We are about to entertain you 

10 May 2024 tbs.pm/81649


Idents, station clocks, holding cards, in-vision continuity … if you’re reading this it’s likely you will find something of interest in any of those elements of TV presentation, possibly even a little glow of excitement. For many of us, the real jewel in the crown is the station start-up, a daily ritual (sometimes up to three times a day) where the company or corporation that was about to entertain you with their wares would spend a few minutes going through some technicalities and legal bits in order to establish their presence. This was all long before 24 hour TV was even thought of.

For old dears like myself it’s a little inconceivable that anyone reading this who is under forty will have never seen a daily start-up routine on a UK network TV station. Of course, many of them are available to hear or view online but they can never quite match the original sense of anticipation when, appearing after a few minutes of blank screen, your TV service comes to life with a sequence of graphics and a ’station theme’.

Much has been written in these pages about the visual and technical aspects of the start-ups and while we will dip into that, it is the significance of the music chosen by the various broadcasters as they opened for business each day that we will explore. The initial purpose of these signature themes was to engage the viewer’s attention as they settled in for an evening’s entertainment. This was important at the time as many would be switching on their sets at the start of another evening of broadcasting. Both the BBC and ITV originally commenced their evening programmes at 7pm after the one-hour closedown for the “Toddlers Truce” and test card at 6pm.


'Picasso' tuning signal


As one might expect, the practice of playing a regular piece of music before the start of programmes didn’t come with television. There may be some readers who will remember the daily orchestral strains of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ opening the BBC Light Programme on radio during the fifties. The practice continued in the BBC Television Service with a slightly somnambulistic arrangement of traditional folk songs. This was based around ‘Early One Morning’, played over a graphic known as a tuning signal, a kind of user friendly test card. At just over four minutes the music was considered to give ample time for viewers to adjust the controls of their sets, as the valves and various other pieces of circuitry “warmed up”. Using the tuning signal to adjust the picture shape and size along with brightness and contrast was a daily need on older television sets.

Typically the music was gentle and reassuring, it didn’t set out to establish any corporate identity as such, it didn’t really have to. This was the BBC after all, solid and dependable, respectful and respectable, for many they were still the only option available.

The coming of (London only) ITV in 1955 would see the purpose and style of the daily start-up routine develop beyond simply being something to accompany a tuning signal, though not immediately. It’s well documented that Associated-Rediffusion (A-R), the first company to come on air on 22nd September, saw themselves as “the BBC with adverts”. Being aware of the trepidation and even hostility that existed among certain influential circles, A-R seemed to be playing it safe at all levels, especially in its continuity and presentation, which came across as paternal and reassuring. This seems to have been reflected in the company’s start-up music where two pieces would initially play up to the start of programmes. As with the BBC the first image on-screen would be a tuning signal over which played a traditional piece ‘The British Grenadiers’. An orchestral arrangement of a military march could have been regarded as a sign of dependability, a suggestion that despite all that had been speculated about the coming of commercial television to these shores, the viewer really had nothing to fear in the ill-perceived “vulgarity” that was surely to follow.

What did appear was a short fanfare accompanying the animated ‘form-up’ on film of the station symbol or company trade mark, and a ritual known as the “Authority Announcement” (of which more later). The whole affair was concluded with an excerpt from Elgar’s ‘Cockaigne (In London Town)’, again another safe and familiar piece of music and one that at least paid some acknowledgement to the region being served but it said very little about the company serving it, something that they would put straight in no uncertain terms just under nine years later.

Two days later and the approach was very different as London’s weekend company ATV (branded as the Associated Broadcasting Company for its first few weeks) announced its arrival. ATV’s founders were rooted in theatre land for as such it was very much a “song and dance” company. Rather than take the safe and familiar route the company chose to commission their own piece of music to start each broadcasting session, as composed by Eric Coates. ‘Sound And Vision’ was a rousing piece which clearly set out to say something about the company that was about to entertain its weekend audience. It also employed a clever little trick (one which would find its way into several subsequent start-up pieces) in that it interacted with the on-screen graphics. Whereas A-R had initially used two separate pieces over the tuning signal and its ident form-up respectively, ATV chose to play one piece over both. For this to work effectively the music would build to a crescendo, allowing the tuning signal to fade from the screen and the animated company symbol to form up. This was followed by three single notes in sync with the letters A-T-V appearing on screen, allowing the piece to play out via a slow verse to a rousing finale. The company used the same music and the same routine with the graphics when they started their weekday service in the Midlands in the February of the following year; wherever you were watching it the ATV start-up music made certain that you really couldn’t afford to take your eyes off the screen.

Next to come on air was ABC with their weekend service in the Midlands (and the pan Northern weekend contract three months later) setting yet another pattern that later companies would follow. Like early Associated-Rediffusion they used two pieces of music, the first something tuneful but reassuring to play over the tuning signal. In their early years ABC dabbled with a couple of lightweight pieces for this purpose before settling on ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, a wonderful in-house composition that would see them through their entire franchise period and beyond.

Their second piece however followed ATV’s example of interacting with the on-screen graphics while at the same time telling you a lot about the company, a piece that could have easily heralded a cinema newsreel and one which superbly reflected ABC’s roots in cinemas and film production by The Associated British Picture Corporation.

Despite being franchised to serve three different regions the first three companies on air were presenting themselves as national broadcasters, which was fair enough, being that they were also charged with providing the bulk of programming across what would become a network covering most of the United Kingdom. The fourth company would take the style and purpose of start-up music one step further.

From May 1956 and for the next twelve years the ‘Granada March’ said just as much about the region being served as the company that was about to serve it. Like the others, Granada was charged with providing programmes across the network; unlike the others it was keen to establish itself as a provincial company with a distinctive attitude. Along with its on-screen static ident ‘FROM THE NORTH – GRANADA’ (a graphic that to this day remains a tad serious) the ‘Granada March’ set itself out with a bold statement; “We’re northern and we’re different!”.

Between them, the first four companies had developed a set of four different start-up templates:

1. Tuneful and reassuring (A-R, ABC, Granada).
2. The use of two separate pieces over the tuning signal and station ident form-up respectively (initial A-R, ABC).
3. A statement about the company (ABC, ATV, Granada).
4. Something to reflect the region being served (Granada).

The fourth template was keenly taken up by the companies serving the nations. Billy Connolly once joked about how traditional Scottish music could induce homesickness among Scotsmen despite them not having left their home turf; if that’s true then there’s plenty in STV’s ‘Scotlandia’ start-up to do just that, being a soothing orchestral medley of nearly every traditional Scottish song you’ve ever heard of, while Grampian’s earliest pieces (‘Lochlaggan’ and ‘Hebridean Hoedown’) leave you in no doubt as to the region being served, likewise those used by Ulster Television (‘Shamus’ and ‘The Antrim Road’). Serving the West of England as well as South Wales meant that TWW had to stick with a traditional march, it was not until they took over the running of Teledu Cymru from the failed Wales West and North company in 1964 could they really get into the national spirit with ‘Men Of Harlech & God Bless the Prince of Wales’ (medley) opening the day’s transmissions on its now separate Welsh service.

Among the English regions following this pattern Tyne Tees Television scored a hit with Arthur Wilkinson’s ‘Three Rivers Fantasy’, a stirring medley quoting several North-Eastern folk songs to entertain those viewers keenly anticipating the start of that day’s programmes. Further down the coast Anglia Television had cleverly chosen two pieces of music that perfectly fitted their agenda. Ralph Vaughn Williams’ ‘Sea Songs’ and ‘Hornpipe’ from Handel’s ‘Water Music’ didn’t actually have any connection with the East of England, but coupled together as the station’s start-up sequence they certainly gave the impression of belonging there.

It was at the opposite end of the nation where this genre was honed to perfection. Having spent its black and white years starting its broadcasting day to the wonderful strains of ‘Westward Ho!’ (the first four notes of which would be used in its first station ident) Westward Television decorated its colour start-up with ‘An English Overture, aka A Westward Overture’; every traditional west country folk song that you ever sang in school is here, sometimes in brief snatches but present enough to trigger romantic images of the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, imagined or otherwise. I’ve often cited this one as a major influence for BBC Radio 4’s much lamented ‘UK Theme’.

The general nature of start-up music was to play it safe, take a neutral middle ground so as not to alienate viewers waiting patiently for their televisual entertainment to commence. As can be gathered ‘Marches’ were the order of the day among many of the early companies on the scene, indeed they were taken up by two of the new companies joining the line up in 1968 (‘Yorkshire March’ for Yorkshire Television and ‘Young Kingdom’ for Harlech). Elsewhere the style would be “Light Orchestral” and often something slightly above “Middle Of The Road”; anything bordering on Classical ran the risk of appearing too highbrow, while anything seen to be “modern” would suggest a severe lack of gravitas in that station’s output, although in 1968 one company were keen to give that one a try and actually get away with it.

London Weekend Television had promised to bring a slightly more highbrow approach to ITV and in doing so were hoping to attract a younger adult audience, parents in their ‘twenties and ‘thirties for whom the vaudeville approach to television entertainment lacked appeal. It could almost have been regarded as a “Beatnik” in the ITV network (it certainly seemed to be regarded as such by the other companies) and as such its start-up piece ‘A Well Swung Fanfare’ perfectly summed up LWT’s (short lived) company mission. A lightweight and upbeat jazz piece such as this would never have been considered suitable in the ‘fifties, but of course ITV’s regulator, the Independent Television Authority had been sufficiently wowed by the company’s promise to upgrade ITV at weekends, that maybe it was felt that on this occasion the rules could be overlooked.

Maybe ATV Midlands also thought the rules could waived in their favour when, for a brief spell in the mid ‘seventies they ditched the instrumental approach. ‘Odyssey’, sung by Stephanie de Sykes and Rain would play along with a sequence of birds-eye views of Midland locations and landmarks. Viewers seemed to like it but the Independent Broadcasting Authority were not pleased, being quick to point out that a vocal track was in breach of the regulator’s daily start-up guidelines. One would have assumed that ATV would have been well aware of this, but at least it didn’t stop them from trying.


ATV Midlands tele-snap


Every piece of start-up music had to meet the approval of the Independent Television Authority (ITA, becoming the Independent Broadcasting Authority – IBA – from 1972) for there were a few Post Office rules relating to transmitter identification that had to be adhered to, GPO rules refined by the ITA that no one could actually explain, but rules that had to be stuck to nonetheless. They had to keep to a running time of between three and five minutes, especially as the tuning signal with the ITA/IBA logo had to be visible on-screen for a minimum of three minutes and fifteen seconds before the programme contractor could visually introduce itself; secondly, there had to be provision for the compulsory ‘Authority announcement’, a verbal acknowledgement of the handover of the transmitter(s) to the contractor who would be providing the day’s programmes. It had to include the name of the company and a mention of the Authority’s ownership of the transmitting station(s). Other information such as channel numbers and the region served were optional, a typical full-blown example being that from Anglia (“This is Anglia Television, broadcasting to the East of England on channels 6, 7 and 11 from the Sandy Heath, Belmont and Mendlesham transmitters of the Independent Television Authority”). We forget what a novelty television was in those days, seemingly requiring formality and guidelines for everything. It was the spirit of the age.


Granada ident forming up tele-snap


Many companies chose keep the announcement separate from their start-up music, either preceding the piece or at the end; those companies using two pieces (ABC/Thames, Anglia, Border and Channel) took advantage by placing the announcement between them. Granada, being different as always, unceremoniously faded their ‘Granada March’ to complete silence at the halfway point for the announcement before fading back in almost as abruptly, sounding like an act of indifference to the ITA for insisting that their specially commissioned music should have been made to accomodate such a triviality.

Some, however, managed to fit the announcement into an appropriate point in the music as ably demonstrated by Southern, where after thirty-five seconds the main theme of Richard Addinsell’s ‘Southern Rhapsody’ yields to a lush string interlude, giving Brian Nissen ample time to announce “This is Southern Independent Television transmitting on the Chillerton Down and Dover stations of the Independent Television Authority” without pausing for breath. The composition also allowed for a resolve of the main theme to allow the company to introduce itself properly where, in in the last forty seconds a brief film compilation of various south of England locations would give way to the station ident form-up and a declaration ‘The Station That Serves The South!”. Across the region from Dorset to Kent there would be children rushing home from school to turn on the telly in time to enjoy this little treat; I know, I was one. The real beauty of this piece is that three minutes and forty one seconds of it was played over a static tuning signal, but despite that it has the hallmarks of something that could have been just at home as the opening titles to a film or even as an overture to a stage production; but then, of course, in many ways that’s exactly what it was, commissioned from a famous composer of the time. Another company would take this format to perfection in the mid-sixties.

Associated-Rediffusion had almost perfected the art in 1957 with its ‘Associated-Rediffusion March’, where a short fanfare prelude came to a halt to accommodate the Authority announcement, after which the main theme would continue, the final sixty seconds playing to the station ident form-up and climaxing to the A-R clock (‘Mitch’ for those who know). It really was most impressive; it was also the author’s first childhood experience of a start-up, enough to leave an impression big enough for him to write about them sixty years later! However, as the nineteen-fifties gave way to the ‘sixties it rapidly began to sound very dated. Upon the company’s modernist re-brand in 1964, composer Johnny Dankworth gifted the new REDIFFUSION London with a piece of music that would be regarded by many as the finest piece of start-up music in the history of ITV.

This one, titled ‘The Widespread World of Rediffusion’ really did tick all the boxes. Like its predecessor there was a short prelude leading up to a ‘gap’ for the authority announcement. Unlike its predecessor the music didn’t actually stop at this point, instead it was put on hold by a single low note, the music actually holding its breath just long enough for chief announcer Redvers Kyle to address London and the Home Counties: “THIS IS REDIFFUSION, BROADCASTING ON THE LONDON STATION OF THE INDEPENDENT TELEVISION AUTHORITY” (he actually said it in capitals), after which the main theme kicked firmly into top gear. Basically it was another march but one with a corporate theme and a very memorable one at that, for with the re-brand came a new station ident, a brilliant seven note “sting” that formed the main theme of the piece, thus giving ‘Widespread World …’ further life beyond start-up, throughout the day’s transmission. The theme was briefly interrupted by its ‘middle-eight’, a smooth string verse after which, at precisely three minutes into the piece a superbly rousing crescendo brings us back to the main theme allowing the station ident to form up in a climactic curtain raising style.


Rediffusion London tele-snap


This was a start-up you could hum along to, one that said “Relax, we are about to entertain you” and memorable to the point that when there were any “Marching” games in our school playground, this was frequently the tune that was being chanted. I’ve read somewhere that it even made a ‘blip’ on the daily viewer ratings in London. It’s therefore not surprising that when many from the presentation and continuity department moved up to Leeds upon Rediffusion’s demise in the 1968 franchise changes, they took the idea of ‘Widespread World…’ with them, its legacy would live on at Yorkshire Television where composer Ron Goodwin provided a not too dissimilar piece. Based loosely around the traditional folk song ‘On Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ Goodwin’s composition ‘Yorkshire March’ did everything that ‘Widespread World…’ did and with pretty much the same dramatic effect (short prelude, pause for Authority announcement, crescendo up to station ident form-up) but with a certain flair of ‘633 Squadron’ about it.

The pattern of start-up music remained fairly settled during ITV’s second franchise period from 1968. ABC’s ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ had come down to London with them as they became the controlling ‘parent’ in the new Thames Television, where it was paired with Johnny Hawksworth’s impressive ‘Salute To Thames’. Elsewhere there were new pieces bought in by a few of the companies but nothing really drastic. As the next franchise period approached in 1982 programmes at breakfast time were clearly on the horizon, becoming a reality on 1st February 1983. The IBA had appointed a new company TV-am to provide a national service between 6am and (initially) 9.15am, totally independent from the regional companies who would usually come on air themselves at 9.30 for that morning’s programmes for schools and colleges. The fifteen minutes gap allowed for the transfer of the national network of transmitters from TV-am over to the fourteen operational regional companies, a complex B.T. manual switching process which had to be completed by 9.25 to allow each company time for a full start-up.

After a couple of months this process was speeded up with automatic switching, TV-am could now hand over directly to the regional network rendering contractor start-ups surplus to requirements. The new practice would be to play the company idents and go straight into a regional news summary. For a while though Anglia were having none of this; as soon as TV-am’s ‘Egg Cup’ endcap had faded from the screen it was replaced with the ANGLIA/IBA slide taking us into its regular start-up routine, albeit with a slightly shortened version of ‘Sea Songs’. By and large though, the days of individual local start-up music had passed into history. TV-am’s opening piece, an extended version of the signature music for their flagship programme ‘Good Morning Britain’ would effectively act as the start-up music for the whole ITV network until the evolution of night-time television in the late nineteen-eighties.

With several new contractors starting on January 1st 1982, the music used by Central and TSW were both impressive but they were more in character of the music used by various Independent Local Radio companies as their station ‘themes’. Not so in the south though, where TVS knew that in the viewers eyes at least, they had a tough act to follow and that maybe, just maybe they’d recognised how much ‘Southern Rhapsody’ had been held in high esteem, it would need something just as significant to replace it.

Richard Hill’s ‘TVS Morning Overture’ aka ‘New Forest Rondo’ did the job perfectly, containing all of the elements of traditional start-up compositions, a soft orchestral build up allowing for the Authority Announcement, a main theme based around the company ident ‘sting’, a soft reflective interlude half way through leading to a slow crescendo as the TVS/IBA slide (now doubling as a programme menu, a new habit) was gently cross-faded to the station clock. This really was an ITV start-up “just like mother used to make”, a truly superb piece of music that can honestly claim to be the last of its kind. Sadly, with the aforementioned extension to TV-am’s broadcasting hours it would have a shelf life just short of eighteen months.

Elsewhere there was very little in the way of corporate branding requiring specially commissioned music at start-up. Having been supplied with a wonderful set of guitar based pieces by Freddie Phillips for regular start-ups in the ‘sixties (‘Solid Steel Ticker’ and ‘Blu Part Invention’ are real gems in their own right) BBCtv eventually settled on various pieces of library music played over a programme menu or a holding card, such as “Jackanory follows shortly”. BBC CYMRU/WALES were keen to settle on regular pieces supplied by the Radiophonic Workshop (their version of the Welsh folk song ‘Dacw ‘Nghariad’ is just sublime). Eventually sometime in the ‘eighties even that practice was discontinued, test card sessions had been replaced largely by ‘Pages From Ceefax’, itself billed as a programme. Therefore there was no need for any start-up protocol as such, whatever followed was simply the next programme.

Even Channel Four, despite having the most wonderful David Dundas composition ‘Fourscore’ at its disposal at launch, later opted for two minutes of library music over a programme menu. By the time Channel Five had arrived we were well into the world of twenty-four hour television and cable/satellite broadcasters, those who weren’t broadcasting all day simply coming straight on-air and into their first programme.

In reality the requirement for specially commissioned pieces to start the day’s programmes had ceased around the mid-eighties and even then it would have been based on tradition rather than practicality. Individual station idents had become elaborate to the point where they could do the job just as well, while broadcasters could newly see little point in burning up between three and five minutes precious airtime for a piece of music when it could be used for advertising or a regional news update, the latter being just as significant in terms of branding for the ITV companies.


Wales 'Picasso' tuning signal tele-snap


Be in no doubt though that the daily start-up routines didn’t go unnoticed by the casual viewer. For many of us they were the clarion call that our viewing sessions were about to start and as such these regular pieces of music became firm favourites in their respective regions. Many would even go as far as complaining when the music was changed, the brief flirtation with ‘Pizzicato Rockalong’ in place of ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ by Thames to launch their colour service in 1969 springs to mind here.

Ask anyone over fifty to hum/whistle an ITV station ident, it’s a given that they’ll remember at least one. Hum their local ITV start-up music to them and it’s more than likely that fond memories of switching on the tv ready for children’s programmes in the afternoons or Saturday mornings will come flooding back.

I believe that’s called good branding.


Geoff Nash is a staff editor at Transdiffusion


You Say

4 responses to this article

David Heathcote 10 May 2024 at 10:17 pm

Nice piece, Geoff. Bravo, and thank you.

Eddie Hutchinson 10 May 2024 at 11:15 pm

As mentioned elsewhere on this bespoke website, and also seen on YouTube, for a short while in 1969 London Weekend started the day with Henry Mancini’s “Overture from Tommy”, usually on Sundays as “A Well Swung Fanfare” was probably seen as a bit too upbeat before the first programme of the day, a morning service.

Pete Singleton 11 May 2024 at 12:41 am

A wonderful piece by Geoff! How the music and memories flood back to a time when everything seemed less rushed, less frenetic and gentler (I know, rose-coloured spectacles and all that!) But I do miss start-ups terribly. They were akin to eagerly waiting for the film to start in the cinema!

Steven Oliver 11 May 2024 at 6:52 am

I can still remember the exact words of the announcement that Border used until the late-1980s, voiced by the late Allan Cartner.

“This is Border Television, broadcasting to Cumbria, south Scotland, the Isle of Man and north and west Northumberland, from the Caldbeck, Selkirk and associated transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.”

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