On this page, we look at idents from the early years of UKTV network of channels, from the formation of the network in 1997 up to the point they were rebranded with the 'UKTV' prefix rather than 'UK' in 2004. Click here for a look in greater detail at how UKTV has evolved over the years in our section looking at the story of BBC digital television.
UKTV was formed in 1997 as joint venture owned 50/50 by the BBC's commercial offshoot, BBC Worldwide, and cable company Telewest's content division, Flextech. Initially it comprised of four channels - the existing UK Gold, along with new channels UK Horizons, UK Style and UK Arena. They all mainly showed programmes from the BBC archive.
UK Gold started exactly five years before the other UKTV channels, on 1st November 1992, and originally showed classic comedy and drama from the BBC and Thames archives. On 5th October 1997, just one day after the relaunch of the BBC's presentation, but nearly a month before the start of the UKTV network, UK Gold received a brand new look and a new schedule, now focused predominantly on BBC archive programmes.
The new look, which would spread across all the channels in the UKTV network, was all but identical to the new BBC presentation style - the Gill Sans font was now used universally; programme slides and trailers were identical in design to those used by the BBC; and the new idents themselves had a very BBC feel about them. The result was that the UKTV network really felt like an extension of the BBC's own channel portfolio (albeit with commercial breaks) which itself was soon to expand upon the start of digital television.
The other three channels that made up the remainder of the UKTV network launched on cable television on 1st November 1997 - UK Horizons, showcasing the BBC's documentary output, UK Style, focusing on leisure and lifestyle, and the arts-based UK Arena. Each used a range of stylish, imaginative idents, of which UK Horizons and UK Style both used the same split-screen idea. As with all the idents on this page, they were made in 16:9 widescreen but never shown in this format as the UKTV network transmitted only in 4:3 until 2008.
Upon the launch of digital television in October 1998, two new channels joined the UKTV line-up. One was the short-lived UK Gold Classics - so short-lived, in fact, that we're not sure what idents it used, though it seems likely they were the same as UK Gold's.
The other new channel was UK Play, which claimed to be the UK's only music and comedy channel. Unlike the other UKTV channels, which were mainly based around BBC archive repeats, UK Play's output was mostly original, albeit repeated endlessly!
UK Gold received a new set of idents at Easter 1999, based around fireworks. The previous ident set remained on air, however, on UK Gold 2, which replaced UK Gold Classics at the same time. This channel simply replayed UK Gold's daytime schedule from 6pm onwards.
Unfortunately UK Arena didn't manage to get sufficient audience figures, and so in March 2000 it was replaced by UK Drama. The budget obviously didn't stretch to any new idents though, so UK Drama had to make do with some recoloured UK Arena idents.
The following November, UK Play was renamed Play UK, and became the first UKTV channel to move away from the BBC-style branding with its own distinct look.
Although UKTV's presentation was far from being past its sell-by date, on 8th May 2001 the whole network, apart from Play UK, received new idents. The channels were drifting away from the 1997 corporate BBC look, with the Univers font replacing Gill Sans - and somehow none of these idents seemed as good as their predecessors.
UK Gold's old fireworks hadn't gone altogether, though - UK Gold 2 now got to use them instead.
Another new addition to the UKTV network started in November 2001 - UK Food took over the cookery programmes formerly shown on UK Style.
Despite commanding a cult following, low viewing figures spelt the end for Play UK in September 2002. Its demise cleared the way for a new channel to start - UK History, which was the first UKTV channel to be transmitted free-to-air (apart from the very early days of UK Gold on satellite), on the newly-launched terrestrial Freeview service.
It was joined at the start of 2003 by another new channel designed primarily for Freeview viewers, the clunkily-titled UK Bright Ideas, which featured a mix of original commissions from UK Style and UK Food.
Back to the more established UKTV channels, and things seemed to be changing all the time. Something went seriously wrong in the UK Gold ident department in September 2002 - the fireworks idents were replaced with a series of rather mundane filmed clips which seemed to relate little to the channel's output. However, less than a year would pass before UK Gold introduced another new set of esoteric idents, first seen in August 2003.
UK Style also underwent frequent ident changes, including this one first seen around 2003. UK Gold 2, meanwhile, was replaced by UK G2 in November 2003, which at first appeared to be a partial resurrection of Play UK. Aimed at a young adult audience, this is the channel that would later have endless Top Gear repeats added to its schedule, and be renamed Dave.
In March 2004, each of the channels in the UKTV network was rebranded with the 'UK' prefix replaced by 'UKTV', along with the demise of UK Horizons to be replaced by two channels, UKTV Documentary and UKTV People. This is the point that we conclude our look at the idents from the early years of UKTV, but for more on how the network has developed since then, see our BBC Digital section.
From our YouTube channel, a selection of UKTV idents from 1999-2000 and 2001.
Click below for more idents:
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
Text copyright © Robert Williams, images and video copyright © UKTV