Central pre-launch logo

By Russ J Graham

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When ATV was 'reorganised' (the preferred word of the Independent Broadcasting Authority), the company's transition from Lew Grade's warhorse into a regional broadcaster for the Eighties was one of the most difficult of any company change. The birth of Central was sufficiently complicated that it was slower than the 'straight-swap' of Southern/TVS and the 'backdoor merger' of Westward/TSW.

The prolonged transformation did, however, produce an abortive piece of branding that appears to have made it quite far towards being used.

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The word mark part of this logo turned up in the 1982 IBA Yearbook, published in November 1981 to catch the Christmas market. That Yearbook was an odd thing, ostensibly covering 1982, but without any useful knowledge of what ITV would look like during that year.

In the company information pages, Southern, Westward and ATV are gone. In their place are TVS, with its word mark correct but no sign of its fleur de lys logo; TSW, with a completely back-of-an-envelope swirly word mark; and Central, represented by just the name, in a rounded sans serif (probably Formula One, later used during and either side of Peter Davison's tenure as Doctor Who) that I have seen described by American design enthusiasts as "typically British", which comes as news to me.

This version comes from paperwork found by Roddy Buxton as part of his excellent series on the Elstree studios used by ATV. It's certainly very different from the 3D UFO/moon/sun/planet/globe/what you will that Central eventually came to air with. One thing is immediately clear: the notepaper version seen here would not have appeared on screen as it stood. Designer Dave Jeffery puts it clearly:

"Looking at it, the first thing that stuck me about this Central logo is how impractical it is. Due to the vagaries of PAL red, particularly red that is keyed, tends to boil on screen. The BBC avoided red on their NOD-D symbols quite deliberately.

"So, in order for this identity to be used on screen the dot would probably have had to be shaded slightly maroon, orange or grey. A bold black, white and red rendering of the C used as a symbol would have been a TV shop's worst nightmare - a stern test of the receivers available at the time. However, it would have been extremely eye-catching."

He also points out that the red, white and black colour scheme was how tabloid newspapers presented themselves in the days before Eddie Shah's Today brought 4-colour printing to newspapers. Until then, spot colour (the use of black and one other colour, normally red because it stands out) was all that was available to newspaper designers - and the spot colour was usually only available on certain pages, generally front and back and a few advertising-heavy interior pages.

So for this to work on television, it needs to conform to what PAL and the receivers of the day could cope with. Early colour sets were generally unhappy with white-on-black, so the first stations to go colour had used white-on-blue and yellow-on-blue as a good compromise. It helped that, so it appears, many of the monochrome predecessor idents were made in yellow-on-blue anyway and just shown in monochrome - avoiding the same issues with monochrome sets that white-on-black would cause to colour ones.

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Image courtesy of Dave Jeffery

The logo itself isn't all that original. In an unconscious nod to how ATV's shadowed eyes were a reworking of CBS's all-seeing version, Central manages to get fairly close to the logo Capitol were using in the late 1960s and early 70s. It gets even closer to BBC Cymru's 1970s symbol.

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This is the same press release header in negative. Immediately you can see that it starts to resemble a conventional television ident and some of the practical uses of both the word mark and the logo start to show through. The simple inversion of the colour above makes the dot in the C into yellow - an unlikely choice of colour and quite painfully wrong.

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A twitch of the hue and we get back to the original red and a much more likely use. Of course, the dot could have been any colour on screen - it's easy to imagine it being flexibly used, the colour changing upon the whim of the package designer or the transmission controller of the day. Blue would work, for instance, although not green - idents have always eschewed green since it reproduces so variably in PAL.

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Red dots are an enduring feature of graphic design in general. They stand out; they reproduce well on screen, in print and on enamel; and they tend to look strikingly unique, until you start bringing their many, many uses close together. Then the idea of a red dot becomes a mundane one, and a surprisingly old one.

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The Central-dot as an ident would appear to be sufficiently flexible for prolonged use and could have easily made a package as useful, if not as good, as the UFO eventually chosen. It does show how much of a departure the UFO turned out to be from what had gone before - something that struck people at the time. This is less of a departure. It's also, in the use of Formula One as a word mark, liable to date much more rapidly than Central's eventual choice of semi-bespoke font did - the design has a twang of the 1970s about it, a hint of looking-backwards rather than looking-forwards.

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Of course, make an ident or choose a font that is too über-fashionable and it will date horribly in a remarkably quick amount of time: timelessness is not an easy concept to design to and even design elements we now consider timeless have had long periods dated and out of fashion (even Gill Sans was disliked by designers through the 1970s; where would we be now without it?).

It's very easy to finish an article like this by giving marks-out-of-ten or a thumbs-up/down, when the truth is that any design is more in the eye of the beholder than the pen of the designer. Whether you like or loathe this must depend on so many factors: in your opinion is it better or worse than the ATV eyes it almost succeeded or the UFO that actually made it to air? Is it a fine piece of design for the times? Is is still good now? Can you see any flexibility to it or does it look like a dead-end? That's for you to decide.

With thanks to Dave Jeffery and Roddy Buxton

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System in general.

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Article ©2010 Russ J Graham

Compilation ©2010 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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