Indepth on Central Independent Television
24 May 2004 3 comments. tbs.pm/1987
Colm O’Rourke looks in-depth at the Central cake
Many of the logos used by ITV companies over the years have rightly gone down in legend as triumphs of design and immortal symbols of a television age now limited to personal recollections and repeat showings.
One should note that the majority of these symbols came from the companies with a strong and consistent presence on the ITV network, hence the logos quickly manifested themselves into the psyche of the television audience. But let’s not rule out the importance of the logos of the smaller companies, the backbone of the ITV network.
You could say that expectations for Central’s on screen presentation before its launch were high. The company was continuing the ATV tradition in all but name from January 1982 onwards had a tough act to follow behind the “shadowed eye” station.
Central failed to disappoint, bursting on screen with its split-open globe emitting light in its first start up on 1 January 1982.
In terms of presentation, Central were starting as they meant to go on. In this article we will be focusing on Central’s second station logo, or as known affectionately by viewers, the “cake”.
For 13 years, hundreds of idents and countless other examples of on-screen presentation made use of the colourful “cake” in various and original guises.
The “cake” made its graphical debut as part of a computer generated title sequence for Central News. Gradually, this variation began to supersede the existing moon and “striped” Central identities.
Before in-vision continuity was abandoned, the set incorporated the “cake” logo. The presentation material used in lieu of in-vis included the new “cake” logo.
And the extension of broadcasting hours heralded by Central More in 1987 saw more screen time given over to the new “cake” logo
Until the summer of 1988, Central’s dual use of logo variants was only maintained on a regional basis; the company used its moon logo on its pre-programme idents and end production slides as first introduced in late 1983.
In September 1988, the rest of the ITV network was treated to its first glimpse of the Central cake in a new animated end production slide, a version of the station’s main ident.
With a tweak to the Central jingle that accompanied its idents since 1982, the new logo was revealed from the side, as coloured balls splashed onto the crescent segments of the logo.
The cake then revolved around to front and above centre on screen, with the “Central Production” legend revealed as the jingle reached its crescendo.
The sight of an animated end production slide was awesome and eye-catching to an audience accustomed to still, silent, simplistic ends to their ITV programmes.
The Central animated end production slide sparked a minor craze; Scottish following on Central’s heels, but this was curtailed by the first attempts at ITV generic identity in September 1989.
Had a strive for ITV generic presentations not been enforced, Central’s animated end production slide would probably have been retained until the mid 1990s.
In fact, Central’s strong identity meant that dual ITV branding, as implemented by many companies in 1989, was mainly by-passed in the Midlands. But when Central decided to play ball, it did in style.
The generic ident was used sporadically in the early days of dual ITV branding, in variants using both David Dundas’s theme and Central’s own familiar jingle. One ident, transmitted in October 1989, combined the ITV generic ident animation with the Central cake animation on the one screen.
Further idents in the 1990s contained ITV references or logos alongside the Central cake, and indeed, a Central ident transmitted in 1988 included the pre-1989 ITV logo zooming out on screen to reveal a Central logo.
It was behind-the-scenes events that led to the demise of the Central “cake” logo in 1998. In 1994, the Government introduced an amendment to the 1990 Broadcasting Act in relation to the ownership of ITV companies.
One of the first stations to be usurped under this leniency was Central, its £2,000 bid for their new franchise period in 1991 left the station susceptible to a take-over.
The poaching company was Carlton Communications, the recently acquirers of the London weekday licence, looking to extend their 20% share in Central. Unfortunately, this involved gradual erosion of Central’s separate station identity.
In 1995, Central’s programmes were credited to “Carlton UK Productions” whilst remaining “A Central Production for ITV”. Central’s cake logo remained intact however, and older idents were rationalised and complemented with a new ident package, with the “cake” logo rendered in a number of textures and colours. But the end was nigh for the idiosyncratic Central identity.
The “cake” maintained its screen presence into 1998, the logo still a prominent feature in the titles for Central News. In hindsight, it was an unconscious indication that the cake’s lifespan had come full circle.
When Carlton prepared to introduce a new set of idents at the time, it had also designed a set of idents for its Midlands outpost. The London idents featured visual puns on the Carlton logo.
As for Central’s new idents, they were exactly the same. Except the word “CARLTON” was replaced by “CENTRAL”. In the same font, Gill Sans. No sign of a “cake”. Overnight, Central’s position as Carlton’s dummy was strengthened through the removal of its recognisable logo, its brand.
It was becoming difficult for viewers now to differentiate between the Central and Carlton identities.
The final nail in the coffin came in September 1999, when the parent company introduced a new presentation package that finally removed the Central and Westcountry (another Carlton acquisition of the 1990s) names from all broadcast presentation. Only on regional news programmes were the original station names to remain intact, other references washed aside for Carlton homogenisation.
Despite public outcry and ITC “regret”, Carlton’s “ethnic cleansing” remains untouched (apart from an increase in logo size!); the Central “cake” is being confined to the depths of broadcasting history.
While ITV repeats of Central archive output remove all references to the station in favour of (erroneously) crediting Carlton, re-runs on satellite channels cling to the separate Central identity.
So, the “cake” may be gone, but for more than Carlton executives would acknowledge, it is not forgotten.
What makes this symbol a classic?
The Central “cake” has become one of the few stations logos introduced in the 1980s that can be regarded today as a “classic”.
It was undoubtedly the most colourful and vibrant logo to be seen (regularly) on the ITV Network, and the ingenuity within Central’s presentation department ensured the logo was used prominently in the station’s corporate identity with great versatility and in continually fresh ways.
Before its unnecessary removal on the grounds of the bolstering of a corporate on-screen identity/ego, the Central “cake” came to represent the death of local ITV.
Some would say the disappearance of the “cake” on screen was a mercy killing, representing, as it still does, as the hallmark of a station associated with quality programmes.