In the absence of a sudden last-minute panic-stricken realisation that we’ve neglected to afford adequate coverage to the BBC Pelican, this is more than likely the second-to-last instalment of The Great Big Gigantic Enormous Out On Blue Six All-Star Celebrity Tribute To The Visual Bafflement That You Used To See On The BBC Whenever There Weren’t Any All-Star Celebrity Tributes Or Indeed Any Other Programmes On, and while we haven’t exactly saved the best for second-to-last, we’ve certainly saved the most globe-st. Yes, it’s the life and times of that rotater-between-programmes extraordinaire, The BBC Globe…!
In earlier, less enlightened times, the BBC were clearly adherents to the ‘flat earth’ theorem, as this pre-Aristotelian woodcut ancestor of the Globe as we know it demonstrates. Its lone concession to modernity was that a child had been allowed to colour in two thirds of it with felt tips before getting bored; in all other respects, it serves merely as an affirmation of Huw Wheldon’s belief that if a ship sails past the horizon, it doth fall of the edge of Dixon Of Dock Green.
Hang on a minute… Parky? What’s he doing here?! Don’t start adjusting your set just yet – unfortunately, despite extensive research, it’s proved impossible to locate an image of the first three-dimensional globe from the early sixties at any size larger than ‘postage stamp’, so Mr. Parkinson has generously agreed to appear as an illustration in its place. Anyway, that’s the last we’ll be seeing of him.
In case you were wondering, that Parky-replaced BEATLE-anticipating globe involved an actual model of the Earth rotating against a background split diagonally between black and white halves, and although certain TV historians are doubtless already gearing up to describe this as either a searing indictment or shameful endorsement of Apartheid (nobody’s quite sure which), the Occam’s Globe-like truth of the matter is that it’s probably just what looked best on black and white televisions. Anyway, by 1964, it had changed again into this noticeably more Modernist design. And no, that isn’t some sort of cryptic graphical allusion to the fate of the ozone layer around the outside of the Globe. Stop looking for politics in everything. Especially in politics, boom boom (SATIRE).
1964 also saw the launch of BBC2, which presents something of a challenge to the thematic unity of this piece, as they were always just that little bit too arty and intellectual to get fully on board with populist ‘Globe’ nonsense. Instead, they started pretty much as they meant to go on, with this bus ticket-like stark mundanity becoming the first thing to be seen on the channel, immediately prior to a power cut putting paid to the planned opening night of quality broadcasting. BBC2 did of course resume the following morning with Play School. Or so the history books tell you… for the uncomfortable truth of what really did blare out of a nation’s television sets once the power kicked back in, see (or rather hear) our 1964 Podcast.
BBC1′s response to this unasked-for excursion into minimalism was to go in entirely the opposite direction and up the Globe ante with an even more prominent model planet, this time based around the ‘watch strap’ design as previously discussed in the piece on the BBC Clock (and no, we still haven’t thought up any decent Chocolate Watchband-related gags yet). And in fairness, it probably did look quite happening and with-it at the time. But then disaster struck…
Yes, by 1969 the watch strap had broken through overuse, and the BBC took it to ‘Watch Wizard’ in the local upmarket shopping arcade who told them that it would cost forty eight shillings and a million pence to replace and they wouldn’t be able to get one in for about eight months anyway, so instead they just had to resort to using the unadorned Globe on a plain black background, a bit like the sort of thing you used to see in the opening titles of particularly bombastic science documentary series. But call out the instigator, because there’s something in the air(waves)…
Colour came to BBC2 in 1967, and a further two fingers were proffered Globe-wards with the wilful implementation of a rotating Cube, with each side bearing a differently-coloured ’2′ and a never-explained dot in the middle (cue a million emails sternly stating that it was supposed to represent ‘chrominance’ or something). But this defiant act of convention-ridiculing anarchy would not go unregulated for long…
By the end of the decade, BBC2 had been prevailed upon to cease this outrageous display of unseemly garishness forthwith, and instead to adopt a more subtle and sophisticated colour scheme; namely – yes, you guessed it - Sam Tyler Blue. Which brings us neatly around to…
BBC1 finally got colour in November 1969, just as the ‘Swinging Sixties’ gave way to the ‘Something Seventies’ to the sound of Enoch Powell singing Time Flies By When You’re The Driver Of A Train at Altamont. This momentous occasion was marked by the deployment of the most technologically ambitious Globe yet, namely a revolving mechanical model set against a distorted mirrored backdrop (which caused it to bear an uncanny resemblance to Al Jardine from The Beach Boys’ head) and given a subtle electronic splash of Sam Tyler Blue. More importantly still, it was the Globe that was always used for spoof continuity announcements in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In other words – definitive.
Not to be outdone, BBC2 prompty weighed in with their own marvellous mechanical inter-programme-thingy, wherein a stack of twenty three vari-shaded discs whizzed around to form a great big ’2′. Legend has it that after the contraption was retired from active programme-linking service, a former Director General used to lug it around the streets giving shoppers impromptu displays of a real live BBC2 ’2′ in action for small change. Or something along those lines anyway. CITATION NEEDED, probably.
In 1974, BBC1 gave the globe the subtlest makeover yet by simply changing the colours they electronically added to the existing model, and whacking a great big ‘BBC1′ underneath, which loses points by no longer being in the same typeface as the closing caption of Mr. Benn. Incidentally, the Globe and indeed many other continuity devices were brought to you courtesy of NOD-D, an electronically-controlled Nexus Orthicon Display Device camera system which moved between the models and cards in a big wall-mounted grid and could remember up to some electronically generated colour schemes. It also caused elephants to have big ears by not paying the ransom.
At this point it was all starting to become a bit like the arms race (or, if you will, the space race, or even when the record companies started doing all that ‘CD1 of a 2CD set’ nonsense in the early nineties), and 1979 saw BBC2 laughing in their parent channel’s face by dispensing with any need for models with electronically generated colour schemes and making the whole thing electronically generated from the outset. Yes, this is where it all started, and it’s thanks to the digital watch-evoking, Not The Nine O’Clock News-introducing ‘stripy 2′ that you’re able to read Cutlery & Pasties on your WAP-enabled hoverboard today.
As we have seen many times during this series of articles, 1985 was the year when pan-global and indeed pan-Global harmony was finally achieved in continuity-land, chiming neatly with Glasnost and Perestroika, with the arrival of the fully digital Computer Originated World system – or, if you will, COW. This clever bit of software informed pretty much all of the BBC’s inter-show ‘look’ for the rest of the eighties and beyond, and despite the tendency of pioneering technology to date badly still looks pretty good today. And given how ahead of the game and sideways-thinking BBC2 had always been, we can only speculate on just how staggering the results would be when they finally got their hands on a computerised setup…
Oh fuck off.
Well, that’s basically that as far as the Globe goes, but join us again next time for the final instalment, when we’ll be looking at some of the weirdest ways of plugging programmes ever. Quite possibly incorporating no Michael Parkinson whatsoever.