A whistle-stop tour of more than 60 years of BBC1 and BBC2 identification symbols, usually known as 'idents'. We also have a page of ITV idents from the days of regional television.
BBC Television Service Idents
The first television ident of them all, introduced on 2nd December 1953, was an elaborate mechanical contraption made up of a tiny spinning globe in the middle with two 'eyes' rotating around it, and lightning flashes at each side. Known as the 'BBC Television Symbol', it was nicknamed the 'bat's wings' ident. By the early 60s, it had been replaced by a map of the BBC regions, but then on 30th September 1963 came a far more enduring symbol, the rotating globe, which would come to identify the BBC's main channel for the next 39 years.
Upon the launch of BBC2 on 20th April 1964, the BBC's existing television channel was renamed BBC1, and a new version of the globe was introduced, although someone seemingly forgot to add the '1' to the symbol. Also shown here are two more sixties globes, from June 1966, nicknamed the 'watchstrap globe', and July 1968 respectively.
An instantly familiar image to all those of a certain age - the 'mirror globe', with a stretched reflection of the continents behind it, persisted in various forms for over fifteen years. Here is the first version, which was also the first BBC1 symbol in colour, introduced on 15th November 1969, along with a revised version from around 1971/72. The globe changed colour to blue and yellow just after Christmas 1974, and gained a bold new identification.
The mirror globe's final incarnation, with striped lettering, lasted from 6th September 1981 to 18th February 1985, when it was replaced by the 'Computer Originated World' (COW) - possibly the best BBC1 globe of them all? In fact I think it still looks great today! It all went a bit wrong on 16th February 1991, though, when a new symbol played out from laser disc was introduced, which featured a globe where the continents were often barely visible, with all manner of lights, reflections and smoke floating around it.
The BBC1 globe went off in an unexpected and imaginative new direction on 4th October 1997, in the form of a hot air balloon flying over various UK locations. Here the balloon is shown flying close to Eilean Donan Castle in the Scottish highlands. Around sixty clips were used in all, along with a number of further versions for special occasions. The balloon would prove to be the globe's swansong, however, as on 29th March 2002 it was replaced by the unpopular 'Rhythm and Movement' idents. Shown here is one of the less obnoxious variants, 'Acrobats'.
On 7th October 2006 a new series of idents was introduced, all based around the theme of circles, which was intended to hark back to the globe and clock. What was probably not so intentional, was that they would prove to be BBC1's longest serving set of idents of all-time, remaining on air for over ten years. They were eventually replaced on New Year's Day 2017 by a series of seemingly low budget idents on the theme of 'Oneness', in which groups of people carrying out an activity stop to gawp at the camera for a few seconds, before resuming their activity. Representing perhaps the nadir of BBC television presentation, the idents have been filmed with a total lack of flair or imagination, and have garnered an almost universally negative reaction. The ident pictured here is 'Birdwatchers', often used to link into the news.
Click below to watch a compilation of twelve BBC1 symbols from 1964 to 2006 in just 22 seconds!
The BBC's second television channel went on air on 20th April 1964, but famously the opening night was scuppered by a power cut across west London.
The figure '2', in many different forms, has signified BBC2 for almost all of its years on air. The very first, black-and-white, symbol was an animation that was accompanied by a fanfare. In July 1967 BBC2 became Britain's first television channel to broadcast in colour, and in November 1969 a new symbol was introduced, consisting of a rotating cube with a distinctively shaped '2' in a different colour on each face. By 1972/73, however, this ident had taken on a rather more blue appearance.
A new cylindrical '2' made up of horizontal stripes was introduced just after Christmas 1974. Sometimes this symbol would seen with a black background. It was replaced around June 1979 by the very first computer-generated ident, the familiar twin-striped '2'. The numeral was ditched altogether on 30th March 1986, replaced by the word 'TWO' which would be seen rising out of the white blackground.
Viewer research showed that the 'TWO' symbol had given BBC2 a 'dull' and 'worthy' image, so in order to change that, on 16th February 1991, something entirely new and different came along - for the first time, a whole series of witty and arty idents, all featuring the same figure '2'. Further permutations were introduced at various points during the 90s. Shown here are 'Paint', introduced in 1991, 'Fluffy Dog' introduced in 1993 and 'Steam' introduced in 1995. There were also countless special versions used for theme nights, seasons and special occasions.
Most of the 1991 idents survived a major rebranding exercise at the BBC on 4th October 1997. They were joined by some new additions at that point, which included 'Zapper' which is shown here, and then a further set on New Year's Day 2000. After a decade on air, this series of idents was finally retired on 19th November 2001, never to be seen again (or so we thought!), and in their place came an entirely new set of computer-generated idents. The '2' had now gained a personality - and some robotic arms - and would be seen in various situations in its own yellow world.
A new set of idents, featuring a slightly redrawn '2', were introduced on 18th February 2007, taking the theme of a 'Window on the World'. After seven years of use, these idents were feeling distinctly worn out, but with no cash in the kitty for anything new, BBC2 took the unprecedented step of bringing back a selection of the much-loved 1991-2001 '2's. Reintroduced ostensibly to mark the channel's fiftieth anniversary in 2014, the idents have remained on air ever since. And if BBC1's new look for 2017 was an indication of how standards have slipped, BBC2's classics can remain on air as long as they like, as far as I'm concerned!
BBC Schools Idents
Schools television traditionally had its own distinct style of presentation, and a whole generation of children will have grown up with the countdown clocks that appeared on both BBC1 and ITV.
Before BBC1's countdown clock was introduced, however, there were other devices which appeared before each schools programme, such as the pie chart from the late 60s and early 70s, and the schools diamond, seen here in both 1974 and 1975 versions. This was a mechanical model that was operated live on air.
Around 1977/78, the diamond was replaced by the schools dots, which gave a better indication to teachers of how long they had to get the class settled. During the last minute before the programme started, each dot would flip away in turn. A computer generated version was introduced in 1982, where the dots now faded to black. In 1983 schools programmes moved to BBC2, which spelt the end of the schools dots - instead a special 'daytime' version of the BBC2 symbol was used. From 1986 onwards regular BBC2 presentation was used.
Schools programming gradually disappeared from our screens over the years, with the final morning broadcasts on BBC2 taking place in 2010. Schools television continued for a while longer as part of the overnight BBC Learning Zone, however, which used the above ident. This was in fact the longest running ident ever on any BBC channel, having been introduced in 1997, clocking up 18 years' service until the Learning Zone was abolished in 2015.
From our YouTube channel, here is a playlist of thirteen compilation videos of BBC1 and BBC2 idents, mostly from the 1990s and 2000s.
If you want to explore the subject of television idents and continuity in greater depth, I recommend the following websites:
The Ident Gallery
The Ident Zone
The TV Room
625: Television Room
History of BBC Television Idents at Wikipedia
Text copyright © Robert Williams, images and video copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation