A whistle-stop tour of more than 60 years of BBC1 identification symbols, usually known as 'idents'. We also have pages looking at BBC2 idents and other BBC idents, schools idents, and a page of ITV idents from the days of regional television.
The channel now known as BBC1 began originally on 2nd November 1936. It was closed upon the outbreak of World War II, with transmissions resuming in June 1946. It became known as BBCtv in October 1960, taking on its present name in April 1964.
The BBC Television Service introduced its first television ident on 2nd December 1953. It 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.
Around 1960 it was replaced by a map of the BBC regions, but then in 1963 came a far more enduring symbol...
The rotating globe was first introduced on on 30th September 1963, and would identify the BBC's main channel in various forms 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... Continuity announcements, on the other hand, did acknowledge the new name.
The /B/B/C/ /1/ logo first appeared on the globe on 18th April 1966 - however this particular version would prove to be very shortlived, as on 6th June the ugly white bars were replaced by striped ones to produce what is often nicknamed the 'watch strap globe'.
Around 7th July 1968, the watch straps were removed and the globe was given a very dodgy lighting arrangement. The change was in order to help freshen up BBC1's presentation in the face of an influx of new ITV licencees, including London Weekend, Thames and Yorkshire.
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. At first the original 1969 mirror/globe contraption was retained, with a big new logo. The new colours were added electronically. This ident had a habit of varying its appearance over the years. In particular, at some point early on, probably 1976, the globe was replaced and postioned at a higher angle, and the mirror made less curved.
The mirror globe's final incarnation was introduced on 6th September 1981, adopting the stripy lettering seen on the BBC2 symbol since 1979.
After sixteen years of mechanical mirror globes, probably the best globe of them all - the 'Computer Originated World' (COW) - was unveiled at 7.00pm on Monday 18th February 1985, possibly the best BBC1 globe of them all? In fact I think it still looks great today!
The next version of the globe, designed by Lambie-Nairn, was used from 16th February 1991. The figure '1' was placed inside the globe for the first time, and there was all manner of lights, reflections and smoke floating round it - and for much of the time the continents were impossible to make out. In other words, it was a bit of a mess. And yet over its life, it did manage to develop a charm all of its own, and even won a string of design awards. But like most of the spinning globes over the years, it soon became totally innocuous - you simply didn't notice it any more. The full sequence took sixty seconds to complete.
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. Around sixty clips were made 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 a much less popular series of idents. Loosely linked by the theme of 'Rhythm and Movement', they were filmed at various locations, mostly in the UK.
On 7th October 2006, BBC1's dancers were sent down the job centre, and in their place came a new set of idents featuring surfers, motorcyclists, kites, hippos and the moon. Although the BBC stopped reintroducing the globe, the linking themes of the circle and rotation were intended to subtly hark back to past eras of BBC1 presentation. What was probably not so intentional, was that they would turn out to be BBC1's longest serving set of idents of all-time, remaining on air for over ten years.
The circles 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.
Click below to watch a compilation of twelve BBC1 symbols from 1964 to 2006 in just 22 seconds!
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