Channel 4 Ident, 1982

Exhibit / May 8, 2017

Object Name: Channel 4 Ident
Maker and Year: Martin Lambie-Nairn, 1982
Object Type: Television ident
Video Source: kaly13/YouTube
Description (Richard McKenna):

By the early 1980s, the creation of a fourth British television channel had become a moot issue. In 1955, the license-fee-funded BBC1 had been joined by the commercial Independent Television network (ITV), legally identified as Channel 3, and in 1964, these two were joined by BBC2, the first European television channel to broadcast regularly in color (as well as the first British channel to adopt a computer-generated ident) with a remit to provide the arts- and culture-oriented programming its older sibling lacked.

Talk of a fourth channel that would put independent television on an equal footing with the BBC went back decades, but with the Conservative Party victory at the 1979 general election, the Labour-backed proposal for an Open Broadcasting Authority was shelved. In the following year, the 1980 Broadcasting Act was passed in Parliament. In addition to granting the government powers to take control of the BBC during a national emergency, it gave the Independent Broadcasting Authority the power to provide a second television station.

Initially conceived of as a publicly-owned broadcaster funded by advertising, this fourth channel would be the BBC2 counterpart to ITV. The initial remit of the new channel—which would be called Channel 4—was to “appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by ITV.” Independent of both ITV and the BBC, it would combine a vocation for public service with a commercial approach and provide diverse, educational, innovative, high-quality programming. It also adopted a policy of commissioning almost all its output from small, independent production companies, a tactic that would revolutionize the British television landscape. Furthermore, the channel would serve the growing demand for a dedicated Welsh-language service, an issue so deeply felt that, in 1980, Gwynfor Evans, leader of social-democratic Welsh independence party Plaid Cymru, went on hunger strike to force the government’s hand in the matter. In Wales, the Channel 4 frequency would broadcast Sianel Pedwar Cymru—Channel Four Wales.

The channel’s ident logo was created by Martin Lambie-Nairn, who took inspiration from the station’s approach of combining independently commissioned programs. The result was a visual representation of what he called “a patchwork of disparate elements coming together to form a whole”: an animated sequence in which nine brightly-colored blocks would break up and reform into a figure four in a variety of ways. As it proved impossible to find adequate facilities in the UK, Lambie-Nairn gave the job to Bo Gehring Aviation, a computer animation studio in Los Angeles that had previously provided vector graphics for the 1977 film Demon Seed.

Contrasting with the worthy, restrained tones of the other UK idents of the day, such as the BBC’s spinning globe and ITV franchisee Anglia’s revolving silver knight, the glossy confidence and freshness of the Channel 4 ident proved instantly memorable. The animation sequence was accompanied by a four-note signature tune called “Fourscore” composed by David Dundas—full title Lord David Paul Nicholas Dundas—whose 1976 single “Jeans On,” originally written as an advertising jingle for Brutus Jeans, had been a hit in the UK and the US. “Fourscore” was also released as a vinyl single credited to “The Airwave Orchestra.”

Broadcasts of the ETP-1 test card began during the summer of 1982, and Channel 4 officially launched at 4:45 pm on November 2 of the same year. The schedule for its first afternoon’s broadcasting left no doubts as to the approach to programming it would subsequently adopt, which aimed to reflect the new social and cultural realities of a changing country. Programs on that first day included the word quiz Countdown; Channel Four News (“Thatcher plans her biggest-ever public spending squeeze” was the headline story); the first episode of innovative kitchen-sink soap Brookside; Walter, a feature film about an adult man with a learning disability starring Ian McKellen (the first film commissioned by the newly created Channel Four Films production company); Australian comedy import The Paul Hogan Show; and feminist cabaret group The Raving Beauties’ celebration of women’s lives, In the Pink. The channel closed down for the night at 11:50 p.m.

In the decade after it began broadcasting, Channel 4 proved to be hugely influential: Brookside breathed new life into the neo-realist intent that had originally driven British soap operas like Coronation Street (and featured a rare acting appearance from Morrissey in one of its spin-offs, 1988’s South). The Max Headroom Show took a dystopian pop-Situationist approach to presenting the new artform of music videos, which were also the subject of The Chart Show, the first serious challenger of Top of the Pops. Another music program, The Tube, featured live performances from many of the bands who would go on to dominate the decade’s mainstream and alternative music scenes. Other notable productions included the influential but short-lived horror series Death Rattles; Michael Medved’s The Worst of Hollywood, which, notwithstanding its disdainful affectations, allowed a generation of Brits to finally see films like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster; and reruns of old favorites that created new fans of series like The Munsters. The sitcom No Problem!, created by the Black Theatre Co-operative and directed by Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees, was the first comedy program to be specifically aimed at Britain’s black community. At the same time, Channel Four Films, which specialized in period drama and gritty realism, produced some of the best-received British films of the decade, including work by Stephen Frears (including the aforementioned Walter), Peter Greenaway, Mike Leigh, Jerzy Skolimowski, Derek Jarman, Wim Wenders, Alan Clarke, John Boorman, the Taviani brothers, John Huston, and Neil Jordan.

The controversial, inclusive nature of some of the channel’s programming earned it the enmity of conservatives and sections of the reactionary tabloid press, who dubbed it “Channel Bore” or “Channel Snore”—or, in reference to its penchant for adult language, “Channel Swore.” In 1986, the channel briefly used a red triangle symbol to warn viewers that the content being shown—often foreign art films with classified ratings—contained sexual or otherwise potentially offensive or shocking material, but the initiative was dropped after it was discovered that campaigning by lobbies and pressure groups was attracting an even larger audience.

With some minor tweaking, the Channel 4 logo remained in use until October 1996.

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