Another chance to see… the time 

7 July 2023 tbs.pm/79592

“NOW WITH THE TIME COMING UP TO…”

 

 

Once an important and useful tool in television presentation, now largely consigned to history. Along with company idents and in-vision continuity a station clock added an extra dimension to the flow of linking the various components of the day’s transmission schedule. In general the broadcasters would use their clocks a little more sparingly than their other graphics, usually saving them for more substantial programme junctions such as before a news programme (they usually went out at the EXACT time), sports events and special outside broadcasts, sometimes even appearing before a Party Political Broadcast. The appearance of a clock on the screen could often grab your attention, something was about to happen.

The station clock was a very powerful tool at start-up, building the sense of excitement and anticipation as the second hand counted up to the start of the day’s programmes, often accompanied by the station’s start-up music. At the other end of the day the clock could gently lull you off to bed with a special “Good night, sleep well” from the announcer (remembering to switch off your set and unplug it from the wall socket of course).

The clocks obviously had a practical use for the viewers as well. We must remember that in the early days of the medium household clocks and watches ran on, well, clockwork. They started to slow down or even stop after a while and needed winding up on a regular basis. In this sense the TV clock played the same role as the Greenwich Time Signal on the radio allowing household clocks to be re-set accurately.

The development of battery and electric clocks and watches more or less made the on-screen timepieces redundant and pointless, the end really coming with the processing delay in digital broadcasting ensuring that any TV station clock would be at least one second behind time.

The clocks themselves were displayed in a variety of ways, some big, some small, some looking like a desk-top accessory, some looking like they were hung on a wall, some with company branding, some without. This is a selection of my top ten TV station clocks. It’s a personal selection so feel free to disagree.

The first five bubbling under in no particular order…

 

ABC WEEKEND TELEVISION

 

ABC Weekend (Midlands) clock

We may as well start off with that most respected of all ITV companies holding the weekend franchise in the Midlands and the North. I’m at a slight disadvantage here in never having actually seen ABC in action, but I gather that in having separate presentation and continuity in both the Midlands and Northern sections of their empire they also used their own slightly different on-screen clocks. In the north it was a plain and simple clock face with not an ounce of branding in sight, it was usually preceded by the ABC ident which was excellent branding in itself, so maybe no real need to take it further.

Branding did make its way to the Midlands version though, in the form of a small ABC triangle in the corner as seen here. This one saw further life post-ABC when it was pressed into service during the 1968 ITV technicians strike, a national emergency service being broadcast from London using this as the station clock, albeit with the ABC triangle (mostly) hidden by masking tape.

 

YORKSHIRE TELEVISION

 

I gather that this one was used during the mid to late 1970s and I have to say it is rather neat. I have a fondness for clocks that are set slightly to one side and this one also doubles as a calendar, a feature that was also used by Thames. I also like the underplayed Yorkshire chevron as a simple gold outline, maybe acknowledging that their logo (for reasons unknown to me) was seen by many children as more than a tad scary…

 

SCOTTISH TELEVISION

 

STV clock

Real modernist stuff here from the 1950s/early 60s, this could look at home on the side of a building in the shopping square of a mid-twentieth century new town, or maybe on the wall of an airport departure lounge. The new world had arrived in Glasgow and was here to stay. Of all the ITV companies mentioned here, STV is the only one to remain as a name in broadcasting.

 

SOUTHERN INDEPENDENT TELEVISION

 

Southern clock

Talking of modernism …

Towards the end of their tenure Southern were often regarded as a bit old fashioned and conservative in their overall presentation which I believe is grossly unfair. I first saw their flipover digital clock in the early ’60s and it was quite impressive, but it also had a major flaw.

The traditional clocks used elsewhere had a ticking second hand which was able to encourage some sort of anticipation as it counted up to the start of a programme (the ITN News always starting precisely on the minute), as such these clocks were also effective at station start-ups. Unfortunately Southern’s digital clock could do none of this, simply sitting there until flipping over at 59.9 seconds which of course was another flaw; if it was to do its job properly it would disappear at the very moment it flipped over, the change of display would be hardly seen as the next programme cut in. Southern got around this by setting the clock to run a couple of seconds fast so the change of display would be clearly seen.

Who cares anyway? This was a really bold move on Southern’s part, like STV’s clock it was a hint of the new age, especially when accompanied by Brian Nissen’s branding announcement: “The news now from ITN, SOUTHERN time is five fifty-five”.

 

BBCtv

 

Bats wing clock

I have to say I do find BBC clocks a little uninspiring, they’re just too simple for my liking and hence they are (largely) absent in this piece.

This, however, is an exception. It’s based on the mid 1950s ‘Bats Wings’ BBC ident which, with its rotating eye as a centrepiece was slightly unnerving. This clock retains that air of “Sit to attention!” command about it, along with the underlying instruction “Don’t you DARE switch over to channel nine…”, the long second hand extending well outside the clock face like it’s reaching out to get you should you attempt such a thing. Imagine if they’d got those wings to flap! Children of the 60s/70s thought the Yorkshire logo was the thing of nightmares; they just haven’t got a clue…

 

So now ladies and gentlemen we reach the top five.

 

5. THAMES TELEVISION

 

Thames clock

Neat, simple, a touch of colour, functional and very effective. You’d expect nothing less from London’s weekday contractor.
Its predecessor from 1968 wasn’t quite as impressive, being a small clock in a rectangular box which it shared with a slightly larger calendar, the sort of thing you’d expect to see on a desk top or hung on the wall in your high street bank or post office. This, on the other hand, was very definitely a television clock, again incorporating a calendar which could also be amended to carry alternative information or messages, most notably ‘Good Night’ at closedown.

Like the ABC Midlands clock it too saw national service as Thames provided the first day of programmes across the network after the eleven week technicians strike in 1979, a piece of masking tape labelled I T V only just hiding the blue THAMES branding behind.

 

4. TVS

 

TVS clock

Colour comes to the south of England. Well, okay, it actually came in 1969, but until now, with a few exceptions, the world of TV graphics had remained largely unaltered, usually being simple updates of the monochrome versions with blue replacing the standard black or grey background and remaining very two-dimensional at that.

On 1st January 1982 TVS came on to the scene with possibly the most colourful ident ever seen on ITV at the time, a multi-coloured arrowhead forming up in front of you before either retreating or spinning into place alongside the station name. Joyfully the colour scheme was carried through to the station clock where the timepiece was strapped in by nearly every colour of the rainbow. Such use of colour would evolve further eleven months down the line by Channel Four who would also take us away permanently from two-dimensional graphics.

Initially there were three variations of this clock, two labelled ‘TVS South’ and ‘TVS South East’ respectively, used when continuity was separate in the two sections of the dual region, along with this one when it was common to both (split continuity sadly being short lived).

 

3. ANGLIA TELEVISION

 

Anglia clock

Now this contains everything I’d expect to see in a proper regional television station clock, especially one covering a relatively rural area; the company name in a font hinting at something slightly ‘olde-worlde’, a symbol representing something associated with the region (although the connection of a knight on horse back with a region that once extended from Essex to Lincolnshire and inland to Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire eludes me) and a timepiece looking like the hands have been stolen from the clock on the wall of your old school classroom (the black and white version actually had THAT clock poked through a hole in the same card!).

Add to this the fact that its appearance on screen was often heralded with a ‘sting’ from the company’s ‘Handel’s Water Music’ ident (though not the ident itself) and you have something that’s somewhat archaic in its looks but perfectly able to convey the sheer excitement of television.

 

2. BBC-2

 

BBC-2 clock

I have to say, this was so close to coming in at number one.

I was five years old when BBC-2 arrived in our house only a few months after it had launched. The improved definition of the 625 line picture was excitement in itself but the first sighting of the station clock was seriously impressive, the roman numerals giving it a slightly high-brow air without actually making the casual viewer feel excluded. Quite simply it was saying “We’re different!”.

BBC-2 presentation graphics were quite clever in the station’s early years; the small rectangular box panel on the left would be constant while a holding card announcing the next programme (or a forthcoming one) would occupy the larger area to the right. This practice continued through the first two years of the colour era, the box on the left simply being replaced by the large ‘2’ logo with the word COLOUR underneath. During this period the clock could be seen employed during trade tests where it would appear with suitably amended graphics counting down to the day’s service and transmitter information for the television trade, often set against different coloured backgrounds.

As with all roman numeral clocks, one can forever ponder as to why the number four appears as IIII rather than IV…

 

So, in at Number One….

 

1. ASSOCIATED-REDIFFUSION

 

Mitch

Admit it, you’d have really loved this on your mantlepiece. I always liked to imagine A-R’s chief announcer Redvers Kyle taking this off the shelf and winding it up before the start of the day’s programmes. It wasn’t the first clock used by the company, its short lived predecessor looked something like the type of instrument used to set the timer on a cooker of that period, very much in keeping with the period but it was unbranded, not really setting the tone for a company that referred to itself as “The BBC with adverts”.

I’m assuming that this one (known internally as “Mitch” after A-R’s first chief announcer Leslie Mitchell) came about in an effort to reassure the naysayers fearing their perceived tackiness and lack of credibility of the new commercial television service. Around this time BBC Television would briefly show the corporation’s coat of arms during start-up. Being a federal system of independent companies the ITA service didn’t have such a thing, so I guess that someone at Associated-Rediffusion came up with this, the next best thing, their own coat of arms (of sorts), a symbol indicating that the new television service was in the hands of gentlemen, there really was nothing to fear.

Mitch does everything that a good television station clock should do and does so in abundance. It informs, it brands, it reassures, it impresses, it’s aesthetically pleasing and at start-up it raises the adrenaline levels to number eleven.

 

Hang on, I think I can hear Redvers coming to wind it up for today’s programmes…

 


 

★ Clocks recreated by Dave Jeffery, with the exception of Southern. More of Dave’s clockwork can be found live on Andrew Wiseman’s 625 Television RoomBBC clocks and ITV clocks.

 

You Say

4 responses to this article

Ray Wilson 7 July 2023 at 2:05 pm

What a great well written and interesting article
Thanks…

Stephen 7 July 2023 at 8:23 pm

I’d after to agree the A-R one looks good, the TVS one, very colourful, but the YTV gold clock just looks a clock that’s been on the wall of a Smoke Room for too long, nicotine stained! lol

YTV had a better variety of clock styles probably after the liquid gold period early/mid 90s.

I like this one recreated on the Andrew Wiseman TV Room: https://625.uk.com/tv_logos/svg/lwt_clock_78.asp
It’s an LWT clock that almost looks digital for the time, as there’s no judder from the second hand at all really. I was really surprised to learn that just stuck this one on the ceiling and pointed the camera upwards!

Paul Wheeler 8 July 2023 at 10:25 am

As soon as I saw this article, even before I scrolled to the end, I just knew the Associated Rediffusion clock was going to be number one (well, it couldn’t be anything else really, could it?

By a happy coincidence, Kaleidoscope’s offering today includes the first (bank wall type) Thames clock, with a clip from 1974, featuring only the second clip I have seen of aussie Guy Blackmore, complete with trademark bow tie, which he often wore, even on day shifts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQipa3wE6xU

John Leslie 9 July 2023 at 5:54 pm

I really love things like this! Idents of all broadcasters and seeing everybody’s clocks! Vintage gold television!!

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