Adrian Burton, Lambie Nairn, ‘From Worthy But Dull to Witty and Engaging’: The Strength of the BBC Two Brand

Brands are in equal measure a balance between who you are and what you stand for. Arguably it is less about what a brand looks like and more about what it evokes – how a brand makes people feel and behave. It’s all about creating enduring and powerful relationships. And how do brands achieve this  – don’t be fooled it doesn’t just happen – its all done by design

There are 7 magnificent rules of great brands and BBC Two is a perfect example of those rules in action








Adrian Burton was the new boy at Lambie-Nairn in the 1990s when the BBC Two identity featuring that personality packed viridian green numeral hit the screen. Television identity would never be the same again. He has seen the brand evolve through its various regenerations.  He will demonstrate how BBC Two not only lives by these magnificent 7 rules it personifies them.

And the big question is what’s next for a brand that changed the way people felt by the introduction of a personality. It’s the content that people love – but it is vital they remember who provided it. When your are told of a programme  “it’s a BBC Two comedy” you know what that means

Mary Irwin, University of Northumbria- Civilisation: The Rise of the documentary ‘blockbuster’

This paper will focus on the BBC‘s 1969 thirteen-part television documentary series Civilisation, a cultural history of Western European civilisation written and presented by art historian Sir Kenneth Clark.  It will explore the way in which Civilisation created the formula for putting together and presenting documentary series on big topics on British television using expensive production values and a well respected presenter to introduce serious cultural content; ‘television at its best’ as it were.  The paper will also examine the international and historical impact of Civilisation which was such that it became the blueprint for a whole range of popular, big-budget, internationally co-produced documentary series from the early 1970s to the present day.  In conclusion there will be some discussion of the alternative discourse of less consensual and more interrogative arts documentary Civilisation provoked, which began with John Berger’s 1972 BBC television series Ways of Seeing, produced as a response to Clark’s more conservative work.

Taylor Downing, A New History for a New Channel –The Great War and the launch of BBC2

Brief synopsis: 1964 marked the 50th anniversary of the First World War. Just as with the centenary in 2014, the BBC planned to mark this event in a powerful way. A new type of Television History was created combining archive film with the testimony and memories of those who had taken part in events. It made for a dynamic combination. The war was broken into 26 short narrative chunks and along with a dramatic commentary and haunting music, The Great War helped to launch the BBC’s new channel in the spring of 1964. It set a new benchmark for how to make history on television. The talk will look at the making of The Great War and the impact it had at the time and has had since.

Taylor Downing is a historian who has written best selling popular histories and a television producer of award winning television documentaries at Flashback Television. He also writes on television history and his book on the making of the ITV series The World at War was published by BFI/Palgrave Macmillan in 2012. His new book to be published by Little, Brown in May 2014 is Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers and Propagandists of the Great War.

Peter Waymark, Minority need not mean highbrow: BBC2 under David Attenborough

This paper examines David Attenborough’s time as Controller of BBC2 from 1965 to 1969. Despite no previous managerial experience he proved to be a lively and innovative force who was credited with turning BBC2 round after a difficult start. Although BBC2 had been conceived as a minority channel, he insisted that minorities could be counted in millions. Nor, he argued, did minority necessarily mean highbrow. He used BBC2 to cover areas that BBC1 was ignoring, starting regular series on money, motoring, archaeology and jazz. He devised a documentary series, One Pair of Eyes, which departed from traditional BBC impartiality by offering space for personal views. He also oversaw the introduction of colour, exploiting it in spectacular style with Kenneth Clark’s 13-part series, Civilisation. But while it was a landmark in television terms, Civilisation offered a very conventional view of art history and while Attenborough filled gaps and expanded the possibilities of television as a medium, his programmes did not challenge or shock. It was the mainstream BBC1, not the minority channel, which came up with Cathy Come Home, The War Game and Till Death Us Do Part.

Leah Panos, University of Reading, BBC2 and the arrival of colour television

On 1st July 1967, Europe’s first colour television service began on BBC2. This paper examines how the BBC’s second channel prepared for, developed and publicized the colour service, before its full launch on BBC1 and ITV in November 1969.

Using archival documentation and press coverage, the paper outlines how BBC staff, guided by Controller of BBC2 David Attenborough, negotiated the many practical considerations that the arrival of colour entailed, such as studio conversion and staff retraining. BBC2’s strategy for trialing and expanding the colour schedule across specific programmes and genres is analysed with consideration of the channel’s particular remit. These issues are contextualized within a broader discussion of how BBC2 executives and production staff conceived the social and aesthetic role of colour, with reference to internal and public discourse about its arrival, and analysis of the first colour serial to be produced and transmitted by the BBC, Vanity Fair.

Joe smith, Open university, Earth in Vision: BBC2’s part in developing a global environmental imagination

Television and understandings of global environmental change issues have grown up in tandem. Environmentalism is distinctive amongst new social movements in that many of its central concerns are necessarily mediated rather than directly experience. The research into human-caused and global processes of environmental change that  so heavily influenced modern environmentalism emerged in the context of a massive expansion of access to television, new technologies of production and the establishment of new channels targeted at increasingly specific audiences. BBC2 was, from its launch, the prime source of British public service broadcasting content on these topics. Coverage of natural history was joined in the schedules by accounts of the early findings of environmental sciences, and programmes covering population, pollution and habitat loss. We discuss a sample of programmes drawn from across several decades of the BBC2 archive, supplementing these close readings with paper archive material and in-depth interviews with commissioners, programme makers and contributors. We also connect the on-screen outputs with some of the source material that informed them. The distinctive features of the channel as the home of more ‘demanding’ and niche content, overlain with the particular governance and culture of the BBC regarding issues such as impartiality and the service of the public interest, have resulted in some particular characteristics in the channel’s environmental outputs. We will seek to draw these out in order to say something about the channel’s and its production teams’ roles in co-producing environmental understandings. The paper will also reflect on the ways in which engagement with digital broadcast archives may serve to revise and pluralise accounts of environmental history and politics. It will consider the ways in which a deeper knowledge of the production of past and present environmental understandings might support more plural and dynamic imaginings of environmental futures.

Panel: The Community Programme Unit

Organisers – Ieuan Franklin, Patricia Holland (Bournemouth University)

In 1972 the BBC set up the Community Programme Unit in part as a response to the commissioning of 10 episodes of a new program called Open Door to be shown on BBC2, described as a slot “where people and groups are given a chance to have their own say, in their own way”. This paper will explore the history and practice of Open Door from its inception at the start of the 1970s through to its relationship to the development of Channel Four. It will look at it in relation to community video groups operating outside of and often opposed to institutions, alongside developments in portable video technology, access television and the effect of Left politics on the way broadcast television was produced and watched.

Giles Oakley, Dissent, diversity and the unheard voice: the Community Programme Unit’s contribution to democratic debate

I will begin with the context of late ‘60s/early ‘70s thinking, with growing pressures to open up the airwaves to a wider range of viewpoints, and the influence of Cable Access TV in North America and the UK (Greenwich and Bristol Channel). The launch of Open Door took place after the Guinness Factory moment; when BBC-2’s Late Night Line-Up was looking for some programme space to fill, they sent Tony Bilbow to the nearby Guinness Factory canteen to collect vox pops with workers about current TV programming. The workers challenged Bilbow, arguing that their contributions would be heavily edited and hence distorted. This created the institutional impetus to set up the Community Programme Unit,   with backing from Attenborough and the Controller of BBC2, Robin Scott. The concept and developing ‘ground rules’ of ‘access TV’ tested and extended the BBC’s institutional and constitutional remit and protocols (for example, it had implications for such notions such as ‘balance across time’ and ‘taking account of imbalances elsewhere’). I will discuss how we worked with ‘accessees’ (rights and obligations, stresses and strains); how programmes were chosen for Open Door/Open Space, including use of outside advisors; and what it was like for production staff, in terms of handing over editorial control. I will outline some of the big rows in these early years (Halt Immigration Now, Palestine Action, Campaign Against Racism in the Media, etc.), and give a brief summary of how the output changed over time, from sometimes naive, amateurish (but charming) early Open Doors through Open Space to Counterblast (all in one tradition) through to the ‘self-op’ Video Diaries/Video Nation strand (another tradition). Finally I will give a sense of the relationship between the CPU and BBC management, underlining the role of the Channel Controllers. I will also tell the ‘inside story’ about the eventual demise of Community & Disability Programmes.

Peter Lee-Wright, The Community Programme Unit: Big Brother’s Little Pain in the Ass

I spent an inordinate amount of my career at the Community Programme Unit [CPU], from 1980-93, working as a producer on Open Door and Something Else, as series producer on Grapevine and Open Space, as well as producing some short series on everything from local government to the potential of old age, various pilots and longer feature documentaries on child slavery around the world and immigration in Europe.I will talk about these alternative strands, and about the political, advocacy role of the unit, and the many different attempts I was involved in to find to find programme vehicles that would break away from the much-satirised soapbox of Open Door. My thesis is that Thatcherism gave us political focus and a huge range of deserving communities to reflect. I represented a political understanding of our remit, which I believe was supplanted by a typically contemporary personal perspective enshrined by Video Diaries and Video Nation. The subsequent shift from the political to the personal has been avidly reflected by TV, not just with the loss of the CPU, but a replacement of documentary by factual format; people as victims or entertainment fodder rather than agents in their own right. Access has been replaced by ‘reality television’, Greek demos by the Roman Colosseum.

Mandy Rose, Public Service Media in an era of Making Publics – a challenge for the BBC 

At the end of the 80s, the first wave of digital technology offered the possibility of equipping members of the public with camcorders. The Community Programme Unit [CPU] responded with the Video Diaries series. These programmes offered perspectives on life in Britain filmed from within. Video Nation followed – marrying camcorder video with the inspiration of Mass Observation to provide a contemporary “anthropology of ourselves”. Broadcast just before Newsnight, the 1200+ Shorts produced between 1994 and 2000 injected a sense of the diversity of life in the UK into the heart of the BBC2 schedule. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s producers within the BBC built on these CPU projects in contexts of interactive media; experimenting in a variety of ways with what a digital public service offering might be that involved a co-creative relationship between the BBC and the public. In the mid 2000s, the BBC drew back from these experiments, falling back on a top-down broadcasting paradigm and reneging on its role in developing a digital public service proposition that reflected the potential of the public as content creators rather than simply consumers. Meanwhile, the affordances of digital technology and networked culture have come to offer an alternative to the one-way communication of TV. As the audience become (potential) media makers, new challenges emerge; to address the “participation gap” (Jenkins), support digital public space, develop models for participatory media design, and foster the collaborative over the “extractive logic” (Dovey) of the network.

Ieuan Franklin, Bournmouth University, BBC-2 and World Cinema

Before the era of DVDs, file sharing and Netflix, those people for whom the local Odeon had little to offer constantly relied on BBC-2 as an imaginative exhibitor of film. As Andy Medhurst observed in 1995:

According to a certain kind of cinematic purist, television is no place to see film…What such a lofty view overlooks is that…Pwlheli and Peterhead are rather more than a taxi journey from the NFT, and that television is our national repertory cinema.

During the 1970s the channel boasted several long-running film series, such as World Cinema and Film International, which showcased foreign films, in their original language. Many of these films had never been shown in the UK before, and in that respect BBC-2 can claim to have been more courageous than many film distributors. All this was achieved despite limited broadcasting hours.

BBC-2’s Controllers found that there were advantages to using films as the central core of the schedule. Firstly, films could be bought cheaply; secondly, if programmed into seasons they could build up a loyal audience and gain the broadcaster some kudos for treating cinema seriously.

However, BBC-2 was increasingly under pressure to remain distinctive, with the arrival of competition from Channel 4, and to achieve ratings, in the cable and satellite era. This mean that world cinema was increasingly marginalized in the schedules. It was left to the fondly-remembered Moviedrome (1988-1994, 1997-2000) to provide a refuge for cinephiles, but it was telling that original presenter Alex Cox departed the series in frustration when subtitled candidates were consistently rejected for inclusion.

This paper will chart the history of BBC-2’s film policy, assessing the extent to which it managed to reflect a broad film culture, and whether this is, indeed, only (a 20th Century) history.

Amanda Wrigley, University of Westminster, Higher education, public engagement: BBC-Open University co-productions of theatre plays in the 1970s

This paper will explore the relationship between television and higher education in the 1970s, focusing on the co-production of sixteen stage-plays by the BBC and The Open University (OU) for television transmission, mainly on BBC2, as part of the OU’s A307 Drama course for adult distance-learners which ran annually from 1977 to 1981.

The essay considers how A307 not only gave its signed-up students access to performances of the plays being studied but also managed the rather paradoxical use of the television medium to develop a critical understanding of live theatre by innovatively building into the course such topics as translating stage plays to television, television’s dramatic language and the selective nature of the camera.

Television also, importantly, enabled the OU to fulfil its broader mission to ‘promote the educational well-being of the community generally’. The televised drama productions for A307 were a crucial part of this goal: the BBC publicised the programmes widely and also supported the audience’s engagement by publishing the book Sophocles to Fugard for ‘the interested viewing public’. On occasion, however, course content (e.g. the brothel scenes in Genet’s The Balcony) proved too challenging for the BBC, leading to arguments between the two institutions and, effectively, censorship of some of these programmes.

Drawing on extant archival materials, interviews with the academics and television producers on the course team and critical responses in the press, this essay examines the opportunities and tensions arising from delivering academic course content through a public service broadcasting medium in order to develop an understanding of contemporary perceptions of television’s roles and responsibilities with regard to higher education and broader public engagement in the late 1970s.

Catherine Johnson, University of Nottingham, ‘From “boring” and “snobbish” to “witty” and “surprising”: channel branding and BBC Two’

In 1991 BBC Two launched a rebranding campaign, revealing a new slate of idents (short graphic sequences) to be broadcast in the junctions between its programmes. Audience research just six months after the rebrand revealed a transformation in the popular image of the channel from ‘boring’ and ‘snobbish’ to ‘witty’ and ‘surprising’. Although popular accounts of the development of channel branding in the UK tend to identify the idents created for the launch of Channel 4 as the first example of a properly branded channel, this paper will argue that the BBC Two rebrand in 1991 was far more significant in demonstrating to broadcasters the potential of television branding. Drawing on interviews, trade press and theories of branding, this paper will trace the significance of the BBC Two rebrand, demonstrating the ways in which it challenged existing conventions for the graphic presentation of channels and developed out of a wider adoption of brand strategies within the UK television industry. It will situate the BBC’s adoption of channel branding in relation to broader debates about pubic service broadcasting and ask how channel branding has developed into the digital era, a period in which video-on-demand and pay-per-view have been seen to threaten the continued significance of the television channel.

Iain Baird, National Media Museum, Science Museum Group Collections and the Development of Colour Television 1928-1967

This article identifies and explores the milestones in the prehistory of colour television technology which relate to specific objects in the National Television Collection, and other collections within the Science Museum Group.  Beginning with John Logie Baird’s demonstration of colour in 1928 (which used a perforated scanning disc with colour filters) it looks at subsequent colour systems and demonstrations leading to Walter Bruch’s PAL colour television system, developed between 1962 and 1965 at Telefunken in Germany.  It concludes in 1967 when the first regular colour television service in Europe is introduced on BBC2, beginning with the historic broadcast of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

Ralph Desmarais, Kings College London, The Ascent of Man: Jacob Bronowski and Scientific Humanism

The widely-acclaimed documentary series, The Ascent of Man, was first aired on BBC2 Television in the spring and summer of 1973.  Written and presented by the polymath scientific intellectual Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974), Ascent ‘traced our rise both as a species and as moulders of our own environment and future’, through an episodic history of science and invention filmed in colour and set in a range of exotic settings.  Ascent attracted a viewing audience of millions, garnered a host of favourable press reviews and was awarded the Royal Television Society’s Silver Medal in 1974; it was simultaneously published in book form by the BBC, and appeared a year later in North America.  Ascent of Man’s popularity has continued  into the new millennium: in 2000 the British Film Institute ranked it 65th in its 100 greatest British television programmes list;  in 2005 the series was released in video and DVD formats worldwide; and in 2011 its book version was reissued with a new foreword by Richard Dawkins.

This talk engages with the historiography of the Ascent television series and its author.  A key argument is that Ascent of Man was the culmination of Jacob Bronowski’s decades-long public engagement with the cultural politics of science, begun shortly after he examined the effects of the atomic bombing of Japan in late 1945 based on his military operations-research expertise.  This experience precipitated Bronowski’s inaugural 1946 BBC radio broadcast and his ensuing rise to fame as the Corporation’s most prominent science populariser.  Bronowski also established himself as Britain’s foremost expositor of scientific humanism, an ethos which he frequently employed in broadcasts and in print during the early atomic era to counter what he perceived to be the general public’s unwarranted mistrust of science and scientists.  By 1969, when Bronowski began work on Ascent of Man, public dissent had grown to include several leading British scientists themselves.  The remainder of this paper addresses how, in response, he creatively adapted the medium of colour television to develop a charismatic and optimistic, yet in places historically problematic, account of human progress and science.

Jamie Medhurst, Aberystwith University, ‘What a Hullabaloo*!’ The BBC Television Service in 1936 and BBC2 in 1964: a comparison.

This paper will consider two landmark events in the BBC’s history – the launch of the Television Service in 1936 and the launch of the second BBC channel 28 years later in 1964. Drawing on archival material, it will explore the similarities and differences between the two events noting also the political, social and cultural contexts, focusing in particular on the opening night of the service in November 1936.

* A neat tie-in of the two events! The word ‘Hullabaloo’ was used in the song, Here’s Looking at You which was broadcast during the television service trials at Radiolympia in August 1936. It was also the name used for the BBC2 launch motif of a ‘mother’ kangaroo symbolising the ‘parent’ television service and the new arrival, BBC2 (a baby kangaroo called ‘Custard’).

Stephen Lax, University of Leeds, High definition pictures and stereophonic sound: launching new broadcasting services in the 1960s

The launch of BBC2 brought with it the potential for better picture quality (‘high definition’ 625-lines) and additional content (BBC2 itself). To receive the new service meant investment on the part of both broadcasters and consumers, and the allocation of new radio spectrum. At the same time new BBC radio services were being promoted: VHF/FM transmissions, promising better sound quality (including stereo) and new content (local radio stations). These improvements in radio also required new spectrum and could only be transmitted and received with the purchase of new equipment. This paper will consider the similarities and differences in the introduction of these new services and offer brief reflections on more recent examples of launching digital TV and radio.

Tim Boon, Science Museum, Horizon as a BBC2 Programme

Horizon was originally broadcast every four weeks, in the very first phase of BBC2, with three programmes that shared the slot: on literature, on music and on sociology. None of these others survived to be part of the long history of the channel. Is it possible to judge the reasons for Horizon’s survival in comparison to the others? What did the four programmes have in common, and how did they differ? To what extent was the production of science programmes separate from the making of those on other topics? And what indications are there, from the longer history of the programme, of commonalities and differences between the broadcasting of science documentaries and those on other subjects?

John Ellis, Royal Holloway, University of London, Channel Launches: the Good, the Bad and the Dodgy

Who is even aware that a new Channel has launched these days? The launch of an analogue channel was a high profile, planned event, and the result of years of political negotiation and planning. Failure was unthinkable, even though ITV had some narrow scrapes. That changed with BSB in 1990. This was a launch of technology and channels simultaneously, and despite some outrageous stunts, it failed. Earlier, the terrestrial La Cinq in France had also failed soon after a bizarre launch night featuring Serge Gainsbourg and Benny Hill. By 1997 Channel 5’s launch was a proper campaign of marketing and explication, rather than the ascent to a preordained throne in the royal family of broadcasting royalty. It featured teasers, the Spice Girls and an explanation of the schedule. Was this the last terrestrial launch in the UK, also the last of the old fashioned channel launches?

Lez Cooke, Royal Holloway, University of London, Drama on Two: Six and Five More

The introduction of BBC2 enabled the BBC to expand its drama output in the 1960s and to commission some innovative dramas for the new channel. While The Wednesday Play was grabbing the headlines on BBC1 there was a range of new drama on BBC2 which often went out unnoticed or unheralded. Alongside classic adaptations such as The Brothers Karamozov (1964-5), The Canterbury Tales (1969), Cold Comfort Farm (1968) and The Forsyte Saga (1967), for which the channel was to become famous, there were a number of now forgotten plays and series, including two series of experimental dramas/films produced by John McGrath: Six (1964-5) and Five More (1966). Shot entirely on film – unusual for the mid-sixties – and varying in length from 30 to 60 minutes, these dramas/films (categorising them is difficult) include an adaptation of George and Weedon Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody, directed by Ken Russell, three experimental films by Philip Saville, a surreal chase film written by Troy Kennedy Martin and three films written and directed by John McGrath. These eleven dramas/films (all of which survive) form part of the forgotten history of programming on BBC2 in the 1960s, along with lost series such as The Ambassadors (1965), Angel Pavement (1967) and Imperial Palace (1969).

Jean-Baptiste Gouyon, Science Museum, David Attenborough and the Establishment of Natural History on BBC2

In October 1965, a few months after taking the office of Controller-BBC2, David Attenborough wrote: ‘When I arrived here, BBC2 had no natural history programme whatever, and, as you may imagine, I was anxious that it should have a regular one as soon as possible’. This paper is intended to examine the brand of natural history television that David Attenborough, as Controller BBC2, was instrumental in developing on the new channel. The paper will suggest that in so doing, Attenborough laid the ground for his later endeavour as a natural history programme maker. The paper will thus examine the relationship of co-fashioning between Attenborough and the BBC.


One thought on “Abstracts

  1. Pingback: #PoTW – BBC2: Origins; Influence; Audiences: A 50th Anniversary Conference

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