23 Feb 2002 0 comments. tbs.pm/2230
In this article, I’m going to take a look at a few of the most important fonts used by Granada Television for their pan-North corporate identity from 1956 when they began broadcasting across the North of England until 1989 when the ITV corporate look dictated a single font for (almost) everyone.
The reason? The original Transdiffusion children had a keen interest in typography, and were keen to find out the names of typefaces used on the idents and other presentation material seen on-screen. Recently I was also bitten by the typography bug, and that led me to do some research of my own.
Before the franchise changes of 1968, Transdiffusion children spent the much of their time watching Granada’s 5-day “Pan-North” service, which meant that the typography used by Granada was of particular interest to them.
Of all the fonts used by Granada back then, the most important was the one used for the word GRANADA on their idents, stationary and on their HQ in Manchester. It was used on-screen for 12 years, and some of the original signs in the font can still be seen on Granada’s HQ. “Keystone” was the name by which the original Transdiffusion children knew this typeface.
However, when I went searching for “Keystone” I drew a blank for about two years. I realised that the font must have been popular, because I’ve seen in many other settings and by many other companies apart from Granada. I also knew that the font must be available digitally, as I had seen it several times in print recently in Hungary. So why couldn’t I find it?
After searching through URW++’s font database, I found that “Keystone” seems to have been a name used solely by Letraset for their version of a typeface that everyone in the type industry (everyone now including Letraset themselves) calls by another name.
Before the age of computers and the ubiquitous .ttf file, the Transdiffusion children had to buy typefaces in the form of rubdown transfers. In Britain, these tended to be manufactured by the company Letraset (still trading to this day). The name Letraset will probably be more familiar to anyone who was a child in the seventies or eighties for their colour sets of rubdown transfers of popular TV characters aimed at children and sold in newsagents or branches of Woolworth’s.
Back then, it was common for companies to give fonts their own names, particularly if they didn’t sound very attractive or sounded too “foreign”, and hence it was Letraset’s names for fonts that were adopted by the Transdiffusion children.
So, after much searching, I discovered that Granada’s classic Pan-North font was called “Stymie”. Not a very nice name, so perhaps it’s understandable that Letraset changed it! In fact Granada used “Stymie Black Italic”. I only have Stymie Black in my collection, but I use Flash to italicise it (I would have done this anyway, the angle of italicisation used in the 1960s tends to be quite different to that found in modern digital fonts).
The font is American, designed in 1931 by Morris Fuller Benton and was originally manufactured by American Type Founders or ATF. ATF was (and still is) a huge typography conglomerate formed from 34 separate US font foundries to escape a rash of bankruptcies in 1892 caused by such advances in technology as Linotype setting machines. Interestingly, Morris Fuller Benton was also responsible (in 1906) for the “Clearface Gothic” typeface used extensively by TVS, the “Souvenir” (1907) typeface used extensively by TSW as well as many other fonts used commonly on television to this day.
“Stymie” is known a slab serif font, which basically means it has large rectangular ends to the letters. Slab serif fonts first began to appear around 1815-1817. They were originally popular as the serifs hold up well under adverse printing conditions (e.g. on poor quality paper such as newsprint), and the thick serifs also made them particularly suitable for sign making.
Slab serifs fonts are often called “Egyptian” fonts, and are therefore frequently given names related to Egypt. Perhaps the most famous use of an “Egyptian” font on television is Granada’s use of “Cairo” for Coronation Street in the seventies and eighties.
As far as signs are concerned, the Granada HQ isn’t the only place that you can see a fifties sign in “Stymie Bold Italic”. On Róbert Károly Körüt, just after the Arpád Híd heading towards Pest, the sign “NÉPSZABADSAG” can be seen on a newspaper printing works, Granada style, in the same font and in faded red metal; in the past Népszabadság had used “Stymie Bold Italic” for their masthead. I always feel a strange nostalgia for Manchester when I pass it! The font that is popular in Hungary to this day – my wife’s “Pregnancy Exercises” video even has it’s title in “Stymie Bold Italic”!
The “Stymie” family was also a common site on Britain’s’ roads in the sixties and seventies as it used to be the National Express coach font, so it was very much a fashionable typeface at the time.
When looking at television designs from the fifties and sixties today, it’s important to remember that these were cutting edge designs at the time, using the latest in fashionable typography and graphic design. The prize for capturing the essence of an era bang on is, sadly, creating something that looks hopelessly dated to modern eyes. Perhaps this is why the Granada dipole idents look so dated to modern eyes, particularly when compared to deliberately timeless (and hence never particularly in or out of fashion) designs such as the “Associated Rediffusion” ident.
The most notable thing about the version of “Stymie” used by Granada was that the “G” has been amended to have a downward spur. Interestingly, some weights of Stymie do in fact have a spur on the “G”, although the weight chosen by Granada for their name style, “Stymie Bold Italic”, did not.
This fiddling with an existing font is something quite common in television design – Grampian added a little serif to the top of the capital “A” in their mid sixties ident, and fiddling is even evident today’s “GR/\N/\DA” namestyle, which is basically a delightful modification of Zapf Humanist.
When Granada came to do the presentation for their innovative “Granada In the North” service (a groundbreaking mix of regional and national news) they either didn’t want to or didn’t remember to modify the “G”, and you can see how the namestyle looks without the spurred “G”.
Granada included two other fonts on their ident. The “from the North” was a font called “Grotesque No. 9″, which was designed by Eleisha Pechey in 1906 for the innovative British font foundry Stephenson Blake.
The term “Grotesque” is not used to denote any ugliness of the font, but is in fact a common term used to describe a sans serif font. Another common name for a sans serif font is, surprisingly, “Gothic”, a name that would probably be more likely to conjure up medieval calligraphic styles. “Grotesque No. 9″ is also commonly called “Headline”, and I’ve come across digital versions of the font with both names.
“Grotesque No. 9″ was a favourite of television graphic designers in the fifties, sixties and early seventies and seemed to be particularly favoured by ATV. It used on idents by ATV and Tyne Tees, and most famously of all ATV used the font in the graphics for the soap opera “Crossroads” from November 1969. ATV also used “Grotesque No. 9″ on the final ITV Schools light spots caption, and on colour ITV schools clocks from 1969-1979.
The font went out of fashion for TV work by the late seventies. This was probably because of it’s close association with fading seventies icons such as “Crossroads”, rather than the fact the design had dated. However, the font is now in favour once more, and is extensively used for headlines by the magazine “Newsweek” – who interestingly enough use “Stymie TBold” for their masthead!
Granada made good use of “Grotesque No. 9″ on their standard caption designs, as well as on their idents, as the “TONIGHT” example above demonstrates.
The final part of the Granada Pan-North font triumvirate was “Venus Extended Bold”. This was another favourite of television graphic designers in the fifties and sixties; slowly going out of fashion during the early seventies, the last company to using it was Southern, who soldiered on with it until 1981. Although Southern was the most famous example of the use of “Venus Extended Bold”, the font was also used by Grampian in their original “mountains into saltaire” ident.
However, the heaviest user of the Venus font family on television was the ITA, who used the Venus Condensed extensively from the introduction of “Test Card D” in 1964 until they became the IBA in 1972.
Today, the most common fonts in the Venus family, “Venus Bold Extended” and “Venus Condensed” aren’t easy to get hold of and are not commonly used. Designed by Bauer, the Venus family is distributed in digital form by Neufville Digital. Well it would be, but amazingly they haven’t got around to digitising the two most commonly used weights of the font yet! Transdiffusion were lucky enough to find digital versions to aid ident recreations made by Castcraft Software. However, it remains an under-utilised font due to the poor availability of digital versions.
There is, however, a very visible variant of Venus (including Venus Bold Extended) in use by Macromedia for their corporate identity. It is called “Vonnes”, and was especially designed for them by Font Bureau. All “Vonnes” really is, is Venus with angular cuts on the letter endings. Being a corporate commission, Vonnes is not available to the public.
The Venus font was also used extensively by Granada for graphics in its “Granada In The North” service. The example enough shows “Venus Bold” being used for the “Northern News” caption.
As the sixties wore on, some fonts came into fashion whilst other fonts became less favoured. Granada was keen to adopt new trends in graphic design, and made good use of the new wave of typefaces. This often resulted in a curious blend of late fifties and late sixties typography; this strange mixture indicated that a radical change to Granada’s identity was surely on the way.
Probably the font to reach greatest prominence towards the end of the sixties was Helvetica. Within ITV, Border Television were the first to adopt Helvetica for their name style. From there the font became truly ubiquitous in television graphics and it’s easier to list the companies that haven’t used it as part of their ident packages at one time or another rather than those that have.
The companies that used have Helvetica for their namestyle included Ulster, Channel (1979), Thames (1968-1979), Yorkshire (1968-1989) and Border (1961-1989). Westward, HTV, ATV, Southern and Scottish are just a few of the companies that used Helvetica for “COLOUR PRODUCTION” captions or copyright dates. Helvetica was also a particular favourite with the designers at ITN.
Helvetica has a long and interesting history. Max Miedinger designed the font, and he was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1910. In 1956, Eduard Hoffmann, the director of the Haas’sche Schriftgießerei, commissioned Miedinger to develop a new sans-serif typeface. In 1957 an upper case only version of Haas-Grotesk face was introduced. Then, in 1958, came the introduction of the roman (or normal) version of Haas-Grotesk with upper case and lower case letters. By 1959 a bold version of the font (so evocative of THAMES television) was introduced. Finally, in 1960 the typeface changed its name from Neue Haas Grotesk to Helvetica. Since then additional weights have been regularly added to Helvetica.
Helvetica is another font that has a very common synonym – Swiss. The font has been so widely used (and some argue misused) that many graphic designers actively hate the font. The main reason for the widespread use of Helvetica is that it comes in a huge range of weights and widths, which makes it versatile, and its ubiquitous character makes it easy to match. And, above all, it looks nice!
Granada introduced Helvetica very gradually, with the first use of the font being on their standard slide family. They also increasingly began to slip it on to end caps as the sixties wore on.
Helvetica was to remain a feature of Granada’s on-screen identity until the ITV Corporate look of 1989, and was an integral part of the classic Granada colour ident packages.
Clarendon is perhaps the Granada font for anyone growing up between 1968 and 1989. Hilda Ogden, reading with Basil Brush or Lenny the Lion, army assault courses and mental agility tests, Peter Davison playing with fridge magnets while sitting on a tree trunk, scary prog Hammond organ music before alarmingly grainy 16mm film documentaries, Jack Smith’s perpetually sharp yellow pencil, Alan Rothwell saying “Hello”. The word GRANADA written in this font instantly conjures happy memories all of these and more.
The story of Clarendon goes back to it’s design in 1953. The font designer in this case was Hermann Eidenbenz. Eidenbenz had designed numerous posters, logos, and also bank notes for Switzerland and Germany.
Clarendon was an interesting font, because although it echoed the Century Schoolbook fonts that would have been so common to sixties children (and their parents and grandparents) from a million school textbooks, it still managed to look contemporary.
A font that was both contemporary and had gravitas was bound to be irresistible to Granada as it was just the ethos that they were trying to project as it became an established broadcaster. Therefore, by the mid sixties Granada were introducing it onto the odd caption here and there.
A new franchise round, a new region to bid for and a total rethink. With the new franchise round, Granada’s slogan “from the North” no longer really described their franchise area. But what should they do? The slogan “from the North West” didn’t sound as catchy, whilst “from Lancashire” would have been unlikely to please Granada’s viewers in the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Cumberland and Westmoreland. The dipole pointing northwards would also need to change – Granada was now broadcasting to the North West of England.
In addition, Granada was no longer competing with another ITV company in it’s patch. ABC Television (which, in truth, is what Thames Television was) would now be broadcasting to London 5-days a week leaving Granada to broadcast to the North West 7 days a week. Granada had been taught a lesson or two by ABC about presentation that they were keen to put into effect now ABC was shuffling off and they couldn’t be accused of copying them!
Granada’s graphic designers managed the impossible. Unveiled in July 1968, when they started their 7-day a week north-west franchise, what was unveiled was probably one of the most radical rebranding exercises in UK television history, whilst still producing something that could be seen as an evolution from what went before.
Out with the Keystone, the Grotesk and the Venus. To be replaced by two fonts – Clarendon and Helvetica. The dipole was dropped, with the Granada namestyle sandwiched between two black lines that looked rather like the edges of a watchstrap. Out went the slogan “from the North”, and most dramatic of all, out with the dipole.
However, on second appearance, Granada’s rebranding could be seen as a definite evolution. The three tone colour scheme remained – white and black items on a mid-grey background. And the new Clarendon font looked like an evolution from Keystone, still serifed, still in capital letters, still very bold.
Viewers in the north west of England would see that the Granada rebrand would contain other echoes of the past. The heavily shadowed letters of the GRANADA namestyle would flip on regional programmes in exactly the same way they had done in the Keystone era idents. They could also see that Granada would use Helvetica below the watchstrap on start-up to say “Good Evening!”.
However, the 1968 Granada rebrand had two fatal flaws, and Sidney Bernstein spotted them from the start. There was no symbol (a fault in any ident, as Carlton would later learn to their cost) and crucially for Granada there was nothing to say “we’re as northern as Wigan Pier”. Bernstein wanted “NORTH” permeating his company as indelibly as the writing in a stick of Blackpool rock.
Fortunately Bernstein was watching an inter-region children’s quiz programme one afternoon in 1968, and happened to see a totally unofficial Granada symbol that one of their designers had cooked up to put on the T-shirts sported by the Granada team. The company therefore gradually adopted the ad-hoc design which featured a letter G with an arrow pointing north.
In spring 1969 Granada introduced a very different ident to the world. The drop shadow was removed from the GRANADA namestyle, the ident was monochrome, simply white on black and the watchstrap lines were removed. However, many design features remained from the sixties ident. The Granada namestyle now sat, centred above their symbol with the dipole pointing to the letter “N” for north. This classic design was to last Granada for twenty years.
With the arrival of colour, Granada went back to using three colours on their ident, as they had since their second ident in 1957. As far as fonts were concerned, in 1972 Helvetica Bold was introduced for the words “Colour Production” and then later still Helvetica was used for the Granada Copyright information, usually along the lines of”© Granada UK MCMLXXVIII”.
Granada did use some other fonts in their sixties presentation time to time, the main two their designers tended to favour being Latin Wide and Cooper Black. Both were very common television fonts of the period.
Perhaps the nicest thing about Granada’s use of “Stymie Bold Italic” was that they were the only company to use it. That meant that Granada had a font that was uniquely theirs, and that uniquely branded the station. To me, it conjures the excitement of the crusading Mersey Beat, Manchester Guardian, kitchen sink drama proudly working class North that Pan-North Granada presided over. It has far a more exciting resonance than the later Clarendon namestyle, coming from a time when Granada was challenging the establishment. In picking Grotesque No. 9 and Venus Bold Extended to accompany it, Granada showed impeccable taste.
The problem with “Clarendon” was that the font was not Granada’s alone, sharing it as it did with Grampian. It also ushers in Granada’s most serious, worthy and perhaps to be uncharitable, dull, epoch in the early seventies. Two franchise awards on, Granada had become part of the establishment, rather than fighting against it. It was no longer a young whippersnapping company, but a large television fixture and complacent. The staff behind Granada were also ageing, and there wasn’t the youth resonance that Granada’s sixties identity had.
However, Clarendon has an unmistakable authority and is redolent of all that is good, sober, unsensational and worthy about public service commercial television at its best. Though Granada did become part of the establishment in the seventies and eighties, it was probably the best part of it.
But for me, I preferred Granada’s exciting 60’s incarnation, so I feel the Pan-North dipole ident package truly shows off Granada as it really deserves to be remembered.