The Corporation at Christmas – BBC1 

11 February 2008

Simon Luxton reviews BBC1 Christmas idents since 2002.

BBC One Christmas ident

2002 was of course, BBC1’s first year without the globe symbol which had been dumped in favour of the universally-disliked “rhythm and movement” theme. So what would we get? Dancing Santas? It was a running joke on several internet forums at the time.

Thankfully BBC Broadcast came up with something far more creative – amid a snowy scene, young children dressed in snowflake costumes ran around in a circle, as if to be a live-action version of the old mechanical carousels. The sequence began with a close-up of one of the toddlers “floating down” to the ground, and once there he seemed to disappear. It was all topped off with a gentle lullaby-like version of the new BBC1 jingle.

Much as many were charmed by BBC1’s newest festive ident, they were even more furious that the channel controversially decided to re-use it in 2003 – the first time in the channel’s history that a Christmas ident had ever been re-used in exactly the same form (N1500 footage recently discovered by a fellow Transdiffusioner confirmed that the same Christmas globe used in 1975 had also been used twelve months earlier, although in both years a different “BBC1” legend was used.) Many viewers otherwise not interested in TV presentation noticed the re-use, and the BBC was forced to apologise following an unprecedented number of complaints on the Points Of View message board.

So in 2004, as if to be an indirect admission that last year’s “recycle” policy was not popular, BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey invited viewers of Blue Peter to design this year’s BBC1 Christmas ident in a prize competition. The chosen concept, sent in by 10-year old Charlotte Strethill-Smith, was a drawing of a child in holly costume bouncing around on a Christmas Pudding-shaped space hopper. A storyboard was built around this, featuring lots of children bouncing around on inflatable puddings. Charlotte proudly unveiled the new ident, “Bouncy Puddings”, on Blue Peter on 17 December. But the execution of her idea was more or less the same as it had been for the snowflake children – namely an opening close-up of one child bouncing around panning to a whole studio full of them. Charmingly, one girl even fell off her pudding 28 seconds into the sequence and then tried but failed to remount.

The BBC faced criticism for continuing to use Bouncy Puddings in every single junction following the Asian tsunami disaster and even to introduce additional news coverage the tragedy necessitated. This may have been a factor in the decision to come up with a new concept for Christmas 2005, which was certainly more structured than the previous two festive idents in the “rhythm and movement” theme. 2005’s ident, “Christmas Tree”, was possibly inspired by one of the biggest movie successes of the year – Charlie And The Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp. Once again children were to feature, in red spandex costumes that made them look like Oompa Loompas, and they would circle an abstract central Christmas tree each carrying a large inflatable “bauble”. The four tiers of the Christmas Tree were each filmed separately and married together in post-production. The BBC1 theme was that year sung by nine boys from the London Oratory Choir; the first time the music had been sung rather than played on instruments. Many pres fans believed the new ident had an eerie feel to it, but almost certainly this was deliberate following last year’s realisation that tragic news can break even over the holiday period.

2006 saw the wind of change sweep through BBC1. New controller Peter Fincham kept his promise to rid the channel of the dance idents and while he stopped short of bringing back the globe, he instead opted for a “circles” theme for the channel, with solid circular objects or a circular formation hinting at the old globe. The first of the “circles” Christmas idents would be “Snowball” – in which a community would get together to make a giant snowball. Everyone was out on the streets helping to make this supersized snowball as big as it could be, and had great fun in the process. Together with Imran Hanif’s musical score which reminded some of the original Breakfast Time sig tune, Snowball brilliantly brought together the new circles theme with the idea that Christmas brings everyone together.

If building a snowball helps bring people together, sharing a public ice rink with thousands of computer-generated penguins ensures a great time is had by all! For 2007 BBC1 went for an unashamedly fun approach for its Christmas ident, “Penguins”. The latest festive symbol, filmed at Romford Ice Rink in Essex, featured an invasion of Emperor penguins skating around a central Christmas tree alongside human skaters. Lauren Moser of the Susan Roberts Academy of Performing Arts was one of the human ice dancers who can be seen showing off in front of the tree. BBC1 also brought back Snowball, as if no lessons had been learned from 2003, in a decision which may or may not have had something to do with Roly Keating being the channel’s acting controller. As we will see in my review of BBC2’s festive seasons, Roly has gained a reputation for re-using Christmas symbols on his channel.

So, what will 2008 bring, if anything? It would be good to see an entirely graphical Christmas ident on BBC1, as most of the current symbols contain people or are based around live action. But with a trend towards increasingly surreal idents on the big channel – and a new controller due to start (with the inevitable branding review that comes with her), we shall have to see.

• Next month: BBC2

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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