Good afternoon, Britain

By Kif Bowden-Smith


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The introduction of 24-hour ITV in the 1980s robbed British television of one of its most time-honoured and dramatic traditions – the daily start-up sequence.

This routine, which marked the transfer from testcard to programming each day, had developed out of ITA regulations of 1955. It was essentially a piece of cod-ceremonial, which was typical of Britain in the years after the coronation.

'Picasso' tuning signal

In a broadcasting industry dominated by a territorial formality, the specially-commissioned daily opening music was intended to be a declaration of style and purpose, almost a ‘mission statement’ for the company concerned.

In a world where ‘design consultants’ and ‘brand management’ were unheard of, the board of directors of each company would commission the graphic designers, and composers (such as Sir William Walton, Eric Coates and Richard Addinsell) to come up with a strong on-screen identity. The station fanfare would often be derived from the full piece.

At a time when broadcasting hours were restricted by government, there would typically be three or four start-ups per day. Schools programmes dominated the mid-morning and early afternoon; topical programmes, in some regions only, were at lunchtime; and the day’s main broadcasting started around 4.45pm (4.20pm in Wales). Weekend broadcasting commenced earlier.

This gave enormous scope for yesterday’s children – today’s broadcasting enthusiasts – to be dazzled on a daily basis by dramatic music and an iconography that almost represented for some children the emotions of idolatry.

We were gripped by the anticipation of another evening’s package of programmes, presented by friendly announcers in company blazers, heralded by the daily switch from transmitting authority to franchise holder. This hand-over was normally at the start of the concluding verse of the station theme, and would be represented by the dramatic ‘form-up’ of the company symbol as the music reached a crescendo.

Imagine, if you will, this fading imagery of a Britain long gone, where television was still a novelty and children sat entranced in front of the screen.

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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 ©2001 Kif Bowden-Smith

Compilation ©2001 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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April 2014

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