Schools & Colleges – 3 

1 August 2007 tbs.pm/2162

From the late Eighties to the present, the final part of our presentation For Schools & Colleges.

The changing face of schools programming in the late 1980s…

The late 1980s saw changes for Schools programming across all channels. Breakfast Television had begun on both mainstream channels. Channel 4 had been on air for a number of years, and had tried (albeit for a brief spell) to compete with the format of the BBC’s ‘Open University’ by introducing ‘Open College’- mainly aimed at the 16-20 set. Only after a few years, the idea was dropped.

In 1987, ITV Schools & Colleges celebrated its 30th Anniversary on air. Over on the BBC, daytime ‘magazine’ style programming had been in full swing for a few years, with Schools programming now found on BBC2 throughout the daytime – apart from short breaks for either the Test-Card or Children’s programmes (‘See-Saw’ programmes).

Schools programming on ITV still continued to be broadcast between the hours of 9.25am and 12.00. In the late 1980s, ITV decided to move its schools programmes to Channel 4, so it could hand airtime on ITV over to competing with the BBC’s magazine programming. At the same time, 24-hour broadcasting was set to begin, so the formal ‘start-up’ and ‘closedown’ was to about to vanish from our screens.

The ITV Schools move to Channel 4 took place during the autumn of 1987, with a whole new brand and look – perhaps the most elaborate and radical update ITV Schools & Colleges had ever enjoyed.

Jim Stockoe, Head of Graphics & Presentation at Central Television, developed the design and format along with his assistant Jim Chalmers – their team was also behind the bright new branding for Central after they replaced their globe with the ‘cake’ style idents. An outside graphics house, based in London, carried out the actual animation and production work.

The music used for this new look wasn’t as varied as with the previous format. Two specially-commissioned pieces were used, written by none other than Brian Bennett (formerly drummer with ‘The Shadows’ and by that time a leading library music composer).

The music used for the ‘interludes’ was entitled “The Journey” – a fantastic piece of music that wouldn’t sound too bad as a startup theme, while for the countdown clock was a piece which was on a par with the 1980s ‘clockwise’ piece, entitled “Just a minute”- a very catchy offering.

The graphics were three dimensional and produced using computers. During the interludes, a rotating “ITV” logo was shown, reminiscent of the BBC2 1970s ‘cube’ ident or even the mid 1970s Scottish Television ident.

The new countdown clock did away with the dots, but otherwise still kept the traditional format. A wonderfully coloured ‘glazed’ ITV logo was on display in the centre of the piece, with a caption beneath the clock telling us what was coming next.

The countdown itself looked was designed to look as if it was in Neon, positioned around the outside of the clock-face. As the 60seconds ticked away, the “light” from within the Neon-effect would disappear with each increment.

The 1990s – no more catchy tunes

In 1993, Channel 4 became independent from ITV (up to that time ITV contractors had all paid a yearly subscription towards the funding of Channel 4). To reflect this, the presentation format and style on Channel 4 – including programming for Schools and Colleges – was updated.

The familiar 3D graphics and ‘countdown clock’ were dropped – so no more dots to count away the minutes, and certainly no more catchy tunes for a class to hum and annoy the Maths teacher on a Friday afternoon.

Breaks between programmes were now covered by music that more resembled a sonic soundscape – in the same ambient vein as compositions by Brian Eno. Accompanying this wasn’t ‘in your face’ channel branding, but imagery reflecting various school subjects – mainly historical images and paintings – but now all looking very corporate.

The ‘countdown’ clock had now been replaced by a digital clock counting down in the bottom corner of the screen, accompanied by yet more ‘soundscape’ sounds, each second increment represented by an echoed ‘blip’ (not unlike that used on BBC news today!). Andy Carroll and Nick Amour provided the music for this era.

Also featured in this new format was a ‘Gallery’ – a very similar idea to ‘Picture Roll’ as used on ITV schools during the late 1970s. UK schools were picked to provide paintings and artwork for a term. anmd these would be shown between programmes.

The intervals between programmes had now been shortened – you were often lucky to get a few minutes, and on may occasions the ‘countdown’ had been shortened to 30 seconds.

1997 – yet more changes

In early 1997, the presentation on Channel 4 underwent a massive overhaul. Gone was the coloured ‘4’ and black background – indeed, gone was the colour. The ‘4’ alone remained.

Schools programming also underwent another update, this look designed by an in-house graphics team at Channel 4. The short interlude and 30 second countdown format remained.

These graphics were not really a far cry from the look that has been used on ITV1 in more recent times. These also featured real-life actors, in this case children, and special effects and images from various school subjects overlaid to create variety.

This format remained in use on Channel 4 until around 1999.

More recent times….

In the last seven years, advances in media and technology have changed the way students are able to study. Digital Broadcasting is becoming mandatory in the UK over the next few years, providing the facility to broadcast many different channels into our homes. This has already enabled television stations to open channels dedicated to a particular subject – the BBC having a “BBC Learning Zone” channel for instance.

To complement this, the internet has also made an impact: students are now able to access educational material from home, library, school, college or university via high speed internet connections and view what material they wish to see, when they want. Thus the Open University vanished from the airwaves in late 2006 to concentrate on DVD and Internet distribution.

Educational Programming has today been relegated to that early-hours slot used by the Open University during the 1970s. The BBC now allocates the hours of 2-6am on BBC2 for “Learning Zone” programming, while Channel 4 broadcasts “Channel 4 Education” from 4-6am.

However more appealing to younger students these new methods of education via media may be, for us ‘older children’ it still doesn’t beat the magic of being hypnotised by a psychedelic diamond on the BBC, counting away the timeline on ITV or being frightened out of our wits by the “Open University” and its haunting presentation format.

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