The BBC has brought many important television shows to the British people, and those of the wider world, throughout its long history. But during this time, it also brought a symbol by which the British people came to know it. This symbol altered a number of times as the technology behind it changed, until it was somewhat controversially discontinued in Spring 2002. That symbol was the BBC (and later BBC1) globe, and this is its story.
Before the Globe
The BBC did not use a globe for its channel identity in its early years, but back then it did not use a channel identity at all. The closest thing it had was its tuning signals, which could look very plain, like test cards (which are really their true successors) or really quite arty.
The last of the tuning signals, known as 'Angel Wings' is important in the history of the globe, because the first Globe ident was clearly based on it, though it did not itself feature anything globe-like. In the centre was a circle of fine lines, as a tuning guide, with a black circle around it. The 'wings' were two crescent-like shapes1 that touched the black circle, and were coloured with varying shades of grey. This was not a channel identity symbol, as the BBC was Britain's only TV channel, and so did not need one to distinguish itself. It was in 1953 that the BBC introduced true channel identity for the first time - a necessity as ITV was soon to launch.
The Bat's Wings
The BBC's first true channel identity was known as 'Bat's Wings' and it closely resembled Angel Wings. The crescent-like wings remained, but were now slightly irregular, to resemble lightning flashes. Between them was a circle that contained two pointed, spinning, ovals. And right in the middle of the ident was a tiny, spinning globe. It was so small it was not easy to recognise it as a globe at all, and it was just part of the ident, not even its main feature. Indeed, in a number of local idents, the globe did not appear, but the wings did - they were the main part of the design. Nonetheless, the BBC globe had arrived.
The Black and White Globes
In 1963, the BBC replaced Bat's Wings with the first true globe ident. The tiny globe was now suddenly huge. It filled the screen almost completely, and had the words 'BBC tv' imposed on it. This design looked somewhat awkward, though, and the ident did not last long. The globe was then shrunk back to a more appropriate size, and surrounded with a grey square, which had 'BBC' written in the bottom-right hand corner. A black ring circled the globe, and this was simply the gap between the square grey card and the model globe itself. This globe remained the same until after BBC2 was launched, and its replacement was simply an identical globe in a white square.
When BBC2 arrived in 1964, the BBC had to change the writing by the globe to BBC1. But this slight change was short-lived, as the globe was given a major face-lift. The new-look globe was slightly smaller. It was in the middle of two bands that ran horizontally right across the screen, and were nearly as tall as the globe itself. This look was called the 'Watch Strap'. The globe was smaller in part to give greater importance to 'BBC 1', which was now in fairly large letters beneath. (The clock that accompanied it looked like this.) The Watch Strap lasted for four years. Its replacement saw the BBC1 name beneath the globe in a white stripe that ran across the screen, while the globe itself rotated in against a black background. This globe only lasted for two years. Technology was moving on, and a completely new-look globe was to take BBC1 into the colour era.
The Coloured Mirror
The new coloured globe would last, with some alterations, from 1969 to 1985. A globe was placed in front of a concave mirror, and lighted from below, so that the continents on the globe, and their reflections on the mirror, were illuminated. It is not surprising that this clever idea, which achieved a classic look, lasted so long.
The first colour globe used a rather unattractive blue colour that would work on black-and-white sets, with 'BBC 1 COLOUR' beneath in the same blue. This colour lasted until 1974, when, with monochrome sets on the way out, the need for the globe to work on them declined.
One paradox with new inventions is this - the more people use them, the less clever they begin to look. Thus, when the mirror globe was revamped for how it would look in colour, the word 'COLOUR' was itself removed from the ident. Now it was just 'BBC 1' again, in big, bold letters. The background and sea areas on the globe were now blue and the land masses yellow - a look that was far easier on the eye. Another fairly minor change took place in 1981 - the lands turned green and the channel name was now in a stripy font. By then, more new technologies had arrived. Another major new look was just around the corner...
Computer Originated Worlds
Michael Grade, then Head of BBC1, believed that the old mechanical model that was filmed for the mirrored globe was outdated. He wanted a new look, using the new computer animation. This was the COW - the Computer Originated World. This led to a globe of elegant simplicity, with gold continents and blue seas on a black background, with 'BBC1' in gold beneath. This globe made use of the computer effects in one clever way - continents 'behind' the globe were visible in black against the sea. This globe lasted until 1991.
This globe is also notable for the number of times it was adapted for charity telethons, specifically Comic Relief and Children in Need. For Comic Relief it was adapted twice with a red nose, the second time far more effectively than the first. First time round, there was nothing obviously holding the nose on, second time there was. For Children in Need it was replaced altogether with a spinning Pudsey Bear (the symbol of Children in Need). It is probably just as well they were a year apart as the two Pudseys actually looked very different.
In 1991 the COW was given a new look. A big '1' was placed in the middle of it and it was surrounded with lights, colours and 'gas' effects. It was quite a pretty thing to behold, but it caused quite a shock when it first appeared, because it was almost unrecognisable as a globe. Most of the time it was very hard to recognise anything other than Australia. It became quite popular in its own right, until the BBC decided on another change in 1997.
The dream-like COW had a major drawback in that it was very hard to adapt for special occasions. Usually, the BBC just used the big '1' on its own. In 1994 this look included a clever Christmas concept of two snowmen, pre-Christmas, looking at a '1' in wrapping paper. On the day itself they unwrapped it, showing the golden '1' beneath, which stayed for the next few days. On another occasion, for Children in Need, an actor in a Pudsey costume was filmed playing with a big '1'. A nice try, but it didn't really work.
The Balloon Globe
The next look for the globe was an excellent piece of thinking. A hot-air balloon with a globe pattern on it was filmed flying over all sorts of British landmarks, from the South Downs to the Scottish Highlands, to Snowdonia and into Northern Ireland, and passing through all points in between. It would be severely impractical to list them individually as there were 47 of them! These little films now had 'BBC ONE' in text at the bottom. This look was cleverly spoofed by the comedian Ben Elton before his shows, with the balloon drifting into space, being stopped by a police balloon and even being attacked by a huge '2' from the sister channel. In 2000 the set was joined by some lifestyle films, one of which featured a bungee jumper leaping from the balloon itself.
But the balloon was the last form of globe BBC1 used. In 2002, a ident saw a number of dancers, in various styles shown in what is known as the 'Rhythm of Life' look. These images used the colour red a lot and had 'BBC ONE' in a red square in the corner.
Acrobat - Three acrobats in white tumble gracefully while holding red fabric to support them in the air.
Ballet - In the ruins of a castle, several ballet dancers move slowly from one balancing position to another.
Capoeira - Two people on a rooftop practice the martial art of capoeira.
Festival - The camera focuses in on two girls having a great time at a music festival, and slowly tracks back to reveal a huge crowd who are also feeling the same way.
Haka - Don't mess with One, or it might just send these boys round; a group of rugby players perform the genuinely scary Haka, an ancient Maori war chant.
Hip Hop - Three guys dance in a basketball court to some funked up BBC ident music.
Salsa - A couple dance salsa-style, and the camera tracks back to reveal that the whole room is filled with couples doing the same thing.
Tapdogs - Builders as tapdancers? Surely not! But One moves in mysterious ways...
Three later additions to this family were 'Music Video', 'Bollywood', and 'Tango'. You can find these in the invaluable TV Room.
They proved to be, to say the least, controversial among presentation enthusiasts, but each new look globe drew criticism before being warmed to. Will the new globe-free look follow suit? Only time will tell.