The symbols of success 

3 August 2020 tbs.pm/70580

JEREMY MYERSON talks to the television designers, English Markell Pockett, who are creating a cohesive and upmarket image for ITV’s 16 companies with a ‘kit of parts’

 

ITV logo, 1989

 

From The Stage for 18 May 1989

“IF YOU asked ten people who made Brideshead Revisited, eight would say the BBC.” Richard Markell, managing director of the television design firm English Markell Pockett which has been commissioned to create a new corporate image for the entire ITV network, is under no illusions about the way ITV is currently perceived.

“People think ITV is all game shows and soaps,” he says. “They don’t associate the channel with good drama, wildlife programmes, or news and current affairs.”

The problem is one which the Independent Television Association (ITVA) is determined to tackle – and the radical broadcasting shake-up promised in the White Paper has provided just the sort of “redesign-or-resign” impetus that a major identity programme requires.

The ITV revamp – due to reach our screens on 1 September – will be far-reaching in technical, cultural and political terms. English Markell Pockett’s work in creating a cohesive image for the channel will bring all 16 ITV companies under one visual banner, yet at the same time preserve local station identities. “They don’t want to be Channel 3,” says Markell, “so the aim must be to make ITV’s profile higher, to communicate those values which are currently not fully appreciated by the public.”

 

Courtesy of thesearethedays

 

This process has already begun with a series of commercials on ITV promoting the familiar virtues of the network’s output. The commercials are the work of advertising agency JWT, and feature a soundtrack of the Billy Joel song “Just The Way You Are”. A trifle complacent, perhaps? Markell believes ITV is now far from complacent, and is in fighting mood to combat “the plethora of extra-terrestial stations starting up”. English Markell Pockett worked closely with JWT to win the milestone ITV commission earlier this year in a competitive pitch against three rival teams. It is now continuing its collaboration with the giant agency to put together a corporate communications package which will “show the nation another side of ITV”.

In design terms, Markell is aiming to create a more classical, quality image on screen to dispel those glitzy, down market perceptions of the channel.

Already much of the strictly-under-wraps design concept work has been completed and presented behind closed doors to the all-powerful chairmen of the 16 ITV companies who sit on the ITVA.

However, there is still a long way to go before a new ITV symbol can be used this summer in print on autumn schedule press releases and on screen in autumn season trailers. As Markell ruefully admits, “This job is 20 per cent about design and 80 per cent about politics. It’s a fascinating exercise. Every day, things twist and turn.” The chief problem is that, in the battle to put a new national ITV identity on the air, many regional stations are voicing fears that they have more to lose than gain because their presentation departments have worked long and hard to build a local profile.

 

Courtesy of Russty Russ

 

Markell has some sympathy with this viewpoint: “Our original pitch was to abandon all the regional station identities but this is not practical. Many stations think that being known locally as ITV is no good; they’re worried that all their work in developing a regional identity will be thrown out. For that reason, we are developing the new ITV image as a kit of parts. Some ITV companies will only take some elements of the new look in moderation; others will want the whole package. LWT and Thames appear to be the ones keen on the total ITV look.”

The fabled “kit of parts” includes on-screen devices to link programmes, divide commercials, preview forthcoming schedules and credit the various stations in the ITV network for the output. As a total package, Markell believes the new design could genuinely change preconceptions about ITV over a period of years. But he’s also a realist.

“It may just be an image-building exercise for 18 months, in the aftermath of the White Paper,” he says.

Directors and founders of design and production company English Markell Pockett – BOB ENGLISH, RICHARD MARKELL and DARRELL POCKETT

Whatever the fate of the ITV redesign, this is the project which has really put English Markell Pockett on the map. Founded in January 1985 by, ironically enough, three former BBC designers, the consultancy has steadily built up a reputation for innovative television graphics. Work includes Channel 4 titles for Ghosts In The Machine and The Japan Season, and corporate commercials sequences for Honeywell Bull, Access, British Telecom and Fiat. Increasingly, its award-winning style has veered towards atmospheric, often surreal live action. Yet it has remained in the shadow of its more established arch-rival Robinson Lambie-Nairn, creator of the famous Channel 4 symbol and controversial BBC Nine O’clock News titles. Now the ITV commission gives English Markell Pockett the corporate stature to stand alongside Robinson Lambie-Nairn, which also created the identities for Anglia and Scottish Television. “At last, we’ll have a big identity programme under our belts,” says Markell, whose consultancy now has 20 staff and turnover in excess of £2 million.

Markell, 43, and co-directors Bob English, 38, and Darrell Pockett, 43, are all private sector refugees from the BBC design department. But all give credit to the quality of their training. Markell spent five of his nine years at BBC Television Centre in the presentations department, which he describes as “a valuable experience because promoting forthcoming programmes has so much to do with projecting the identity of a channel”. From the BBC, Markell went to Robinson Lambie-Nairn as senior designer. “Going from a broadcast station with 3,000 people to a small studio with 12 people was culture shock,” he admits. “At the BBC, people competed, pushed against each other; in the consultancy, they pulled together.”

Bob English, meanwhile, followed up his nine years at the Beeb, working on such programmes as Life On Earth, with a ringside seat at the birth of Channel 4 as the anchor man in the new station’s graphics department. Among English’s key jobs was – you guessed it – implementation of Robinson Lambie-Naim’s Channel 4 ident. Darrell Pockett spent 15 years at the BBC, confirming his reputation as an innovator when he worked on the Sportsnight titles, the first 3D computer-generated sequence of its kind.

 

Courtesy of Akiko Hada

 

English Markell Pockett was set up in Soho on the back of a commission from ABC Television in New York for a network documentary graphic sequence, which Bob English initially took on as a freelance designer. “All three of us left well paid jobs with mortgages and families to support to set up a company with no money and no backing,” recalls Markell. “It was dangerous to do, but I was convinced of the need for another major TV design group.”

Now the ITV network challenge – effectively, the reshaping of a national institution, or 16 or them – pitches English Markell Pockett into the big league with an appetite to make inroads into the European TV station market.

Markell clearly believes that European stations offer a lucrative market to British design talent. But first he must win the argument with the commercial bastion of British broadcasting.

 

Courtesy of whyayetv

 


 

Russ J Graham writes: I was, and remain, a huge fan of this logo and the entire package; however, there’s no denying that this pulling together of the-then 15 ITV companies (they say 16 above, suggesting they’re counting TV-am, but no EMP pan-ITV identity for the breakfast company has so far turned up) set in train the consolidation of into one brand (two if you count STV) of today.

But I can also see why some companies resisted this identity revamp in the main. TSW and Granada already had very strong local identification – so much stronger than ‘ITV’ that today many people in Liverpool still call the station ‘Granada’. TVS was in the process of trying to turn itself into an international brand, ultimately a disaster on every level, and didn’t want to be diluted. Anglia had only relaunched a year before, ditching the mounted knight for a Lambie-Nairn flag, and really didn’t need to start another rebrand.

And the package was clearly put together with a lot of assistance from Thames. The elements all fitted the way Thames did presentation – form-up, announcement, programme; static boards with the name of the forthcoming programme and the like – which made it perfect for them, so much so they changed their logo to match even better, but less useful for, say, Central, whose presentation involved talking over music, idents that formed and broke apart and formed again, and no static ‘next’ captions with a still of the programme in question.

Once implemented, people in the regional companies began to tinker, because of course they did. Yorkshire Television didn’t like the startling cut-off version of their logo in the ‘V’, and recut the ident with an awkward transition back to the chevron.

 

Courtesy of Steveh31

 

HTV made a weird version where their aerial logo remained static over the music and the company name slid in at the end.

 

 

Tyne Tees misused their ITV symbol as a front cap, superimposed on the opening titles of their news magazine, Northern Life.

 

Courtesy of 2ombieboy’s VHS Vault

 

The ultimate faithful user was Grampian, who stuck with the identity until the day before STV bought them out and enforced a new brand upon them. Thames also stayed faithful, having their ITV ident redrawn when they updated their logo, and putting their subsidiary companies into a similar design… until the day they were told they’d lost their ITV franchise and they threw the ITV package out in annoyance to bolster their own brand as they fought to convert to an independent production company.

 

 

You Say

4 responses to this article

Eddie Hutchinson 4 August 2020 at 12:01 am

“They don’t want to be Channel 3,” says Markell… try telling that to the poor souls who suffered the chronic rebrand of Tyne Tees.

Michael 4 August 2020 at 7:33 am

Central did use the 1989 ITV Generic ident as well albeit with their own 1988 ident jingle IMO.

Robert 7 August 2020 at 3:51 pm

Looking back at it, the mistake made was trying to squeeze the logo into the V. On rewatching them it might have been better using the ITV logo first and then the full regional ident at the end. Central hardly used it. But to be honest they made so many bloody idents to use between programmes they were no time for this one.

Nigel Stapley 13 August 2020 at 10:43 pm

At the time (and for some time afterwards), I saw these as a collective abomination, removing the local character from the network – which was, surely, the whole point of how the network was set up – in favour of a characterless generalised identity.

I’ve had cause to re-think that view since, especially with the Carltonised efforts which followed a decade later. At least these still had some regional variation to them.

I could understand why Yorkshire didn’t take to the original version, because the half ‘Y’ just doesn’t look right. Ulster’s is similarly inconclusive, TVS’ is nondescript and looks little like the company’s actual logo of that period. I didn’t see what Channel objected to, though.

The most striking oddity, though, is wondering what happened to the vertical component of the Granada logo in the final form-up, as there’s nothing there to hold the arrow-head up.

I liked the music in any case (I wonder how much dosh David Dundas made off it).

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