BBC News

In this section we look back over 60 years of BBC News television presentation.

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 first image here comes from the simple opening sequence used to introduce BBC News bulletins in the early 1960s, showing the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, which dates the clip as coming from 1963.

At the start of 1966, the long-running BBC News theme 'Newsroom One', composed by Peter Hope, was introduced, and was accompanied by another 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.

The title sequence remained unchanged with the move into colour at the end of the 60s, but in the early 70s the look was updated - although the images here come from a Monty Python mock bulletin, they show the real set that was in use at the time. The background image was achieved using the still-new CSO process.

There were three daily bulletins on BBC1 at this time - a five minute update at 1.25pm (12.55 from 1973), ten minutes at 5.50pm (extended to fifteen minutes at 5.45 in 1972), and twenty minutes at 8.50pm.

In response to ITN's News at Ten, on 14th September 1970 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.

It only took two years for the Nine to be revamped, as 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 also used the CSO process, and as such the background confusingly did not change according to the camera angle used.

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). 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 theme tune remained 'Newsroom One', however, and there was still no closing music or titles, except on the Nine.

The sets were changed, with the Nine making use of a wood-effect backdrop, whilst the other bulletins used either a plain blue background, or a 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.

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.

Minor modifications to the studio set in 1982 reduced the number of horizontal bars and the size of the lettering.

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.

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 bank 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, extending to each of the four main daily news programmes on BBC1, from Breakfast News to the Nine O'Clock News, as well as the daytime summaries and weekend bulletins.

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.

In October 1997, the graphics were updated with the BBC's new corporate logo, but by this time, despite its sophistication, the virtual look had come to appear cold and dated, and was looking increasingly out-of-touch with its viewership. Indeed, the corporation's own 24 hour news service, BBC News 24, which started in November 1997, was bringing a much fresher approach to presenting the news.

Radical changes, however, were on their way...

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Our YouTube channel includes a playlist of clips of BBC News title sequences.


BBC News official site
BBC News Wikipedia entry