Everybody Dance Now

By Jonathan Bufton

Suddenly, the BBC's logo for its main channel - the globe - was ditched for 'hip' and 'cool' dancers. Jonathan Bufton approves of the modernisation of BBC-1.

The new idents adopted by BBC One in March 2002 have caused enormous controversy amongst presentation enthusiasts and the general public.

They have been accused of being an unworthy successor to the globe motif and of being simply an exercise in political correctness by "right on" BBC bosses. However, I have dared to like the unlikeable and I actually think they're quite good.

I think they're easily the most innovative idents out of the five terrestrial channels and as such deserve a bit more respect than they have so far been given. There are a number of grounds on which people seem to dislike the idents, and sadly the quality of the idents themselves seems to come rather low down on that list.

Common

The most common reason for disliking them is because of what they're not, rather than what they are. The BBC's decision to scrap the idea of the spinning globe caused much animosity to be felt towards the new set, and the BBC didn't help themselves in this respect by boasting in the original press release about how long the globe has been around.

They even helpfully provided a few screenshots of past globes, presumably to help stir nostalgia in tabloid journalists looking for something to moan about.

Either they felt that they had to tackle the issue head on rather than avoiding it or they were simply looking for a fight, because this seemed to ensure that the newspaper coverage on Wednesday March 27 was almost entirely negative.

The Daily Mail opened its article with the line "The BBC has spent £700,000 of taxpayers' money on a new series of politically-correct programme links" and went on to (comically) add "just one of the six new trails - featuring ballerinas - might appeal to the middle classes".

Aside from the fact that they are eight new sequences, evidence that the Mail clearly can't read press releases properly, this seems to suggest that middle class people are only interested in ballet and operatic pursuits - apparently they never go near a basketball court, play rugby or go clubbing.

If anyone was creating stereotypes then it was the Mail. The article also seemed to miss the point with the cost of the idents. When something costly is shown around 40 times a day for a number of years, "wasting money" is not exactly something that comes to mind.

Similarly, nearly five years of use was obtained from the £500,000 balloon idents. The Sun also missed the point in similar style, although with most of the long words missed out.

Painful PR

They also made use of the provided screenshots of the old globes to highlight the changes in colours over the years, which is a shame as the article was printed in black and white.

Both papers picked up on the "disastrous" British Airways rebrand that was later reversed and compared this to it. Many seem to forget that this was exactly what was done with the balloon five years before - only this "trendy new interpretation" became quite popular, and they seem to have forgotten that. Only the Guardian seemed to be generally positive.

Contrary to popular belief, the BBC One globe was not last seen on 28 March 2002. It took its final bow way back in October 1997 - or, if you can't see a globe amongst the swirly masses of that globe, then 1991 would be the date it disappeared.

The thing has been melting away over the years and we appear to have clung on to the belief that it is still there. From February 1991 the main focus of the ident was the large figure "1" which sat on top of the rather-abstract looking globe, and it was very difficult to view the hot air balloon as a valid continuation of the original idea either.

The fact that it had countries painted onto the side is just a sop to tradition - the focus of the ident itself was the hot air balloon and the scenery it floated over, not the countries painted on the side.

Indeed in many of the idents it was impossible to make out the countries, it just looked like a red and yellow balloon. Just as happened recently, when the hot air balloon was introduced there was a negative reaction - mainly mourning the loss of the spinning globe.

If there was an end of the line then this was it, not last March. The structure of the idents changed entirely - rather than a silent spinning loop that could in theory go on forever, we had a thirty second piece of film that began with a fanfare and carried a bed of music for the announcer to speak over.

Naturally, many people treated this as the end of an era - although the fuss created four and a half years later shows just how much people had clung on to the belief that the globe was still going strong.

This simply cannot be the case. If people were asked a year ago was the BBC One logo was, they would have answered that it was a hot air balloon - not a hot air balloon interpretation of a spinning globe. When the BBC came to changing the identity some years later, it was not a globe they were thinking of jettisoning... but a balloon.

Limited world

There is a limit to the possibilities of where a globe motif can be incorporated. Off the top of my head I can only think of a series of sporting idents where the football/cricket ball/snooker ball has the countries of the world printed on it.

Go much more abstract than a hot air balloon and you've got very little point in hanging on the old idea anyway. A silent, locked still shot of a globe spinning around - no matter what the colour or special effects put on it - just won't happen in this day and age. Apart from anything else, the usage of the idents has changed.

Whereas before the globe would be needed (along with a clock) to put something on screen for long periods of time during intervals and breaks, now the trend is much more towards a kind of "jingle" with following music bed for the announcer to speak over before the programme.

This would be confirmed by the new BBC Two idents which often just stop moving completely after they've finished their main task at the start of the ident because they simply aren't needed to go on for long periods of time anymore (although BBC Two is another story entirely!).

Something that keeps rearing its ugly head is the condemnation of the idents because they are "political correctness gone mad". The phrase "politically correct" ranks alongside "dumbing down" in being so overused and in the most inappropriate of circumstances that it has very little meaning at all.

It just seems to be a phrase that a certain sector of society keeping sending out when they don't like something, without actually stopping to think why certain things are apparently so PC.

If they are asserting that the idents include a range of environments, cultures and races to reflect the fact that Britain isn't all middle class, male and white then guilty as charged, m'lud.

But the assertion that the people are only in the idents because of who they are rather than what they do is simply not true. The "Hip Hop" ident features three wheelchair-bound men, one of whom is black.

But they don't just grin inanely at the camera whilst trundling around a shopping centre - they are in the idents because of the amazing athletic display that they are putting on through the use of their wheelchairs and the incredible power they possess through the upper half of the body.

It really is an amazing spectacle, and the idea that the only talent that got them there is that they are disabled and one of them is black is rather offensive to the young men involved.

Ill-intentioned

But the accusations do not stop there - the rest of the idents have been criticised because of half-baked assumptions about their intentions. Apparently ‘Festival' is "a stereotype of what young people do".

It isn't a stereotype - a lot of people enjoy clubbing, and whilst a lot of people (including myself) don't. I don't pretend for one minute that what I do at a weekend would make a more interesting ident than the existing one.

‘Salsa' "features people of all ages". Well, there's people in their twenties, thirties and forties, although that's really what you might expect at a dance class.

People have criticised the fact that there are not more tradition British pastimes included. Morris dancing has been suggested, and whilst this would be fine as an ident, it's hardly what you see on your average British street corner.

But at least half of the idents seem to originate from British traditions, and many of the others wouldn't be out of place in this country. It just seems to confirm what many have been saying for years about this country (and this is where the politics kicks in) - that we are a melting pot of different ideas and cultures, and the sooner we realise that going out for a curry or a pizza and a can of Stella isn't really that purely British at all, the better.

And so, finally, we can move onto the idents themselves and their own qualities - something they very rarely seem to get valued on. The set of 8 (9 if your area has the alternative version of ‘Capoeira') also feature a common music theme, but interpreted according to the visuals on screen.

For instance, ‘Ballet' has a slow, mournful strings theme. ‘Festival' has a loud, catchy dance music version of the theme, and ‘Hip Hop' should be pretty self-explanatory. The way in which the same tune can be used as a sombre ballet piece and thumping club music is brilliant, and accurately reflects the "many faces of BBC One".

Also incorporated as a recurring theme is the colour red - what with the new BBC One logo being contained inside a red box. This is done in a much more subtle way than BBC Two managed in November 2001 (for "brand as yellow" read "cover the entire thing in yellow with no variation whatsoever - and we'll make the box purple to stand out a bit").

Whilst the setting for each ident is entirely different, there is a always a strong theme of red - whether it's the colour of the ‘Salsa' room walls, the leotards the ballerinas are wearing or the ribbons the acrobats are clinging to. And finally, the continuous theme of rhythm and movement carried over through all of the idents makes them completely different to anything ever seen before.

It's ideal

I think they're ideal for BBC One because of the wide range of cultures and styles than its even wider range of viewers will appreciate. BBC One is the mainstream channel - it has to be something to everyone, and the range of idents is (theoretically) reflected in the programmes it carries.

They have been accused of not being authoritative enough, but this misses the point. We are now in an age when television idents are not as authoritative as they once were - just look at what Channel 4 has now compared to fifteen years ago, the ITV hearts compared to older company idents.

This is just a natural trend - who knows, all idents might be loud and brash again in ten years as the channels compete for attention. But, for the moment, BBC One is not going to want to exude militaristic authority before "My Hero".

In any case, at least three of the idents are serious, so there's plenty of room for a change of mood, and I don't think a channel that recently ran a promotional campaign about itself entitled "The One" is in any doubt about where it wants to be placed in the affections of the nation.

I never thought I would understand the controller of BBC One, Lorraine Heggessy's assertion that the hot air balloon "just floats around doing nothing", but now I can sympathise with what she meant. Nearly all of the idents have continual activity all the way through rather than the "hold the shot" idea of the balloon after the original flurry of shots.

This isn't an attempt to grab the "short attention generation" - it just makes for better idents. Similarly, the 2002 set are considerably more fluent than the 1997 idents - most of the balloons when played for a long time featured a flick back to the start (why couldn't they just record for a bit longer?) whereas the dancers run continuously the way through, with only one exception.

The idents also vary wildly in length. Generally longer than the balloons were in their full forms, many go on for longer than the standard 30 seconds - with ‘Ballet' coming in at a whopping one minute.

Not perfect

Of course, nobody's perfect. I don't particularly like ‘Haka' - I don't know who thought a good idea for an ident would be someone yelling at a camera, presumably the same person who came up with the new Radio Five Live promotion - and the way the red box is on screen all the way through instead of fading up as in the balloon idents means that attention is not drawn to the logo in the way that perhaps might have been liked.

But I do think that there are some stunning idents in the set. ‘Capoeira' in particular would get my vote as the best of the lot - the stylish Brazilian dance, the colour scheme of red and white with the silver of the floor and the blue of the sky, the London skyline backdrop and the talented dancers somehow managing not to fall to their death. The music is also beautiful - when I first heard it I thought it was a bit underwhelming, but now, like all good idents, it has grown on me.

Another favourite of mine is ‘Acrobats' - a similarly amazing spectacle with some very dramatic music. As I've already mentioned, ‘Hip Hop' is fascinating if only for the seemingly limitless capacity of the human body to do amazing things, but the music working in time with the dancing is good as well.

What puzzles me is the extremely hostile reaction the idents have got. My first reaction at looking at the stills available a few days before the launch was "oh, they've just taken the balloon out".

I could easily imagine a balloon floating around in the background of many of the outdoor scenes - particularly ‘Ballet'. But strangely enough many seemed to have made their minds up that they weren't going to like them before they went out, and now seem determined not to change their mind and so criticise the idents with as much venom as if they were a threat to global security.

It says something about how cynical a bunch we've become when the main reaction to something with as genuinely good intentions as the BBC One idents is the sort of curtain-twitching tut-tutting that the Mail came up with in its article.

A set of idents designed to reflect "the universal theme of rhythm, dance and movement through different activities, moods and world cultures" is something we should be glad of, not sneer at. Judge them on their own merits by all means, but we can hardly accuse the BBC of not trying.

When ITV's idea of innovation is "knickers in the shape of a heart" then we should be glad that idents as stylish and highbrow as ‘Capoeira', ‘Ballet' and ‘Acrobats' still have a place on BBC One. It could be a lot worse.

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Article ©2004 Jonathan Bufton

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