24 May 2004 0 comments. tbs.pm/2008
Scottish Television – STV
Central Scotland: 1957-present
Northern Scotland: 2006-present
Licence to screen tedium
When you treat a company like a cash tree, with money growing like leaves, the main problem is that it begins to look like one.
Lord Thompson, the Canadian press baron who founded STV, uttered the famous words “Independent Television is a licence to print money”. He was right, but he did STV and Scotland no good for saying so.
STV was always the disappointment of the ITV network. Its on-screen identity may have been many things, but ‘original’, or ‘striking’, or even ‘unusual’ were not adjectives to be applied to the idents and graphics.
Instead, the easiest course was always the one STV took, giving a dour Scottish feel to everything it touched. Tartan this, thistles that. All fine illustrations of the touristy view of what Scotland is, but hardly the reality and certainly not in any way escapist.
Of course, this could be seen as reflecting its nation, but the twee Scottish world STV painted was not the one painted by Grampian in the north – a company serving an area which was more traditional the STV’s lowland contract.
Once upon a time, the industry regulator took notice of presentation. The first formal warning issued by the ITA was to ABC for the quality of its on-screen identity (a happenstance that caused ABC to throw money at presentation for the rest of its life in fear it would ever happen again).
Lord Hill had noticed STV’s presentation. Although the programmes were, locally, fine but not special, the company had had little impact on the network, despite several opportunities not extended to other companies of its size. STV was raking in money for very little effort – why take the risk of producing network programmes that no one might want?
Hill, annoyed at the arrogance of the companies – especially after how they treated him and the ITA in 1964 when they knew they would be renewed without comment – had decided that 1967 would be a watershed. He would turn ITV upside down, and the press knew one thing – STV would die, maybe even finding its operations handed over to Grampian, one paper suggested, for Grampian showed much more promise.
But, by luck for STV, the competitor for central Scotland was only middling-good – simply promising to do what STV was doing with different shareholders, thus completely misreading the ITA’s intentions – while the competitor for the Wales and west contract was very good. TWW died, STV survived – by default rather than any spirited attempt by the company.
Thompson was eased out of STV – an embarrassment, for his honesty if nothing else, by the ITA – and the management of the station changed. But STV presentation remained parochial at best and amateurish at worst.
Even with the advent of colour in the 1970s and computer design in the 1980s, STV stayed plain. 3D graphics came and went, but STV was derivative even in those. The creative spark that Grampian had caught eluded Cowcaddens.
But – and such is the bizarre twist of history – it is STV that runs Grampian now. It is STV that sees itself as Scotland’s national broadcaster (though MSPs have a few other terms for the company). It is STV that survives. And still its presentation is still poor. Such are the ways of life.
An odd ident from STV in pre-colour days. From a grey screen a square pushes out, the word Scottish drops in from the top, the word Television rises from the bottom and a lion rampant spins into place in the middle. You can see what effect the designer was trying to achieve, but the music – especially the crescendo – mar the ident and make the symbol look more like a parody of Scotland than the epitome of the country.
Tartan seems to be the theme – or cliché – of this ident. The stripes make their way in from the edges of the screen to uncomfortably form up into STV’s post-lion symbol – which at least manages to have nothing Scottish about it at all.
A plainer form-up for the STV symbol – an outline drops in from the front, a solid version zooms in from the back and the two meet to form a logo with nothing to recommend it at all.
Two more form-ups of the STV symbol, now represented as a stylised thistle. So far we’ve been a bit harsh with STV, so let’s be nicer.
The symbol itself is a very clever idea and quite flexible. It can be represented in 2 or 3 dimensions very easily and so passes the ‘can you put it on your stationery?’ test that many – Anglia springs to mind – don’t manage.
The first form up, with the elements meeting the background midway, is very clever again. The idea that the eventual background is part of the foreground form-up is unique.
The second version, which features coloured discs rolling into place in the centre of the thistle works less well. The “coloured objects flying through space” idea is fine for C4 and Central, but was getting old hat when introduced here.
The discs rolling into place is a nice idea, but begins to look ludicrous the more you study it. The eventual fully formed thistle is fine, but the clever-clever idea of using blue on blue means it lacks distinction.
And up-to-date with the one of the most recent Scottish TV idents (not Scottish Television any more and certainly not STV).
As with its Grampian equivalents, these idents are fine, but lack any particular ‘oompf’ to them – a selling point to make you warm to them in any way.
The new symbol – a blue square with the company name underneath – is bland and forgettable, but manages to avoid the tartan n’ bagpipes Scotland-writ-large of the previous 40 years.
The backgrounds are not always as identifiably Scots as this one, but at least the link with clichéd images of the country hasn’t been entirely broken.
When a company has expanded to the point of needing more than three transmitters, it was usually a signal that they would be making their authority announcement more general.
There were basically two methods of doing this – the “serving X region” and the “from transmitters of” method.
The former was used by ATV and Central in the English midlands – broadcasting from the midland transmitters of the IBA. The latter was a favourite of Granada – from transmitters of the IBA, this is…
Here STV has reached the pinnacle that authority announcements can stand if they’re to still be sayable. Naming four transmitters – though ones with Scots rather than Gaelic names, fortunately for the announcer (Gordon Roddick in this case) – is about all an announcement can manage before the Border-style horror of a truly comprehensive announcement takes over.