On 10th May 1999, the BBC’s television news service was relaunched. But unlike previous revamps, this would be a more substantial upheaval – an attempt to unify the image of the television news operation across not only the domestic national and regional services, but also internationally.
The Lambie-Nairn agency was again charged with the task. The result was a slick new set and graphics package, sporting a maroon/beige colour scheme. The globe would again feature in the titles and branding, but not as prominently as before. Animating radio waves were in – as were animating place names (a simple idea but stylishly executed and a particularly useful tool in the regional titles, to emphasise more explicitly the towns and cities covered by the programme). The national studio set was smaller and more cosy than its predecessor. Regional news studios would gradually introduce variations on the national set. The titles sequences for the regions made great use of the geographic land masses for that region – which worked fairly well for the national regions – not so well for the English regions.
It was no surprise that Gill Sans was the font of choice for all programme branding and graphics. Lower thirds were very simple, with no animation. This may well have been deliberate, to ensure that the regions could accurately emulate the national style, with the more limited, older technology available to some of them.
Arguably the most successful part of the relaunch was the new theme tune by David Lowe. Gone were the overly elaborate and pompous theme tunes that were a hallmark of BBC News for so many years. David Lowe’s composition was very different to anything that went before – fresh and contemporary. Did David reinvent the news theme? I think so. The headline bed ‘thunderclaps’ would quickly become the most recognisable and distinctive feature. The national regions each got their own version of the theme; there was also a special composition for the English regions. Such was the success of David’s new theme, that he has continued to produce variations of it for various BBC News services right up to the present day.
And one of the more popular elements of the sound design was the top of the hour countdown sequence for BBC News 24 (below: 2 minutes, 15 seconds in):
Here’s an example of a daytime summary (in full), from day one of the new look. The presenter is Anna Ford. The recording is from BBC One Northern Ireland (continuity announcer: Edgar Martin):
BBC News at One
And here’s Anna again with the BBC News at One on launch day. Not the slickest of starts: Anna launches into the first story before the camera comes to her and moments into the lead story, the autocue fails. The recording is from BBC One Northern Ireland (continuity announcer: Stephen Montgomery):
BBC News at Six
A few examples from 1999.
- Clip 1: staying with launch day, and here’s Huw Edwards, with the start of the BBC News at Six, which unlike the lunchtime programme, includes regional headlines during the programme opening. Again, the recording is from BBC One Northern Ireland – the regional insert is therefore from BBC Newsline (presenter Noel Thompson), which would not take on the new look until 4th October 1999 (continuity announcer: Edgar Martin).
- Clip 2: from later in 1999. Huw Edwards presenting. The footage was recorded from BBC One South East, with regional headline insert from Newsroom South East (continuity announcer: Dan Austin).
- Clip 3: Fiona Bruce presenting on this occasion. Again, recorded from BBC One South East (continuity announcer: Dan Austin).
BBC News at Six – 6.55pm Update
The new look also saw the introduction of a national headline recap just before 7pm. Although the English regions transmitted this update, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales did not. Here’s a full 6.55pm headline recap, courtesy of Huw Edwards:
BBC News at Nine
The BBC News at Nine did not include regional headlines at the top of the programme. Here’s an example of the start and end of the programme, from 1999, with Peter Sissons. The recording is from BBC One South East (continuity announcer: Allis Moss):
BBC News – Weekend Programmes
Nothing special for the weekend programmes. Here are a couple of examples from BBC One:
- Clip 1: with Sian Williams (continuity announcer: Dan Austin).
- Clip 2: with George Alagiah (continuity announcer: Phil Vowels).
The new look was gradually phased in across the regional centres. Here are a couple of examples from Newsroom South East (BBC South East), featuring Mike Embley and Gwenan Edwards.
- Clip 1: the 6.30pm weekday programme (continuity announcer: Peter Offer):
- Clip 2: the 9.25pm weekday bulletin.
Occasionally, BBC News created some nice self-promotional pieces. Here’s one such example, from 1999, featuring John Simpson, Kate Adie, George Alagiah, Jeremy Bowen, Dennis Murray and Gavin Esler.