The Seventy Eighth Annual Academy Salute To Eighty Seven Million Years Of The BBC Part 10: Continuity Slides

Yes, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for, especially if you’ve absolutely no interest in base sarcasm with occasional factual accuracy about old-skool BBC presentation techniques but have still read eight lengthy posts about it anyway – the final part of our Rifle Through The BBC’s Big Bin Where They Threw All The Old Test Cards And Things Like That Once They’d Stopped Using Them. And that final bit of old-skool presentation? Why, it’s ‘continuity slides’ – in other words, those captions with a show title and accompanying photo that they used to flash up while telling you what was on and when. Nowadays just about the only place you’ll see them is in extras on ‘classic’ Doctor Who DVDs, and even then they’re hidden extras half the time anyway, but some of them were gloriously bonkers and deserve another outing. And how many of the initially-thought-of list of examples do you think we actually managed to find? Clue: it’s not many…

In most of the other instalments, we’ve generally seen things start to get graphically more interesting (and indeed graphically more interesting) some time around 1966. Continuity slides, however, were still languishing in the doldrums of ‘get a sensible-looking publicity still and slap the show’s name on it’ even in the early seventies, as you can see from the Cambridgian post-satire double-bill above. Possibly this was some sort of quasi-magnanimous gesture related to the slow regional roll-out of colour broadcasting, as though they didn’t want those who still got a black and white signal to feel like they were missing out on the ‘fun’ (though if it was then clearly nobody was brave enough to tell ‘Girl’ and ‘Clown’ to fall into line), but it doesn’t really do us much good in terms of this here humorous overview, and worse still it means we are denied the opportunity to chortle at ludicrous-looking slides for R.3. Anyway, the times they were indeed a-changing, just a little bit later than they did for everything else on the BBC.

Once a bit of colour and flair finally did come along, standard practice for BBC1 in those post-Psychedelic days was to get a recognisable bit of iconography from the show – such as the grinning visage of lumbering detective Cannon – and spread it out across the slide in an Andy Warhol-aping arrangement of alternating hues. The existence of such slides, incidentally, made it all the more hilarious when a similar Tardis-shading gambit turned up on a Doctor Who DVD a couple of years back, and know-all fans fell over themselves in their haste to publically cry ‘FAKE!!’. Meanwhile, BBC2 had their arty and intellectual reputation to think of, and so avoided such excursions into colour-crazy hoo-hah in favour of more straightforward imagery, such as this abstract rendition of a bloke looking through a security door for a showing of George A. Romero’s big screen bio-terrorism fable The Crazies.

Indeed, BBC2 were noticeably keen to avoid doing anything so lowbrow as actually featuring a proper image from the programme itself, preferring instead to employ the services of somewhat more vague and generic iconography. Take the above slides, the first promoting literary discussion show The Book Programme, with this week’s lineup of Tommy Vance, Louis Barfe, a generic second division Britpop guitarist, Mr Davenport from Rentaghost, Nick Griffin and Russ Abbot’s C.U. Jimmy, and the second pushing weekly Jimmy Smith-heralded economic affairs hoedown The Money Programme, marking out its heavyweight status with the cunning use of exotic ‘foreign’ currency.

Sometimes, you do have to wonder exactly who these slides were aimed at. Take BBC1′s push for the 1978 Miss World contest – an event that was already on the ropes thanks to years of feminists protesting by punching that Christmas Tree Delegate out of Doctor Who And The Mission To The Unknown and shouting “I will personally spit in every fiftieth burger” at Alan Driscoll Lead Singer Of Techno Band thewomb, and frankly needed all the help it could get – which basically involved a group of artistically-rendered ‘lovelies’ of the sort that were only ever found attractive by blokes with moustaches in early seventies sitcoms who said “WOOOOARGH, EH?” a lot. Meanwhile, BBC2 clearly believed that the correct way to entice viewers towards straight-faced current affairs analysis was with a big picture of Denis Healy.

Continuity slides often had to be assembled at very short notice, especially if they were for BBC1 and even more especially if they were related to the moveable ‘feast’ that was live sports coverage. Consequently, as we’ll be seeing quite a few times in the upcoming examples, there was rarely ever enough time to make sure that the assembled image actually made any visual or indeed conceptual sense. Still, it’s handy to have such an of-its-time reminder of the 1978 World Cup, a tournament famous for the short-lived rule that all players had to use a giant ball while performing the Snoopy dance.

If you had a little more time to devote to slide-construction, the results were often markedly superior. Take for example these two Christmas-themed efforts from the late seventies, where somebody’s taken the time and trouble to do a proper and proportionally correct photographic montage. On the left we have Larry Grayson, about to get his arm trapped in the door he was always exhorting all and sundry to ‘shut’, and on the right the ascendent phenomenon of Dallas, with the cast handily positioned in front of the Stars and Stripes so you knew it was ‘American’.

And of course – as you should know already – nowhere was time, money and effort in shorter supply than in the allegorically underfunded world of BBC Schools And Colleges, where the already cheap continuity slide layout was made to look cheaper still through the continual use of the most battered, badly cropped, poorly focused and logically taxing photos that were lying nearest to hand, regardless of whether they actually hailed from the programme in question or not. This photo of Peter Combe and That Annoying Trilly Woman from Music Time, for example, has clearly been trodden on a couple of times. And why are they so keen to avoid the child on the far right of the photo? And this wasn’t even the one we wanted to use…

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 that generic BBC Schools slide with two cartoon birds in hats, or the one for BBC Schools show W.A.L.R.U.S. with a load of teens with seventies haircuts seemingly cut out of a larger photo with blunt scissors, or the Camberwick Green one with the puppets looming menacingly towards the screen, or the extreme close-up of The McWomble, or that poorly-cropped one of Roobarb in a pirate’s hat, or indeed most of the ones that were originally shortlisted when this piece was in the planning stages, 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.

Happily, something from that initial list that did turn up was a couple of examples of the short-lived rebranding of the lunchtime slot formerly known as Watch With Mother as ‘See Saw’, invariably bookended (though sadly never literally bookended by Professor Yaffle) by a slide featuring two characters from that day’s show – usually visibly cut out of an old tie-in storybook, which amusingly resulted in Gabriel The Toad from Bagpuss being featured still in his tin - balancing precariously on the world’s most geometrically improbable see-saw; unless, of course, there was no available visual reference material for the show in question – as with Chock-A-Block, Bric-A-Brac, Stop! Go! and, well, any of the ones with punctuation in the title really – when they would just use a close-up of the empty see-saw instead. It’s a shame they didn’t extend this to the rest of their output, thereby denying us the chance to see a see-saw mounted Craven and Darius Jedburgh introducing Edge Of Darkness.

Anyway, back to the often perplexing choice of slide-mounted imagery, and while we’ve said plenty about how ridiculous the ‘non-canon’ choices could sometimes be, that doesn’t mean to say that ‘on-topic’ choices were neccessarily any better. Reluctantly sidestepping the overarching question of why anyone would need to be reminded when the News is on anyway, using a still of that animated paper lantern from the News-y opening titles du jour was an utterly ridiculous and self-defeating idea, as any casual and inattentive viewer (which, let’s face it, anyone watching at midday in the days before the arrival of an actual daytime service would have been) would see it from the corner of their eye and mistakenly assume it was the actual opening titles. You didn’t get that with your two cartoon birds in hats.

So, it’s time we had a TV Burp-style face-off to decide which was the best out of the precision-targeted and woefully-vague image choice gambits, and it’s going to take place on the hallowed turf of school holidays morning schedules. In the blue corner we have improving arts and crafts education-through-the-back-door long-runner Why Don’t You…?, represented by that smartarse telly from the Janis Joplin-soundalike-era opening titles (though it wasn’t quite ‘smart’ enough to realise that it was technically actually urging viewers to switch it off and not bother watching it again… stitch that, you smug 625-Line pillock), and in the red corner, strategem-meets-surrealism daily piece-move-chronicle Play Chess, a peculiar mix of child genii, computer graphics, and confusing comic tales about The One They Called… The Bishop, signified by some, well, chess pieces. Hmmm, we’re not really anywhere nearer a resolution, are we? Oh well, Round 2…

So let’s try again… taking up the bat this time is Ron Pickering-compered school sports day writ large We Are The Champions, signposted with the Children’s BBC ‘balloon’ variant (as covered in more detail here) and some indefinably gleaming gold thingy that is presumably made up of a gaggle of overexposed trophies, and BBC2 bowling with a what-it-says-on-the-tin counterpart for the quite possibly misleadingly exciting-sounding Whicker! And… no. Still no firm conclusion. In summary then, they’re both as ‘tops’ as anything!

For no reason other than that they were both inexplicably amusing, here’s a brace of mid-eighties BBC1 comedy continuity slides. First up, The Best Of Three Of A Kind (which really must have been a short show), with a picture that in no way illustrates the alleged animosity between certain cast members nor indeed the other one attempting to cling to the coat-tails, or if you will vest-top straps (CALM DOWN WHEDON), of a slightly more Hollywood-bound colleague. This is followed – probably quite literally followed in the schedules too – by legendary culture clash-fixated urban unrest-com The Front Line, with Alan Igbon and Paul Barber poised to demonstrate the theme song’s claim that Malcolm and Sheldon do indeed fight like ‘cat’ and ‘dog’. And guess which one of them’s out on DVD…?

We’re now heading towards the timeframe in which this long-serving continuity slide layout was starting to look a little tired, as exemplified by this ludicrously outmoded bit of Eurovision-pluggage, featuring a pretty nondescript drawing of what appears to be Neil Innes’ ‘French Crooner’ character with his features shunted haphazardly around his face a la Mr. Robinson The Window Cleaner from Trumpton. And this was 1984 – they’d invented the Sinclair QL by then!!

Similar ‘could try harder’ comments could not unreasonably be scrawled in the margin of this generic ‘late film’ gambit. The tinting is presumably there to misleadingly suggest to feverish adolescents that the film they’re about to sneakily watch will be both ‘red hot’ and ‘blue’, as opposed to the reality that it was probably just The Spy With My Face yet again, which is fair enough as far as it goes but y’know… they were competing with Video Nasties here!

And to put the top hat on it (in fact, a slide for Top Hat or indeed The Top Hat Rabbits would have worked just as well here), here’s a tired old slide layout with tired old photos of the tired old adventures of a tedious dog, and a show that, while pretty good, was still being transmitted from tired old prints with whopping great subversion-removing Boss Cat-style jump cuts in them. Ring out the old, ring in the new…

And what exactly are camp daytime chefs (“I’ll just get the sage” – “oh well, you’d know all about that!!”) Hudson & Halls toasting in this brand new colourful arrangement for the brand new colourful BBC Daytime service…?

Only the arrival of the new COW-based computerised graphical design setup, that’s what! And here it is in action, proving that with a swish enough system, even dull ‘zoo vet’-based drama One By One could be made to look, well, still a bit dull and ‘zoo vet’-based really, but you get the general idea. And with the advent of this exciting new technology, and how much visual flair we’ve already credited BBC2 with, and indeed the rapidly approaching end of this series of features, you can bet they’ll have used the new system to do something really spectacular.

Oh fuck off.

Ah, the pity of it, time, our old enemy, comes round again. Bish and trivvock, this is the final part of the final edition of, if you will, our little jaunt, as ever a jaunt as was. Yes, sadly, this is the conclusion of That BBC Continuity Through The Ages Thing That There Never Did Quite Seem To Be A Suitable Title For, though in pleasingly true BBC continuity voiceover fashion, it’ll be back for a special outing later in the year. And there’ll be a new and equally ridiculous series starting here on very soon too. So, in conclusion, thank you for reading, and please be upstanding for our national anthem…

…and now, please be seated again, as it’s time for the first part in our brand new series, The Changing Face Of Michael Parkinson:

Hang on a minute… Bagpuss? What’s he doing here?!…