Simon Luxton introduces a series on BBC Television idents from 2002 to the present.
Many of us will remember with eager anticipation switching on to both BBC channels every 24th December to see what the BBC1 globe or the BBC2 symbols had turned into for the next couple of days. You always knew there would be a brand new Christmas ident for both BBC1 and BBC2 every December.
Since 2000, the BBC have been broadcasting their Christmas idents much longer than just Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day and have been extending the usage period steadily ever since; the 2007 festive season saw the seasonal idents on air for an unprecedented two and a half weeks, beginning Saturday 15 December and finally ending on New Year's Day. Those who remember the old mechanical Christmas idents with any affection would have given anything for classics such as BBC1's Victorian skaters (1980) to have been on air for anywhere near as long.
But sadly this has come as a price. A new Christmas ident every year is no longer guaranteed; BBC2 controversially failed to commission a new festive ident not just in 2004 but also 2006. BBC1 has (so far) failed to deliver only once, in 2003, but such was the outcry when the previous year's symbol reappeared BBC1 hasn't yet had the nerve to say we won't bother this year since. Those who support the recycling of BBC Christmas idents come up with all sorts of arguments such as householders would re-use the same Christmas decorations every year, or that it gives licence payers value for money. Others, like myself, vociferously argue that the BBC should be maintaining tradition to have a new festive look each year as no two Christmases are the same.
Writer and TV journalist Charlie Brooker, in his 2006 Screen Wipe festive special, brilliantly observed how the BBC Christmas idents of recent years had progressed to being mini-movies whereas in the 1980s they were more from the BBC with love. It is certainly true the production values are now getting higher with each year that passes and maybe therein lies the problem. They are now much more than functional pieces, which any ident should be.
With marketing experts, rather than presentation producers, now controlling every aspect of a channel's on-screen look, it's no longer sufficient just to have a festive scene with the BBC1 or BBC2 logo superimposed over it. That means if a channel's usual branding policy is rhythm and movement or a window on the world than the Christmas idents have to observe that too.
So, what has that meant for the BBC's most recent Christmas idents? The period I shall be examining in these articles is 2002 onwards.
Christmas, of course, is over for yet another year, and I rather suspect that we'll end up seeing the same festive symbols in 2008 that were used in 2007. But I say that hoping to be proved wrong.