The colour of news 

1 December 2001

In an interview with BBC News Online, Huw Edwards proclaimed that he was glad the BBC’s virtual news studio was being replaced. It meant that he could finally wear all the blue work shirts that he had at home.

Huw was speaking in the spring of 1999 as the BBC prepared to replace the corporation’s blue ‘virtual’ news studio. First used in 1993, the actual studio itself was rather small and plain, made to look bigger by adding the set electronically.

However on the 9th of May, 1999, the studio was used for the last time, and consigned to the history books. The following day, BBC News brought in its latest look for its programmes. The set was beige, with a large window overlooking the newsroom, the title sequence was brown and red, and the theme tune was full of bips and booms. Two and a half years on, this look has swept the news output of the organisation. Main news bulletins, regional news programmes, political programmes and two news channels have all different variations of BBC’s new news style.

On October 1, 2001, another variation of the BBC corporate news branding was unveiled as BBC London News was broadcast for the first time.

The new BBC London region was created in September 2001, when the old South East region was split into two services – one from the capital and one from Tunbridge Wells. The television news service from BBC London was to be one part of a tri-media service, which would also include a website and radio station.

The radio station and website had launched the year before under the brand name London Live, with most observers assuming that the new TV news service would take the same name and use the same logo. With a rather bright logo based around the word ‘London’ in colourful letters, a TV news programme under the London Live brand would have had difficulty fitting into the BBC’s corporate news look. In the end, it was never to reach television.

In mid-September 2001, a new brand name was announced. The ‘Live’ tag was to be dropped, and the news programmes, radio station and website would unite under the name BBC London. BBC London News, 94.9 and Online would also share a new logo – the letters ‘LDN’, explained as being a way of saying London, without actually saying London.

With a new brand name, the three services were given a new look, and it was to be one that would fit in well with the BBC’s corporate news style so lovingly cultivated over the preceeding years. However it’s a version that is very different to that used on other BBC regional news services.

One of the ways that BBC London have been able to sit comfortably within the overall BBC News style is with its colour scheme. The graphics and logos all consist of two parts – one is video footage or photographic stills, converted to greyscale, showing shots of London landmarks and people, London scenes and situations.

The second part is red. Not just any shade of red, but the deep shade of china red used in the main BBC News graphics and on the rolling news services, BBC News 24 and BBC World.

Obviously, it’s in BBC London News that the colour scheme is most noticeable. The title sequence consists of monochrome video footage, with red circles rippling on top, in the same way that they do in the main news title sequence. The titles end with the BBC LDN logo on a red background with the tagline “ON TV, ON RADIO, ONLINE”. Interestingly, the programme name, BBC London News, never appears in the title sequence.

The theme music is a new, dancy version, of the the BBC news theme, ending with a reworking of the original London Live radio station signiture music. Indeed, to emphasis the fact that the service is on TV and radio, the new BBC London 94.9 uses the same music.

The TV programme is broadcast from an interesting set – the newsroom. There is no dedicated studio, and the programme can in theory be broadcast from any part of the two floor news centre. The main news comes from the upper level near a staircase, flanked with two large flatscreen monitors.

Entertainment and sport come from the lower level, with presenters and reporters sat on in a small sofa area, complete with fish tank in the background. On both floors are the desks of the staff working on the news programme, website and radio station. The building is very white, but includes the red trimings, chrome railings and the occasional yellow wall that appear in most other BBC news sets.

The previous news programme in the old South East region, Newsroom South East, was one of the first of the BBC English regional news programmes to use the beige set, and generic title sequence.

Despite not being beige, and not having a large shot of the Thames in the background, the new BBC London fits in well with the overall look and feel of the BBC’s news services. It may not be a faithful copy of the original design, but it has shown that corporate styling does not need to be identically replicated every time in order for all services to look in the same style.

Two and a half years after being introduced, the sheer adaptability of the BBC’s corporate news look is still evident. With each version, the BBC is showing that its corporate news look can be adapted to look fresh and individual, yet share the same presentation style as other programmes from the same fold.

By sharing a common look, each service feeds into each other, showing how the whole of BBC News fits together like a giant jigsaw. It’s a highly visible indication that BBC News doesn’t just come from Television Centre in London, but from Washington, Manchester, Edinburugh, Cardif, Newcastle, Birmingham and and so on. It’s business news, politics, regional, national and international news all from the same service.

As the overall design can have so many different variations, it means that they can (in theory) change the style and presentation of, say, the BBC’s main news bulletins (the BBC One bulletins at 1, 6 and 10), but keep it within the existing corporate look and feel – which could be highly desirable.

With such a large number of services all using the same generic style, it would take a long time to change them all to a new look. It took over a year and a half to unite all the programmes under the same look and it could take just as long to change them again.

Being able to change some parts but keep them under the same banner means that each programme can change whenever it wants, but still retain the link to the main BBC News brand: which could mean that we’re in for bips and booms for many years to come.

Differing slightly from the house-style used by the other regional news programmes, these pictures show the main facets of BBC LDN in London.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Thursday 28 September 2023