A whistle-stop tour of more than 50 years of BBC2 identification symbols, usually known as 'idents'. We also have pages looking at BBC1 idents and other BBC idents, schools idents, and a page of ITV idents from the days of regional television.
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 most 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.
Unlike the BBC1 globe, however, this ident was not operated live on air - instead it was an animation, which began with red, green and blue circles merging to form the white circle; then the blue '2' would draw around it. When the '2' was fully formed, the animation then seamlessly switched to a filmed sequence of the cube rotating.
The ident was modified in the early 1970s - each of the four '2's was now cyan, with a horizontal line added and the font changed to match the contemporary BBC1 globe. The cube now rotated live on air, and would no longer spin continuously; instead it typically turned two or three times before coming to rest.
A new cylindrical '2' made up of horizontal stripes was introduced just after Christmas 1974. Once again it was a mechanical device operated live on air: the blue lines would spin off to the right and the white lines to the left, before coming back together again round the other side to re-form the '2' symbol. Sometimes this symbol would seen with a black background.
In June 1979 BBC2 made ident history by introducing the very first computer-generated ident in the UK. The twin-striped '2' was played out live each time from solid state computer memory.
On Easter Monday 1986, viewers tuning to BBC2 and expecting to see the familiar orange stripey logo were in for a shock. Without warning, everything had suddenly turned white! This ident was intended to accompany a move upmarket by the channel. As with the late 60s ident, it used the three colours that make up a television picture - red, green and blue. The same colours were also used on the new BBC logo introduced at around the same time.
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. After the shock of the new BBC1 globe that morning, BBC2's new idents were no less startling.
For the first time, there was a whole series of witty and arty idents, all featuring the same figure '2'. Further permutations were introduced at various points during the 90s. There were also countless special versions used for theme nights, seasons and special occasions, and even more short animations used between trailers.
Such was the 2's popularity that 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, and then a further set followed on New Year's Day 2000.
After a decade on air, these idents were finally retired on 19th November 2001, never to be seen again (or so we thought!)
In their place came an entirely new set of computer-generated idents. The famous '2' lived on, but now it had gained a personality. There were just four idents to begin with; more variants were introduced in subsequent years, but all employed the same white '2' which would be seen in various situations in its own yellow world. In many cases, it would sprout robotic arms to carry out its various tasks.
The big '2' was just two days past its 16th birthday when it entered its next phase on 18th February 2007. Featuring a slightly redrawn numeral, and stripped of its personality, the 2 was now a 'Window on the World'. On the face of it, the new idents appeared to have more in common with the varied idents we saw between 1991 and 2001 - however they were more extravagant than ever before.
After seven years of use, the 'Window on the World' 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 remained on air for a further four years.
After more than 27 years, half the time that BBC2 had been on air, the big '2' was finally ditched on 27th September 2018. To replace it, BBC2 came up with a new series of 'colourful visualisations based on a simple curve'. These impressive graphical idents buck the trend which has seen many other channels, including BBC1, move to live action idents. The set launched with sixteen idents, but further variants have since been introduced.
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