The Seventy Second Annual Academy Salute To Sixty Five Million Years Of The BBC Part 7: The Clock

We’re getting towards the end of the Big Huge Massive Jamboree Festival Bonanza Of All Things BBC That Weren’t Actual BBC Programmes But Weren’t Programmes Made By Other People Either You Know That Stuff That Used To Be On Between The Programmes But Wasn’t ‘Filler’ Films Like Gerald Of The Welsh Either Oh I Give Up now, but there’s still just enough time – boom boom - to afford some long overdue appreciation to one of the great stalwarts of our modern broadcasting age – the BBC Clock. Through changing times, changing technology and changing fashions, it’s always been there on cue, telling the time, steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly, telling the time for That Episode Of Alexei Sayle’s Stuff That You Set The Video To Record But Then Some Live Sport Overran So You’ve Got Eight Minutes Of Victorian Kitchen Garden Instead. But it didn’t always look how you remember it…

One of the earliest BBC Clocks to still exist in recorded form is this strange Dracula-evoking variation on the standard BBC insignia of the day, which ostensibly had something to do with broadcasting and airwaves but instead seemed to simultaneously predict the rise of Ziggy Stardust, Darth Vader’s Own Personal Tie-Fighter, and those cheapo knock-off Batman t-shirts that everyone bought in the summer of 1989 in anticipation of Tim Burton’s film where the logo fell off the first time you washed them. Anyway, it looked suitably spooky when introducing The Quatermass Experiment, and that’s what really counts.

This more streamlined late fifites effort was, apparently, pitched somewhere between a proto-Mod t-shirt design and one of those dials from a car dashboard where nobody can figure out what it actually does. It looks as though this particular one is gearing up for an episode of Watch With Mother, though it was doubtless of much greater use to teenagers wanting to know what time The Six-Five Special was on. We’re hep to the jive here, daddio!

By the early sixties, the Clock had evolved into something closely resembling - gasp! – a pop record, fashioned to resemble the latest hit parade-bound waxing by Ian And The Zodiacs for the benefit of all those beat-crazy teens who spent their every waking hour stamping their feet shouting ‘We want to be… Smi-iths Crisps’ and scoffing Walkers Bitza Pizza whilst scrawling BEATLES on photos of a man from Wigan. What’s more, this particular one came accompanied by some clodhopping chronographic musique concrete by The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, later turned in to a hit beat disc of its own through the timely intervention of none other than George Martin. Sadly, however, the Clock failed to evolve with musical fashions, meaning we were denied a subsequent incarnation in a haphazard fractal colour scheme accompanied by the latest freakout from The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association.

Indeed, to the delight of Dominic Sandbrooks everywhere, the late sixties saw the BBC disprove the myth of the prevailing countercultural shifts of the day by opting to head straight for squaresville, simply plonking a scaled-down clock in the middle of – ho ho ho – a shaded strap that looked very very slightly like a watchband. It’s so straight-laced, in fact, that it’s not even proving possible to shoehorn in a joke about unhinged late sixties sitar-wielders Chocolate Watchband (and that’s possibly a first for this blog). Still, this did serve as the clock of choice for all those episodes of Doctor Who where somebody saw fit to preserve the continuity beforehand but not the actual episode itself, and so we salute it in honour of our Delegate pals.

Colour came to the BBC in 1970 (oh pipe down Asa Briggs), and what better way to herald this revolution in home entertainment technology than by rearranging all of the continuity in a muted colour scheme based around what has come to be known as Sam Tyler Blue. Admittedly that’s a pretty snazzy redesigned Clock but, y’know… pizzazz, people!

Mind you, BBC2, on the other hand… they do all that arty stuff with Soft Machine and James Burke and them two blokes who argued about that tree, they’re bound to do something a bit more eyecatching, aren’t they? Guess again…

Needless to say, The Open University was having none of this, and forcibly retained its own colour scheme whilst barging onto the Clock much as it has barged its way into this post, and who are we to start arguing with it?

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 any late seventies BBC Clocks that look different enough to the early seventies BBC Clocks to warrant another paragraph on them, as it was really just a case of slapping on the new typeface and colour scheme and it’d probably all end up just looking a bit boring (not to mention reading a bit boring, given that we can’t even come up with any halfway decent jokes about Chocolate Watchband), 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, the arrival of Michael Grade-instigated computer generated continuity hoo-hah in 1985 finally gives us a completely overhauled Clock, which retained all the vital visual elements of the classic design only with a fully up-to-the-minute feel. You know, given how good this is, BBC2′s was probably really something to write home about…

Oh fuck off.

…and on that note, that’s about it as far as the evolution of the BBC Clock is concerned, but join us again next time for that near-neighbour of our favourite broadcast timepiece, The Revolving Head Of Al Jardine From The Beach Boys!