On Sunday 9th May 1999, the BBC News “virtual set” was aired for the final time. First introduced in April 1993, the set revolutionised the BBC’s television news presentation. Until this point, the majority of the BBC’s news programmes were presented from quite conventional-looking desks, based in relatively small studios.

The 1993 – 1999 look may still have been broadcast from a fairly small studio, but clever computer wizardry made the studio look a lot larger on screen. And much of what viewers saw during the impressive opening sequence, which featured a wide shot of the studio, wasn’t real – it was added by cutting edge computer software. The opening sequence included a huge glass representation of the BBC crest. The studio lighting was computer-generated. The presenter’s desk – a large curved structure – looked much more futuristic than any of its predecessors.

A small portion of the studio set was real: a much smaller section of the desk than that shown in the titles; the backdrop behind the presenters – some of these panels (the ones directly behind the presenters) were physically switched to suit the colour/design scheme for each programme. The studio cameras were real (though never seen in shot) – but were operated remotely.

Each news programme featured much the same set – with some adjustments: Breakfast had a pink/blue colour scheme; the One o’Clock News had a pale blue background; the Six o’Clock News supposedly had a slightly darker shade of blue for its presenter backdrop; and the Nine o’Clock News (and late weekend bulletins) featured a dark blue and gold scheme; weekend daytime and weekday daytime used a blue palette. Each of the programme brands had its own theme tune.

At 9.52pm on 9th May 1999, the final programme from this set was broadcast. The programme was presented by Peter Sissons. Here’s a clip of the start and end of the programme (continuity from BBC Northern Ireland; announcer: Jennie Browne):

And for the week leading up to the launch of a new look on 10th May 1999, this trail was aired:

The BBC’s television news service was about to undergo yet another radical relaunch…



PICTURED: Studio N1, BBC Television Centre (1994). SOURCE: http://tech-ops.co.uk. COPYRIGHT: Unknown.