Central electricity 

24 May 2004 tbs.pm/2001

Central logo

Andrew Wiseman watches the development of Central’s on-screen identity.

In the seventies, ATV was successfully selling its programmes the world over. Here in Britain, the ATV symbol had become synonymous with popular entertainment. But closer to home in the Midlands, viewers were feeling disaffected.

ATV Network Limited was under contract to provide the largest geographical ITV area with its own regional service. So why, puzzled the audience, was so much of the company’s output produced outside the region, at Elstree near London? Why, complained the people from the rest of the region, did the news bulletins focus almost exclusively on events in Birmingham and the West Midlands?

In 1979, the Independent Broadcasting Authority was pondering questions such as these, as it began considering the future pattern of commercial television in the UK.

The results of the IBA’s thinking were revealed in the terms for the new ITV contracts, published in January 1980. To “allow even greater attention to be paid to matters of regional concern” it was decided to convert the Midlands and the South of England into “dual regions”. Whilst the West Midlands could continue to be served from Birmingham, viewers in the East Midlands would finally receive their own news programmes from a studio based in their area.

ATV’s parent company embraced the IBA’s improvements and, reacting to the criticism that it had concentrated too much on network productions, formed a new company with a friendlier name. In its bid, ATV Midlands Limited adapted the classic ATV logo with a new slogan: “Double Eye for the Dual Region”. The closing date for applications was set for 9th May 1980.

By the end of the year and after extensive public consultation, the IBA had made up its mind to conditionally reaward the contract to ATV. However, although it had successfully seen off rival bids from two other companies, in the opinion of the Authority ATV’s proposals to show more commitment to the Midlands hadn’t gone far enough. As well as a financial restructuring, it was decreed that all production would have to be based inside the region, which meant farewell to Elstree. And there was one further condition: it was to be goodbye to the Double Eye.

The ATV shadowed eyes

Lady Plowden, the Chairman of the IBA from 1975 to 1980, wrote: “The Company should adopt a new name which marks more clearly than does ATV Midlands the establishment of a substantially new form of company for the East and West Midlands.”

So ATV went back to the drawing board, even inviting viewers to offer suggestions. Eventually, in 1981, it was announced that from the start of the following year ATV Midlands Limited would become Central Independent Television plc, and be known simply as Central: a clear indication that in the future the company’s heart would be in the Midlands.

Having chosen a new name, the challenge now would be to present it on screen in a way that would live up to the standard set by the classic ATV ‘Zoom 2’ fanfare, which had heralded the start of its programmes for over ten years.

'News report' on sighting of a UFO - planted by ATV in advance of the relaunch as Central

As the launch date of 1st January 1982 approached, the first hint of what was to come was to be found in adverts placed in the local press and on teletext. These took the form of spoof news articles regarding UFO sightings. Readers were told that hundreds of people in the region had reported seeing a white sphere in the skies.

For some reason the public and the press did not respond kindly to this gimmicky publicity campaign. Sadly for the company, critics were to be just as unimpressed with the new on-screen look.

The white sphere turned out to be a reference to Central’s symbol, a globe with a crescent shadow on the left that suggested the initial letter of the new name.

Central in print, Central in 2D, Central in 3D

Within the station’s first few minutes on air, the sphere symbol had already appeared in three different forms: a white circle with a stripy crescent, a white circle with a rainbow crescent and a three-dimensional sphere with a crescent shadow.

Was representing the station identity with so many variations of a sphere just a load of balls? Or was it part of a consistent branding strategy?

Nowadays, designers tend to create logos that work at all sizes in all media, with each representation of the logo being exactly identical. In the eighties the rules were different.

Central could not be accused of just cobbling together its new image. It commissioned a professional design consultancy, the agency responsible for one of the most famous idents in history: the mirrored skyline logo of Thames Television.

Thanks to Minale Tattersfield, Central ended up not just with a new logo, but with a complete look. The globe was designed to be flexible enough to be applied everywhere, to appear in a multitude of guises and to develop over time. With it would be the Central name in a carefully chosen typeface, which would also be employed on programme menus, captions and anywhere else on-screen text was required.

To complete the package there was a piece of music by Mike Moran, to which the station opened each morning. Variations of the theme would be also be heard throughout the day, in the opening titles of the news programmes, over trailers and the idents, right through to the closedown tune.

As mentioned above, the Central logo itself came in three styles.

  • When only a single colour could be used there was the stripy shadowed logo. This could be seen on the letterheads used by the Duty Office and on the postmarks made by their franking machine. Black and white adverts also used the stripy logo and it was also used on screen when a smaller logo was required, where the detail in the colour logo might be hard to pick out.
  • For colour printing and on-screen slides requiring a larger, full colour image, such as the end production slide, the logo with the rainbow crescent was used. This image would sit behind the continuity announcers and also dominated the set of Central News. It would also be seen on the company’s outside broadcast vans.
  • Finally, to introduce the programmes themselves, there was the 3-D animated globe, which split open presenting a rainbow and which, according to the designers, would suggest the “surprising things coming out of the sphere as the years went by”. There was also a second ident labelled “Central News”, which also served as the opening titles for the short bulletins.

In 1969 the Thames skyline ident was to hint at the possibilities for colour television. In 1982 Central’s sphere in the sky was designed to hint at the future prospect of satellite television in the home.

But any subtle meanings were lost on the company’s detractors, who by now were also taking aim at the programmes themselves. In response, Central abandoned some of its less popular new shows and in November 1983 it changed its 3-D globe ident. Instead of splitting open, the globe would now just appear out of the darkness. The company was clearly hoping this might portray a more prestigious image and help rescue its reputation. The new designs ensured that exactly the same globe, with its rainbow reflection, would appear in both the opening ident and the final caption of all Central productions.

From one end to the other, attempt number two.

Unfortunately the globe didn’t prove as flexible as Central had hoped, and it gradually disappeared from local presentation. Instead the Central name would be used with diagonal rainbow-coloured stripes on programme menus and behind the announcers. However, Central eventually found a symbol with the flexibility to be used everywhere, when it transformed the sphere into a cylinder with rainbow-coloured segments.

The 'Cake'

Today, the debate over ITV’s commitment to regionalism continues. But the regulator no longer has the power it once had. Hence when Central and Westcountry TV were both re-named “Carlton” in 1999, to match the London region, the ITC could do no more than express its disappointment. What would Lady Plowden have said?

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

nhewit 17 March 2016 at 2:51 pm

I recall reading a copy of The Stage and Television Today late in 1981 which stated that ATV were becoming increasingly frustrated with the attitude of the West and East Midlands factions in the context of selecting a new ident which both regions could identify with, perhaps this is why a planet was chosen, they could not deny that they did not share the same sky. Strange how the later created Central South transmission area, based on the Oxford Transmitter did not make an issue about being served by a TV company based in Birmingham, in the days of ATV and initiallypost January 1, 1982 Central West!

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