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BBC Video Logo

Robert Weedon | Television | Sunday 3rd May 2009

It may seem an odd thing to be misty eyed about, but the BBC Video ident used between 1990-1997 is a logo which hasn't dated or been bettered by any of the subsequent logos used by the corporation. There's a lot of pressure on the appearance of a BBC Video/DVD ident, given that they're effectively the corporate face of the company - while television idents are branded specifically for a particular channel, i.e. BBC One or Two, the video/DVD logo must be generic enough to fit on any release. Of the five or so logos used by the corporation's commercial arm since the advent of home video, the ident dating from circa 1990 is by far the best. I believe this is predominantly because of its simplicity, but also for its clever soundtrack:



The slanted BBC logo of the time was based on the three colour guns used in cathode ray tube televisions to generate colour. According to 625.uk.com, this logo was first rolled out corporately in 1988, and was designed by a chap called Michael Peters. In this animated logo, the blue and green underlines converge horizontally to reveal the red. Physically speaking, this isn't quite correct, but it looks pleasant enough, particularly when the blue and green continue to fade into the corner of the screen. Meanwhile, the rest of the dynamically slanted BBC logo simply fades in from black.

This is another reason for its effectiveness - because the background is simply black, with no embellishments, there is nothing else to distract the eye. The disappointing "ribbon" logo which replaced it attempted to continue the three-colour idea with a floating ribbon behind the new BBC logo, but because it was over-complicated, and not part of the actual logo, it never quite lived up to its hallowed predecessor. The blue background was also a distraction. The other element of the 1990 logo that makes it so effective is the rather haunting soundtrack. It's a very short piano motif with the final note highlighted by a held tonic pedal on synthesised bass strings. I was unable to find out who composed it.

"Three is a magic number" claimed the pre-launch hype for BBC3 in 2003. However, in the case of this piece of music, it's true. It is written with three beats in each of the three bars, making it almost like a slow waltz, corresponding nicely to the three letters of the BBC logo. It compounds this impression by using a three-note motif in each bar, and effectively using three key changes in its structure. In addition to the three letters, the use of three also subconsciously implies Lord Reith's remit to Inform, Educate and Entertain, although in this logo, as we shall see, they're perhaps suggested in a different order. I've had a go at transcribing it below, although it may not be completely correct.

BBC Music Score


The first bar is in F major 7, giving a cheerful, optimistic opening to the piece, with an aspiring sixth leap to D in the top voice, which gives a sense of achievement. The second bar rises one note in the bass to give a root of G, while the continued D of the previous bar, plus a B natural suggests G major as the basis of its key. However, this is not the case. Because of the naturalised seventh (rather than the expected sharpened seventh), an augmented fourth (also known as a tri-tone) is implied instead between the first and last notes in the bar, which makes the listener feel inherently uneasy, perhaps subconsciously, as this is a motif traditionally associated with the devil. Also because the top voice note isn't such a big leap, this bar gives a more reflective, even ambiguous impression.

This suspicion is subsequently realised in the third and final key change, in which the bass shifts up another note to A minor, which concludes the piece in an almost melancholic fashion, as an ominous string sound highlights the gloomy impression of the final note. However, because the bass has also risen, it somehow implies triumph in the face of adversity.

While all this may be reading rather too much into it, there are a number of reasons why the music works well as a video logo. Firstly, it isn't overly cheerful. Some would say this is a mistake, but it means that it can fit on any video without being ostentatiously out of place, for example on a serious drama series. Due to the instrumentation for synthesised piano and strings, there is no inherent genre implied either - it could be part of a pop song, a piece of classical music or even jazz, due to the added note chords.

It's also short - just under 9 seconds long, which means it doesn't bore the viewer. The original computer-synthesised logo continued for a glacial 19 seconds, although the slightly way-out visuals compensated for this, as did the second globe logo's 15 minute slot. However, this logo's uninspiring ribbon replacement lasts a slightly tedious 11 seconds, which given the lack of action is clearly a mistake. However, the crown for over-long logos must go to the pretentious new "glass box" logo, which goes on for an unbelievable 30 seconds, and remember that you can't fast-forward through these on DVDs either.

So hooray for the 1990 BBC video logo, you are gone but not forgotten.

RW



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