You may never intend to procrastinate. But if like me, the urge strikes you as naturally as does swimming to a fish, a two second dopamine hit can often become ‘Wonder of the Day’ in less time it takes to you to think: ‘Fuck it. It’s still early, I can spare a minute or two..’
Today that ten hour time thief is the BBC Motion Graphics Archive at Ravensbourne University. An archive of BBC program titles and idents that stretches all the way back to the iron age. What started as a momentary flick’n’click though it’s pages turned into a one way ticket aboard the nostalgia express.
Which for a bone idle bastard is the equivalent of taking the Inverness to Penzance train. A journey of some 20 hours and 20 minutes apparently. Although roughly about five pages of old TV titles in I realised that this wasn’t really a train journey but more of a Merry-Go-Round. Alexei’s Sayle’s to be precise.
Titles! Thousands of Them!
Here’s the compulsive thing about the archive: It is a huge jumble of all the shows which had brilliant titles. Shows you might only barely remember but which had title sequences that were frequently more engaging than the content. Which for the period was really the whole point of title sequences. To get you excited that the next show might just exorcise the tedium of pre-internet life for thirty minutes.
Now in the age of slashed production budgets show titles are often cobbled together post production after-thoughts. But in years gone by titles were frequently so dynamically creative in their execution, and so symbolically evocative that you felt almost honor bound to spend at least the next twenty minutes ‘waiting for the good bit’. Whilst you were actually watching a treatise on Edward Said or Mark Urban banging about politics.
It was a brilliant bit of bait and switch and I’m sure I wasn’t the only bitter eleven year old turned into an unwilling pseud by a clever bit of puppetry or animation. Take for example Ralph Steadman’s 31 seconds of blood-spattered nightmare for ‘Leviathan’, a satirical history show (with Mark Bloody Urban, of course).
Even no-budget shows you have never heard of had beautifully surreal title sequences, Many of which stand alone as great tidbits of visual art. To choose one at random: ‘Archer’s Goon’ I have no recollection of whatsoever. Turns out it’s a science fiction show from 1993 aimed at kids.
There are also loads of titles that are seemingly so totally unrelated to the show’s premise that it becomes a fun guessing game. See if can you figure out what this show is about?
If you thought Post-Apocalyptic Romance you’d be a half right. Just kidding it’s a hospital comedy.
The Missing & The Idents
There are some glaring omissions however. ‘Further Abroad With Jonathan Meades’ is not there, Nor is BBC One’s ‘On The Record’ which had the houses of Parliament turn into a evil looking crocodile marauding over a map of the British Isles. The actual political discussion program bored me to tears but I’d watch the hell out of the title sequence.
I also searched in vain to find the original ‘Alexei Sayle’s Stuff’ title with Steamboat Fatty and the kids in the bald caps swearing in the theme song. However the archive does make a great jumping off point for shows you can’t quite remember and then look for elsewhere
It also allows you to compare idents throughout the decades, and see how far we’ve
fallen come! A great example of this is the animated bat-wing logo from 1953 at the head of this article. Sure it looks like the crypto-fascist logo from an Alan Moore graphic novel but compare it the BBC One ident from 2018 below. I don’t know about you but I find the 2018 version way more dystopian. Something about the out-of-focus people, all of them with their phones out, gathered before a massive star topped tree while the slogan ‘One-Ness’ morphs into BBC One logo. It’s schmaltzy, pandering and sinister all at once. Give me the bat-wings and shifting eye circles any day.
Or how about BBC Scotland? Years ago we had ‘Around Scotland’, where the letters all flew about above a puddle of water like you’d collapsed in the gutter and were too pissed to catch them. When they finally resolved the O in Scotland was a big flaming ‘O’ ring. If you’ve ever been for a big messy night out in Glasgow it all makes perfect sense. What do we have now? A wee crystal jobbie laid out like a fucking dog’s egg onto some wet cobbles.
My favorite part of the archive though, is that finally I can see the full ‘Arena’ titles. Including the one with the Spitting Image animal puppets aboard Noah’s Ark, which is even darker than I remembered and makes the lame Spitting Image reboot look like Gordon the Fucking Gopher.