On Thursday 1st January 2015, a collection of idents from the 1990s and early 2000s – which had been brought back into use during 2014, as part of BBC Two’s 50th birthday celebrations – were now formally reinstated, for long-term use, as the channel’s main idents. Whilst there’s no doubt that many of these idents were popular with viewers first time around – even people who generally have no interest in such things do actually recall these sequences – can their revival be justified?
The lacklustre and unmemorable ‘Window on the World’ idents, first introduced in February 2007, had certainly run out of steam long before the channel hit its 50th birthday. It was clear by the somewhat lame attempt to resuscitate these sequences in 2013, by replacing the soundtracks with instrumental versions of Something Good, Intro and Fitzpleasure by Alt-J, that the writing was on the wall. The hugely successful branding period of the 1990s was a distant memory and, as with the 1986 – 1991 era, BBC Two once again seemed to be suffering an identity crisis. Perhaps we’re being a little harsh on the 2007 package. Additional investment in more idents and trail graphics may have helped reinforce the concept and allowed for further evolution of it, providing more variety and perhaps making it more dynamic and interesting. But alas, it was not to be. Lack of funding; channel controller’s preference: who knows? Quite why the channel’s on-air look was neglected in the way that it was is unclear.
The BBC’s charter was due to be renewed at the end of 2016 and culture secretary John Whittingdale would unveil the Government’s new vision of the corporation’s future in a white paper, by late-spring 2016. It was a delicate time and the BBC may not have wanted to be seen to be spending money on channel idents – an expense which usually attracts considerable criticism in the British tabloids.
As has been alluded to above, since the last major refresh in February 2007, there has been little change to the channel’s on-air look. A mini refresh occurred in June 2009, which saw the culling of six of the original ‘Window on the World’ idents (leaving only six main idents) and the introduction of garish trail endboards, ill-suited to the more sedate mood of the idents. Specially commissioned fiftieth birthday idents came into use in spring 2014. The ‘Window on the World’ idents were retired and in came ’50 Years’-branded versions of classic idents from the 1991 – 2001 era, which remained in use until early December 2014. Positive feedback from viewers regarding the reappearance of these classic idents was cited as a key reason for their more permanent return at the start of 2015. Truth or spin: you decide.
And so it was that on Thursday 1st January 2015, many of the familiar idents (and some of the stings) from the 1991 – 2001 era unexpectedly started into new contracts. Nice as it was to see them back on air as part of the channel’s fiftieth birthday celebrations (which seemed to last much longer than the typical birthday) their reappearance after the Christmas campaign of 2014 was, well, rather disappointing. There’s no doubt that many of these sequences are design classics and represent a period which many TV presentation enthusiasts and industry creatives alike regard almost as the heyday of UK television branding. But in 2015, when high-definition television is commonplace in many UK homes, we have an abundance of design and creative talent available and the latest design software makes it easier than ever to bring amazing ideas to life, why on earth are we broadcasting twenty-year-old sequences on one of our main television channels: one which has a history of innovation? There are channels with a fraction of the budget and ratings of BBC Two that have much more modern and polished on-air branding.
All of the idents were created/filmed in SD – many originate in 4:3. Airing them on a high-definition service is undoubtedly doing them a disservice. Slapping that large, badly positioned teal logo badge on them isn’t helping much either – made worse by the fact that the box logo, bizarrely, isn’t HD quality on the sequences that have been airing since January 2015.
And whilst BBC One generally enjoys a new Christmas presentation package each year, BBC Two hasn’t been quite so fortunate. Only two new sets of idents and associated presentation assets have been produced for BBC Two since 2007. The remaining years were padded out with recycled versions of these packages, with idents from the late-1990s and 2001 – 2007 period mixed in. A real mishmash. OK, if you insist then, I’ll say it: a complete mess!!
There have been a few glimmers of hope though. Special idents for the India Season and China Season were visually impressive but were used on air for a relatively short period. One particularly noteworthy, more permanent addition made its debut appearance on Poetry Night on 1st October 2016. This ident was packed full to overflowing with creativity; the superb rapid-cut sequences demonstrated that there certainly was life in the old ‘2’ yet. Produced by Luke Carpenter, these idents (there were a few variations) were subsequently used to introduce all arts-related programming on the channel. But this amounted to only a handful of slots each week. Most viewers have probably never seen these superb sequences. Baffling decision-making.
Hopefully, before too much longer, BBC Two will get the slick and sophisticated look that it and its programmes deserve. And once again it will have an on-air identity that inspires and influences, and is the envy of other broadcasters.