Schools & Colleges – 2 

1 July 2007 tbs.pm/2158

Roddy Buxton continues his account of the development of TV presentation “For Schools And Colleges”, looking at the advent of the Open University, the 70s and the first part of the 1980s.

But what about the Open University?

In January 1971, the BBC first aired the Open University – educational programming for adults completing University courses in their own homes. The ‘look’ and format of the Open University never really changed, mainly due to the fact that programmes produced in the 1970s were quite often repeated over and over again for many years. The Open University became known for broadcasting during the early hours of the morning, or sometimes late at night on BBC2.

As a child, I managed to catch the “OU” (as it was later known) on early Sunday mornings- in the pre-Breakfast Television Days. Very early on a Sunday morning the “OU” would broadcast a couple of programmes on BBC2 just before children’s programmes – usually The Flumps.

As a child I was bemused by these large-collared, big-bearded hippies rattling on about obscure Algebraic formulae. It was a completely different language to me – well, it was a far cry from basic Maths at a Primary School in North Derbyshire!

However, away from the obscure formulae, large purple-collared professors and scratched 16mm filmed experiments, the presentation of “OU” programmes wasn’t that much different to that of the Schools programming. But to me there was something quite haunting about it.

Was it the long silences between the programmes, often up to 15 minutes, or was it that infamous “Open University” yellow background ident accompanied by the haunting quartet of trumpets jingle?

I think it was a combination of both, amongst the deadly silence of a cold, damp Sunday morning, as children sat glued to their sets eagerly awaiting the adventures of The Flumps

.

After an “OU” programme, their ident would be shown and would remain on screen throughout the interlude, with no announcement or music, just silence; then, just when you’d least expect it, the ident jingle would be heard again – often up to 3 or 4 times.

You couldn’t switch over: Channel 4 was still on the drawing board with the IBA. ITV tended to either be Colour Bars and Tone or some kind of Test-Card and Tone, and BBC1 usually Test-Card F and Tone…. and parents (I think) had ‘auto tone detectors’ – you could have the TV turned down to zero, but if you switched to a channel with a “tone”, they’d be down like a shot and you’d be ushered back to bed quickly!

As video recorders came more available and 24hour broadcasting was just around the corner, the “OU” began to vanish from late night and early morning screens, as their programmes became available on Video – and, in more recent times, DVD.

It was only in late 2006 that the “OU” totally vanished from mainstream television to concentrate on Internet, DVD and video production for its courses.

Schools Presentation updated

Around the autumn term of 1978, Schools programming presentation was updated on both channels.

The BBC scrapped the psychedelic ‘Diamond’ to replace it with a countdown clock made up of white dots – in a very similar fashion to that used on ITV.

Over on ITV, the classic ‘timeline’ clock had been dropped along with the “Tuning signal” and shopping-centre style music, to be replaced with a new style clock – not that different from that used on the BBC, and the interludes were now covered by ‘Picture Roll’ made up of artwork sent in by pupils from various schools, and also quite often professional pieces of artwork they were too, sometimes in the style of postage stamps.

In the new look clock, the ‘timeline’ was replaced with 60 small white oval shaped dashes, each representing a one second increment, set out in the traditional clock style. As each second passed, a ‘dash’ would disappear.

The caption “Independent Television for Schools & Colleges” had now been moved to the centre of the clock circle – also in a white typeface. The caption showing the title of the following programme was now positioned at the bottom of the screen – again in a white typeface, but now using something like a Futura Bold style font. I gather this was the era when the ‘clock’ was no longer attached to the start of the next programme: instead the ‘countdown’ was broadcast separately.

The BBC interludes (before the countdown clock) tended to consist simply of a slide showing a promotional style photo of the following programme and a caption “Follows shortly” – and on some occasions the “Test Card” (I hope younger readers are now beginning to understand how the ‘test card girl’ became an iconic image of British television).

The new BBC Schools clock (for me) seemed a poor man’s version of both the ITV ‘timeline’ and its new replacement. It again consisted of a circle of white ‘dots’ – but much less than what was on the ITV equivalent. I am still to this day unsure exactly how many seconds each ‘dot’ was to represent; having seen clips of it recently while researching this article, there seemed to be no exact timing between each ‘dot’ increment disappearing. On one occasion, the clock counted down to the last three increments, and there were 4 seconds between one and about 6 seconds between the next. From this, my assumption is that it must have been manually operated, using lights switched off by hand. (I have been set a challenge to build one of these devices- so keep watching.)

In the centre of the ‘clock’ was the caption “Schools & Colleges”, which appeared to shimmer in a kind of stroboscopic effect – possibly some kind of small multi bladed shutter inside the light box. Beneath the clock we saw the “BBC 1” caption.

As for the ITV Schools clock, this was again totally mechanical, and on a number of occasions either stuck or even began to rewind live on air, to be greeted by cheers from classrooms around the country.

This look on ITV remained the same until schools programming was moved over to Channel 4 during the autumn term of 1987.

The electronic 80s?

Very little changed in Schools programming during the 1980s. Newer programmes were made, but the older programmes produced during the 1970s were also still broadcast. On a presentational front, not a lot changed in the way of on screen graphics, either.

In the early 1980s, the BBC updated their look on both BBC1 and BBC2, BBC2 being the first to use a computer for their new “2” ident.

Over on BBC1, the ‘globe’ was on its next revision, now presented in yellow, on a dark blue background. As for schools programmes: not a lot of change. The Schools ‘clock’ had really only had one subtle modification, that was that the “Schools & Colleges” caption in the centre of the clock had stopped ‘shimmering’. Intentional? Or broken shutter?

The BBC1 caption beneath the clock had also altered to match the new “yellow” look now in use.

Interludes for educational programmes were still filled by the now-familiar slide and “follows shortly” caption. Music for this era tended to be popular music from the day, or even instrumental covers of pop music of the day.

The BBC continued with this format until the autumn term of 1983, when schools programmes were moved to BBC2, under a new name as ‘Daytime on Two’. Gone were the ‘dots’, to be replaced by a slide, caption and a small digital ‘countdown clock’ – a format ITV/C4 would adopt in the mid-1990s.

On ITV, the look also remained the same, a re-branded “ATV” operating as “Central” was still taking care of Schools programme presentation for the network, and the “ATV” logo still preceded some programmes broadcast well into the 1980s.

Of all the music used on Schools programming during this period, one piece was hummed by hundreds of kids up and down the country during double French (to annoy the teacher of course) and surely has to be up there as one of the best pieces: that is ‘Clockwise’, which featured on numerous occasions over the countdown clock throughout the 1980s. It was an electronic piece – reflecting how music technology of the day had discovered transistors!

You Say

2 responses to this article

Anthony Hobson 19 September 2013 at 10:33 am

“Clockwise” – composed by Johnny Patrick and performed by the Johnny Patrick Sound. Used for the clock during Autumn Term 1983 and Spring Term 1985.

Other favourites of mine is “Buttercup” by Martin Kershaw, used during Autumn Term 1981, “Gwlad Y Gan” by David Snell, used during Spring Term 1984 and “Timeless” by James Aldenham, used during Spring Term 1987.

Andrew Swift 21 November 2014 at 12:23 am

The Schools Diamond made its last appearance on BBC2 on 24th June 1977 before a preview of next year’s programmes, as Wimbledon tennis was on BBC1. Coincidentally the Dots appeared on BBC2 for the last time exactly six years later on the same channel, before Scene: Alone On The Moors.

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