Moving Schools 

24 May 2004

Jason Robertson on the changes in presentation when schools moved from ITV to the new Channel Four

Programmes for schools, in their earlier days, enjoyed their own presentation, separate from that of ‘regular’ schedules. Schools television was a special part of the day’s programmes, where the usual method of presenting the channel changed to reflect a unique need – schools usually only had one set, and teachers needed time to move one class of children out of the TV room and move another group in. The BBC had their Pie Chart and Dots, and ITV had their tuning signals, interval slides and clock.

Every television presentation enthusiast has his or her own favourite era of ITV Schools programmes presentation. Unsurprisingly, most people’s favourite schools presentation is usually that from when they were at school themselves, perhaps being off for a few days with a cold. My personal favourite is that of the early 80s’ interval slides and white-on-blue clock. When schools programmes moved from ITV to the fourth channels, the presentation changed – how?

The IBA, the regulator at the time, gave permission for schools programmes to be moved from ITV (where they had been since they began) to Channel Four/S4C, so that ITV could launch a new daytime schedule. This was almost five years since Channel Four and S4C started – the delay was so that the IBA could ensure that the vast majority of schools were still able to receive the programmes, as not everyone could watch Channel Four from its opening.

The move had to be accompanied by a change of presentation, to reflect schools programmes’ new home. It was decided to scrap the old mechanical clock.

The ITV companies still made the programmes, and it was useful PR to publicise the fact that it was still ITV that made the schools programmes, being part of ITV’s then-public service remit, which they had to fulfil by law. Of course, the new presentation had to highlight this fact, whilst informing the viewer that they were watching the fourth channel.

And so it was, that the new presentation had to refer to the schools programmes being ITV schools programmes, and branded as Channel Four or S4C since they were the channels actually broadcasting them.

The programmes and presentation themselves had been networked by ATV since the late 60s, and continued by Central into the 80s. The new presentation would originate from the Midlands contractor.

During the mid-1980s, presentation departments moved away from cardboard-and-letraset type graphics, and started to use computer-generated graphics. It was an obvious decision that the new schools presentation would be computerised.

In the end a metallic look was chosen, with lots of reflections and loads of grey. The interval slides were replaced with an isometric square, with each side made from an ITV logo. The square rotated, with the colours in the reflection changing predictably, yet hypnotically.

It is said that any new technology always looks, in its first incarnation, like the technology it replaces; in the same way that the first motor cars looked like horse-drawn carriages, the interval animation could almost have been done by having the ITV logo made from silver, attached to a turntable and rotated!

A minute before the programme was to start, the square made from ITV logos shot apart, and a disk plopped into its place, with the programme name written on it. Once a second, a sixtieth of the white rim faded to grey, and when all of the white had disappeared, the programme would start. Teachers had this minute to settle the class before the programme.

In retrospect, all of that metallic grey condemned that sequence to a short life; it was too 80s to last much beyond the decade. The accompanying music, however, suffered less from the ravages of fashion, but was discontinued at the same time as the graphics.

Before schools programmes had moved to the fourth channels, the music played during the interval would change after a period, in its later years every term. The music accompanying the computer-generated sequence remained the same during its five years in service; the music used were two pieces composed by James Aldenham, ‘The Journey’ (which covered the main, longer part of the interval) and ‘Just a Minute’ (the music used over the clock).

The sequence discussed here represents the dying throes of the ‘formal’ independent television schools programmes presentation; the broadcasters paid less attention to the presentation in between the programmes, the evidence being that it used exactly the same sequence and music for five years. Most schools had video recorders by 1987, making the long interval and clock obsolete. It could be argued that ITV should never have designed the new presentation; after all, the BBC had discontinued the Dots much earlier with the move from BBC-1 to BBC-2.

But then a new generation of schoolchildren, stuck at home with a cold, would have missed the fascinating carryings-on of schools programmes presentation.

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