Schools & Colleges – 1 

1 June 2007 tbs.pm/2150

The first part of a detailed appraisal of British educational television over the years, from the monochrome era to the present day.

Pie Charts, Diamonds, Clocks, Countdowns & Haunting Idents….

In a previous article, I commented on how my interest in Television began when my mother purchased our first colour TV set in the late 1970s. My interest mainly centred around (apart from “The Sweeney” and “Tiswas”) the bits that came on before, in the middle of, and at the end of the programmes. This interest was fuelled even more once I started school- as we had a “TV room” and would quite often watch schools programmes broadcast on BBC1 and ITV.

Schools programmes have been broadcast on ITV since 1957, and on the BBC surprisingly a few years later, September 1960 to be precise – but over the years, while the presentation look may have changed to accommodate the advent of Colour Broadcasting and also newer graphic technology, the format remained the same pretty much up until the late 1990s, when Television as a whole changed dramatically.

So – let’s take a day off sick, cuddle up on the sofa in our pyjamas and favourite quilt, and wait for mum to force some dreadful medicine down us. Meanwhile, let’s indulge a lost era in broadcasting tradition…

The “Monochrome Years”

Sadly, I was not around during the “Monochrome” era and so have only seen video clips and pictures of what the presentation of Schools programmes looked like back then.

You have to remember that until around 1972, television broadcasting hours were restricted to about 7 or so hours per day, and so stations were off the air until around 4.30pm for Children’s programmes.

I gather that educational programmes were omitted from the final broadcast hours total. However, this was all that was on during the day, between interludes and breaks for the “Test Card”, “Colour Bars” (or then perhaps tuning signal) and Transmitter Engineering Information.

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The look on ITV at the time was new perhaps a little corporate – but I am sure the graphic designers of the time did not even consider the fact their format was to continue in use for a little over 40years.

A Tuning Signal, accompanied by some music, usually preceded schools programmes on ITV. These interludes could last for anything up to 20 minutes. Following the music, there would be the ‘countdown clock’ – this featured a circular timeline, which counted down over the period of 60 seconds.

Presented on a grey background, the white timeline ticked away like an old-fashioned stopwatch – this idea was introduced to assist teachers in “hushing” the class before the start of the next programme. The long interludes between programmes were also to assist teachers in changing classes over between programmes: during this era television sets were very expensive: not all schools could afford one, and where they did have a set it was often used by the entire school.

A caption showing the title of the following programme would be shown in the centre of the ‘clock’ and at the bottom of the screen a caption “Independent Television For Schools” would be displayed (it had not yet become Schools & Colleges).

Looking at material in the TBS archives, it looks as if the ‘timeline’ was in actual fact shot onto film, and transmitted from Telecine – overlaying the required captions. Obviously, this sequence would have been added to the beginning the programme it was to precede and not transmitted as a separate item to the programme – after constant rewinding, re-threading, and re-running for 5 days a week the filmed piece would look quite a bit tatty! And also would be quite expensive to replace every other week! (The voice of experience speaking here!)

I found similar evidence of the ‘clock’ being part of the programme, on a tape which contained a programme presented in Welsh, recorded sometime during the very early years of colour on HTV. This featured an ident board (chalk board with all the gory details- such as RX date, TX date, production number, take, part, etc) then came the schools ‘countdown clock’, and then the programme opening titles.

This presentation format on ITV was also used for presenting Adult Education programmes – I found an example lurking in the Transdiffusion Archives, while researching ‘Tiptoe through the start-ups’.

On the BBC, the Educational programming was pretty much network material seen by whoever could receive the channel. On ITV, the bulk of the programmes for Schools was networked – originally from Associated Rediffusion in London, and then for a very brief spell by Thames Television. But ITV stations had their own opt-outs – quite often broadcasting programmes in a different language (Welsh or Gaelic for example). Again other examples of this exist in the TBS archives.

Diamonds are forever – well maybe not.

From November 1969, colour television arrived on the mainstream stations in the UK: presentation departments at the BBC and throughout the ITV network scrambled to make good use of colour and make their presence felt.

Sadly on ITV this didn’t appear stretch down to Presentation for Schools programmes at first.

The BBC unveiled the first colour “globe” as their onscreen symbol, a huge meshed rotating “2” on BBC2; and for schools programming, also now accompanied by a funky piece of music, came a psychedelic-looking diamond and mirror effect.

Again – as with several BBC graphics up until then – this was another model & light box arrangement, using mirrors as well as has been documented by Dave Jeffery.

After a bit this sequence began to get a bit tedious to me. Perhaps younger children would be hypnotised: rumours circulated many a playground about the sublime image it was supposed to be sending. Beneath the “hypnotherapy diamond” was the (then) familiar “BBC1 – Colour” caption, in blue.

And over on ITV…

At the same time, ITV had decided not to hypnotise children fancy diamond graphics. Instead, they pretty much continued on as they had done since 1957- but in colour!

In March 1970, ATV opened its new studio centre at Bridge Street, in Birmingham, and also took full control of Presentation of schools programming on ITV. One can assume that the task of presentation graphics was also handed to ATV’s in house (and very busy) graphics department.

The only apparent changes were the “countdown clock”, now appearing in a bold colour – blue background and white typeface (pretty standard issue for at the time), so that viewers still watching in black and white would have something very similar to before

The tuning signal had been replaced with a colour version – now specifically for Schools programming – and now named “ITV for Schools and Colleges”. It had an inherent essence of ‘ATV-ness’ about it – the sets of coloured ‘light spots’ perhaps had something to do with it. In addition, there were two greyscale charts, positioned one at the top and one at the bottom of the screen. Interludes using this slide were often accompanied by music not that much different to that used with the “Diamond” over on the other side – yes all laid back, easy listening, with lots of 70s-style electric piano – it must have sounded like walking into a shopping centre! [Oh, you are so unkind! – Ed.]

To many of us, watching Schools programmes on ITV had a kind of BBC feel to it – not a lot of announcements and no advertising. But few if any kids, of course understood the Television Act and ITA code of practice.

Next month: The Open University arrives.

You Say

1 response to this article

Andrew Swift 16 July 2015 at 12:27 pm

AFAIK the BBC Schools Diamond #1 was first shown in October 1973.

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