality was proved to be a passing fad, with a 'real' set introduced, although the newsroom backdrop was merely a projection screen. (Incidentally, the section to the left of the centre pillar was in fact a time-delayed 'reflection' of the right hand side, in order to make the newsroom look bigger than it really is!) With this relaunch, the news programmes moved out of the old news studio N2, and into N6, located in the newly-built news centre in Stage VI at Television Centre. There were some presenter changes too - the Six went single-headed with Huw Edwards, with Fiona Bruce as relief presenter, while Anna Ford moved to the One and Peter Sissons and Michael Buerk continued to share the Nine. However there was to be no place for Martyn Lewis.

Although it was not apparent at first, the 1999 revamp would prove to be the most significant yet, as it was not just a new look to the BBC1 national bulletins, but over the course of the next two years, the entireity of the BBC's news output, from regional news to BBC News 24, BBC World to Breakfast and even S4C's Newyddion would all relaunch using the same common themes.

On 2nd October 2000, all of the domestic BBC News output switched to 16:9, which meant the titles could now be seen in their full widescreen glory, although the sidebar, or 'inset', looked something of a botch job. But an even more fundamental change was announced at the same time - while ITV was dithering about with the timing of its late bulletin, the BBC seized their chance and confirmed that the Nine O'Clock News would move to 10.00 in just two weeks' time. The graphic design team probably had to work overtime in order to get the '9' in the opening titles changed to a '10' - but they managed it on time, and on 16th October 2000 the BBC's first Ten O'Clock News took to the air.

During the mid-2000s the presentation of BBC News bulletins went through several cosmetic changes over a relatively short space of time, whilst continuing to keep to the general themes introduced in 1999. In January 2003 a new set was introduced, this time with a backdrop showing a newsroom that doesn't exist at all! There was also a presenter reshuffle - with Michael Buerk retiring from regular newsreading, and Peter Sissons moving to News 24, the Ten needed a new anchor - and Huw Edwards was to be it. So taking his place on the Six was Sophie Raworth and George Alagiah, as the pendulum swung back towards double-headed presentation.

Pictorial insets to illustrate the story were no more, replaced by text-only story 'slugs'. However it took over a year for the titles to be updated, in February 2004, although to regular BBC News 24 viewers they weren't too much of a surprise!

2nd May 2006, and BBC News was given jazzed-up titles and a new, more spacious studio set, in order that it could now be shared by Breakfast. By now, the main BBC1 bulletins had also begun to be aired on BBC News 24. The BBC graphic designers are a busy bunch, and came up with yet another revamped title sequence which debuted on 22nd January 2007. The new titles were now all but identical to those seen on News 24.

In order to make it even harder to avoid the news, in December 2007 a brief update was introduced on BBC1 at 8.00 each evening. It included national and international news, followed by your regional news presenter, who stood on the opposite side of the screen. This bulletin remained until 2018.

BBC News seemed to have gone through umpteen relaunches in the previous few years, but despite this, on 21st April 2008 it went through yet another. And just like the 2006 update, this update was driven by the need to cut costs. The news bulletins on BBC1, the BBC News channel and all regional news programmes reverted to using music, titles and graphics that shared a common theme, much as they did with the relaunch that was rolled out around 1999/2000. And just like that relaunch, the 2008 look was designed by Lambie-Nairn.

The One and Ten O'Clock News and weekend bulletins now shared the refurbished studio N6 with the BBC News channel; although the existing bank of screens remaines, the backdrop shown on them changed from a skyline to another fake newsroom. The Six O'Clock News, meanwhile, remained in the larger TC7, also used by Breakfast, Working Lunch, Newsround and Newsnight. The sets in both studios were virtually identical, however, the only obvious difference being the round desk in TC7.

With the imminent closure of BBC Television Centre, the Six O'Clock News on 15th March 2013 became the very last BBC programme of all to come from TC7. (See a clip at the BBC News website). The following Monday all national BBC News output moved to its new home at New Broadcasting House in central London. Both the BBC1 bulletins and the BBC News channel use Studio E, placed in the heart of the busy newsroom. The 2008 title sequence remained, albeit cut in half, with the remainder of the opening sequence taking viewers on quick tour of the newsroom and Studio E.


Videos

From our YouTube channel, the BBC News opening title sequence from the start of the 70s, followed by some off-screen footage of the rarely seen original Nine O'Clock News title sequence from 1970. We also have some clips from late on in the virtual 'cut glass' era of BBC News in 1998, followed by clips from the early days of the radical 'drums and beeps' revamp in May 1999. From May 2005 comes the opening of a strike-hit Ten O'Clock News (recorded from BBC News 24). Finally, the short-lived second version of the BBC News 'ribbons' title sequence from 2006.






Links

BBC News official site
BBC News Wikipedia entry


Text copyright © Robert Williams, images and video copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation