Indepth on ABC Weekend Television 

24 May 2004 tbs.pm/1994

ABC logo

Kif Bowden-Smith looks in-depth at the ABC three sectioned triangle

So there it stands, possibly the most powerful yet elegant of all the trademarks in the history of the ITV companies. Launched on screen in September 1959, this was, from the design point of view, probably the most definitive ITV logo of all.

At a time when all ident symbols were meant to have ‘meaning’, the purpose of this shape was never exactly clear. It was probably this that gave it, for children at least, a complete air of mystery – and with that came implied power.

Symmetrical, balanced, centred on screen, conveying poise and purpose, this device had it all. Even Thames wrestled to save it in 1968, giving up in some despair when it could not be sensibly incorporated into the impressive London skyline idea.

What might it have represented? It is clear that the triangular shield of ABC Cinemas, adopted as the first trademark of ABC Weekend Television, was at least inspirational in suggesting that the new ABC TV ident might be three sided. It has been suggested that the three corners might represent ‘points’ reaching Winter Hill, Emley Moor and Lichfield on a map. It was also speculated that the three triangular segments represented Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

These theories seem unlikely. In practice, a descendant of the shield, but having new characteristics of its own, is about as far as we can go in looking for meaning.

In physical practice, the symbol itself was used in sculpture on the front steps of Aston’s Alpha Studios, in embossed form on the wall behind the announcer, discreetly badged in the corner of the station clock, on the breast pocket of the announcer’s blazers or ties, on the company outside broadcast vans, in the corner of merchandise, books, and kits accompanying adult education programme…

….the uses were endless, the symbol, in an era before the word logo existed, was the ultimate in corporate media branding. The apogee of this was in the ABC daily start-up routine in the early sixties. The symbol pulsated with animated radio waves, moving in time with the extended ident fanfare. Like Flash Gordon crossed with the Ally Pally transmitter mast, this conveyed style with authority, pure and simple – Art Deco meets RKO in the swinging sixties….

Above all, it represented a package deal – a weekend service, limited in time, and only available on ration – rarity, value, quality – the very sparing nature of viewer access to the product helped to make it ‘longed for’ during the interminable weekdays in the North and Midlands, days without ABC.

If you think this an exaggeration, ask any media savvy person over 40 what the ABC triangle meant to them as a child… you might be surprised.

What makes this symbol a classic?

Perhaps not the most generally famous logo in ITV history, that accolade probably goes to the Rediffusion star or the Thames skyline – but undoubtedly the most remembered by those who notice these things in a personal way – the most mysterious, powerful and versatile of all the symbols of ITV.

The design is balanced, strong, and mysterious. It implies meaning – even if you are not clear what that meaning is. This symbol packs a punch, and is never forgotten by those who saw it in regular use. That’s power – by design.

The ident in use

Shot of the ABC Didsbury studios - Picture supplied by Hector J Hill, with many thanks

Shot of the ABC Didsbury studios - Picture supplied by Hector J Hill, with many thanks

Shot of the ABC Didsbury studios - Picture supplied by Hector J Hill, with many thanks

The early 1960s, and 3 views of ABC’s Didsbury (Capitol) Studios, supplied by Hector J Hill for ABC at Large. The triangle – in colour – stares down from the back, roadside, and front of the building.

ABC in colour

ABC in Colour. For the planned introduction of colour – and the planned move to London weekends, ABC Weekend TV envisioned this ident, also to be seen in a Quatermass film, and on the side of their OB vans.

ABC VT clock

Three views of the ABC triangle in action. Firstly, drawn very thickly – almost a full triangle, in fact – on the VT clock at Teddington. ABC claimed to have invented this useful item – still used to this day all over the world.

ABC in Teddington

A brief view of the end of an ABC production caught in a publicity photo for the recently expanded Teddington studios in 1963. The typeface of the ABC itself would be revised in 1964, moving from serif to a modernist (yet more art deco) sans serif version.

ABC notepaper

And finally, ABC’s notepaper in 1967, with the serif print still in evidence, but a non-centred triangle overhead. Non-symmetrical in 1967? Practically unheard of.

This article has been corrected since publication to note that the ABC triangle launched in September 1959, not January 1959.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

Alan Keeling 12 August 2014 at 8:47 pm

From a child to a teenager, ABC TV was something to look forward to regarding its quality of programmes, there was something for everyone (unlike ATV). Lots of cartoons, late-night films & shows (no early close downs here), enthusiastic continuity announcers + good film series like Human Jungle, The Avengers, The Bugs Bunny Show, Mad Movies, Sir Francis Drake. It was sad to see this company go.

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