24 May 2004 7 comments. tbs.pm/2040
ABC Weekend Television
Midlands: weekends 1956-1968 (franchise change)
North: weekends 1956-1968 (franchise change)
Your Weekend TV
Regular readers of Electromusications and our sister-sites will be aware of a ‘slight’ pro-ABC bias. This may seem strange if you know that most of Transdiffusion’s editors are too young to remember ABC, and most are from outside ABC’s midlands and northern regions.
And yet, the remaining presentation of the company enthrals them – and captivates those of us who contribute to the sites. Why should this be? It’s difficult to say. Perhaps the continuity, with such masters of the art as David Hamilton and John Benson, was an example (often learnt!) to other companies.
The presenters were cosmopolitan, knowing, friendly, warm, urbane and professional. They were hand-picked by a knowledgeable management and well-trained, so much so that the positive adjectives are attracted to them as if magnetic.
The station’s second symbol – a triangle, formed to a musical ident based on a three-note motif – dominated the screen, the outside broadcast vans, the studios and even the presenters’ blazers. On the front of some of the country’s most popular programmes, it became known to every television viewer.
At a time when ‘channel branding’ is the creed of television executives everywhere, and companies flog idents to death through indifference or change them so rapidly as to lose all meaning, ABC seems to have hit a magic formula that sophisticated modern companies are still hunting for blindly.
Add to this magic formula programmes like ‘Oh Boy!’, ‘ABC Armchair Theatre’ and the still-repeated, still-unimpeachable ‘The Avengers’, and you have the archetypical ITV company – the one they all want to be.
The first years of ABC’s life were spent sheltering under the shield symbol pioneered by their parent company Associated British Picture Corporation and their sister company ABC Cinemas. During their daily start they would use a symbol very similar to the one still being used by the (unrelated) ABC Cinemas of today.
For idents and captions, a modified form of the shield was used, as seen here. For this version, on the cusp of changing to the new triangle, the shield appears with the ‘new’ music underneath – although the broadcaster here failed to get the tape up to speed in time.
In 1959 there was a revolution at ABC. The shield was vapourised and the new triangle symbol introduced. This accompanied a whole new range of popular – though rarely populist – programming. The triangle and its tailed-arrow forum-up and serif-print text became an instant classic.
It’s the sign that says you’re watching ABC Television in the early 1960s. Using essentially the same musical ident as the later version (the music having predated the triangle symbol anyway), the ‘serif’ ident was clever and dominated the screen in a way not thought of at a time when most geometric idents zoomed in or spun on their own axis.
Another revolution strikes the company in 1964, as the dramatic serif ident is replaced by the imposing and impressive sans serif version. The arrows, no longer with tails, drop on to bold block capital letters and leap to form a smaller triangle – the letters now dominating the symbol rather than vice versa.
The ultimate ident for monochrome days. In silence, the triangle shoots toward the viewer, then each component part – also triangles – drop down from the top of the screen, creating a letter where they land. Finally, once the letters ABC have finally appear, the triangles jump up to create the main symbol again. This is accompanied by a musical ident far better than ATV – the company’s main rival.
The opening of the ident – the silent triangle rushing forward and past the screen – is simply amazing for a time when idents often rushed forward but froze mid-screen. This ident blasts past the viewer and simply commands attention. Wonderful.
The herald of them all, John Benson, gives this fascinating announcement. It leaves more questions than it answers as Benson mentions “the Northern station” in the singular, ignoring the three transmitters and two broadcasters that served the then pan-north region (Winter Hill, Emley Moor, Scarborough; ABC Weekend and Granada). But then Benson ignores Scarborough on channel 6, sticking to just the two main transmitters on each side of the Pennines.
The smaller Midlands region – a great revenue earner but somehow less satisfying for the company to programme for – had a slightly different presentation style to its northern sister.
Whilst ABC North was being the antithesis of dour Granada, ABC Midlands had to try to be the antithesis of ATV – which, in effect, was Granada!
Rather than plough that particular barren furrow, ABC chose to just try to sound more grown-up than ATV, as evidenced in the DX-reception authority announcement.
Towards the end of ABC Weekend’s life, their Midlands chief announcer John Edmunds moved to the BBC to become a newsreader cum announcer. A combination of this… well, humiliation, really… and the addition of a new transmitter meant that a new announcement had to be recorded. Bill Steel, then a young announcer for ABC and later destined to be the last head of presentation at Tyne Tees, was drafted in to rerecord the announcement. This announcement was recorded off-air by a member of the original Transdiffusion back in the 1960s and sent on reel-to-reel audiotape to the archive.
An important part of branding ABC was the continuity announcer.
Each one had to seamlessly switch between being your friendly and genial host for the evening – cracking jokes, making you feel welcome and part of the team, almost – and being the Voice Of ABC.
Here, David Hamilton takes us, in a limited time, from the ident to the news, getting in a name check for the station, reciting the station’s slogan, giving a time check and announcing what’s about to happen – all with his ‘gravitas’ voice.
Earlier in the evening, and David Hamilton has his ‘genial’ voice at the ready to take us through a similar pattern – ident, name, slogan, programme information, next programme, time check – in a similar amount of time.
This time, however, he uses the ‘that’s the sign that means you’re watching ABC’ formula after the ident – softer than the stark ‘You’re watching…’ version. And the Tommy Cooper programme is plugged in the small space available – almost saying “don’t turn over, we’ll be right back”, in contrast the the ‘take it or leave it’ formal news announcement.