Patterns of Expectation 

1 January 2001

It has always been the very regularity – and, indeed, predictability – of television presentation habits that have attracted devotees to the subject. The subliminal knowledge that “I know what’s coming up next”, whether it be clock, frontcap or announcer, has always been part of the fascination.

Like the comfortably predictable catch phrases that were the weekly staple of post war radio comedy, television presentation forms patterns of expectation that motivates the enthusiast.

Granada goes Christmas

If any one situation defines this warming culture of the predictable, it is the “notable exception”, and in the history of British television presentation graphics it is Christmas which provides the best example of departures from the norm.

Christmas itself, still the major lynchpin of the Bank Holiday scene, was for television presentation the annual ‘exception to due process’ that excited the enthusiast.

Granada sees snow in Manchester

In the Decembers of the sixties, we were treated to special idents, festive clocks, snow-dusted menus and oddly attired announcers – on a scale never seen at other times of the year.

Back then, the highly prescriptive world of UK Independent Television presentation saw unusual relaxation of some of the regulator’s normal requirements, especially in the specialised field of daily start-up routines.

It's time for Christmas on Granada

At a time when broadcasting hours were still limited, and normal weekday programmes began around 5pm, the companies were deregulated for transmission hours on Christmas Day. At a later date, and throwing caution to the winds, Boxing Day and New Years Day were also loosened.

This gave the highly unusual opportunity for the TV companies to take to the air in the morning, and “stay on” till after midnight – a stunning idea in a world used to the sight of the test card for much of the day.

The requirement for tuning signals to be radiated as part of the start-up routine was suspended on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and, sensationally, the television companies were allowed to transmit their own symbol throughout the opening music, rather than just over the final verse, as was the normal practice.

Christmas time again at Granada The music used was allowed to depart from the “registered opening tune” scheme with typically, orchestral versions of Christmas carols from the more serious companies like Granada or Rediffusion, but James Last or Bert Kampfert snowdrift medleys from ATV and ABC. The regional companies put their own local spin into the mix, with rural and folk tune mixes.

Dual announcing and Christmas cards at ABC An authority announcement was still required, reminding the viewer that as ever, the company was licensed by a ‘higher power’ – indeed given the solemnity of these announcements – “licensed by the Almighty” always crossed the mind.

Company identification symbols appeared snowflake dusted, as propped up cards on cod mantelpieces, hanging from indoor Christmas trees, and even popped into snowdrifts. One of the main preoccupations of the enthusiast was “what will they make of their clock this year”, and indeed it was just that – the standard clock tarted up, like their living room itself had been adorned by the viewers, and not to be kept like that after twelfth night.

ABC get festive at Christmas time In a world without electronic caption design, or ready-made promotional trailers, it was necessary for announcers, clocks and menus to fill plenty of airtime. Presentation departments planned mini-sketches involving announcers, station mascots, studio Christmas trees, and even exchanges of gifts between station hosts. A real family atmosphere was created, and the idea that the continuity department was made up of your own virtual relatives was effectively the order of the day, with ‘family’ appearing all evening, as the programmes progressed.

Television presentation at Christmas in the sixties was a time when all the work of the year reached a climax, the best was kept for Christmas and New Years Eve. The evidence that the companies did actually care about the viewer in those days was overwhelming.

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Liverpool, Friday 1 July 2022