The best of the iconic 2 ident set (1991-2001)

Hello folks. Recently I have found myself thinking again and again about the Martin Lambie-Nairn idents made for BBC2 in the nineties...


I really can't think of a TV continuity package as admired as these. They set an incredibly high bar for what idents could accomplish, they're credited with the revival of their parent channel's fortunes, and they're memorable (and remembered) enough that they actually got brought back for a second go over fifteen years later. Now there's impact for you.

Nowadays, should you google the phrase "bbc2 idents", these ones will automatically come up as the first result, with a link to their Wikipedia page, despite the fact there have been three new packages introduced since.

I think there are many reasons why these idents are thought of so fondly. First there's the sheer variety, even from launch (which only intensified as the set grew); the distinctive colour palette; the gorgeous music; it all came together splendidly. I think the height of the set came with the 1997 rebrand which added one more special wrinkle: the very clean BBC TWO logo, which would, brilliantly, fade into the ident rather than simply appear with it. The timing of this fade adds an extra element of pleasure, especially when co-ordinated with the music and visuals (see 'Optics' and 'Duck' especially for this effect).

But then there's also the added layer of what these idents represent for the channel. 'Paint', the first-show and most-remembered, provided a visual translation of the idents' effect on the channel: shaking up a grey "dull and worthy" (Lambie-Nairn) public conception with a striking splash of colour and vividity. It's especially impressive once you note how it's all done with practical effects (though later idents would go on to use CG).

So, reflecting on this wonderful presentation package (and all of its instalments and refreshes), I thought it would be interesting to ask: which particular idents from the package do you think represent its finest?

I think the fluffy 'Dog' ident is particularly charming and while future idents would diverge more from the colour scheme introduced in 1991, it strikes a balance of visual appeal, experimentation and cohesion with the existing set, pushing boundaries into being more 'fun' and 'silly' while still cohering nicely with the existing group and allowing it to evolve. It's nice to see the idents spread their wings over time and become more experimental; it's a shame the unaired 'Warp' ident was never broadcast, but of the 2000 set I think 'Excalibur' and 'Wave Night' are utterly splendid. I've always got a kick out of some of the simpler ones too, the likes of 'Balloon' for its trilling music and 'Copper Sparks', which is just so soothing and cosy.
[-] The following 2 users Like Lipglossed's post:
  • AndrewP, UTVLifer

I don't think they really started to shine until the new additions in 92/93. Powder sticks out mainly for its incredible sound design, which is something I think gets a little neglected when talking about the package. Some of the soundtracks were truly magnificent, such as Silk and Optics. Fluffy/Dog is probably the most fondly remembered, in my opinion. Whenever I've spoken to "normies" about it, the first one they usually remember is that. Probably because they're rightly upset you couldn't ever buy one in shops.
[-] The following 3 users Like Larry the Loafer's post:
  • DE88, Lipglossed, UTVLifer

It would've been nice to be able to buy one, yes.

Agree that the package really came into its own with those additions, and would definitely mention Silk and Optics as among the best of the set. It's before my time but I like finding clips of them being used at closedown, a job they're very well suited for.

The sound design is really stunning. You got me to look up Powder again and I hadn't really noticed the sustained drone that continues after the 2 settles, very nice.
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  • DE88

On reflection, the 2000 set really were a brilliant refresh of the look, and really deserved to anchor the channel's continuity for longer than the initial one-year-stint they were granted. 'Excalibur' and 'Wave Night' really are incredibly special and striking, and worthy of being any channel's flagship pres, but so were the other idents: 'Catalyst' and 'Predator' and the day variant of 'Wave'.

'Woodpecker' is incredible because it was done using stop-motion animation; for all this time I'd thought it was computer-generated. And whereas I think 'Kebab' was one of the weaker of the group, it gets massive plaudits for having three different variants. The genius of watching an evening of comedy and seeing the kebab get more cooked in real time... just incredibly inventive TV continuity. All good things come to an end, but I think there's every piece of evidence in place to argue that Lambie-Nairn's ident set was evolving appealingly into a new century, and that the latest batch of idents represented a new peak.
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(07-06-2024, 02:53 AM)Lipglossed Wrote:  On reflection, the 2000 set really were a brilliant refresh of the look, and really deserved to anchor the channel's continuity for longer than the initial one-year-stint they were granted.
If you dig out one of Martin Lambie-Nairn's talks on the subject of the 2001 rebrand, the rationale for it was that the existing idents had gradually become out of step with the channel's programming, which at that time was attempting to skew younger.

The phrase he used was "idents set in arts-world suddenly didn't make sense". I never really understood this comment, as it seemed to totally disregard the evolution of the set across the decade. By 2000, only 4 of the original 1991 "arts-world" idents were still in use.

Perhaps a more likely explanation for the rebrand is that the channel controller appointed around that time simply wanted to make their mark.

I would agree the 2000 set was a brilliant update and the perfect balance of light and shade. I have no doubt had the 2001 rebrand not occured, the set could have continued evolving indefinitely.

The yellow 2s went all in on the cutesy, humourous side of the idents, hampered by an unnecessarily restrictive format.

The 2007 set then overcorrected for this. While technically well executed bits of film, they lacked the wit, energy and personality the channel's presentation had become known for.

The 2018 curves finally recaptured the winning formula, splendidly evoking the spirit and moods of the 1991-2001 idents in a modern way.
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  • AndrewP, DE88, Spencer, UTVLifer

The package was perfectly executed - a simple design for a channel logo and simple design elements and themes put with it. Just goes to show that live action or elaborate channel identities are not always needed or end up looking good on screen. Less is more and L-N's work was spot on for BBC TWO. The 'Curve' is a worthy set also, I'd say the 2nd best look BBC TWO has ever had. I'd even go as far to say that if the '2' made a comeback but with 100% new idents in the same vein/style as the 90's set (and maybe a small handful of modern remakes of the classics) I wouldn't be annoyed.

There's a lot of great ones and I feel like it'd be impossible for me to choose a favorite... so I'd just say I think the Wave ones are really underrated cause of that great soundtrack. Same for Balloon. I'm also a little surprised some of the special idents didn't get reused, like the Cinema, Mars, Wet & Windy, and even the Simpsons idents, I like those and feel like they're abstract enough to be used outside of a themed night.

Looking back on the re-use from 2014 - 2018, how Network/Wales/Scotland did it was really... confusing. The offset boxed logo was ugly, the presentation surrounding it was aging / using the differently shaped 2 from 2007, and the idents they chose to bring back / not bring back were odd. Like you brought back Paint Pot but not Paint? (and then you only brought back Paint for CBBC stuff?) The new stuff like the tennis, snooker, and darts idents just didn't fit in too, they felt like something from the Personality era (maybe it's because of how obviously CGI they all were). They turned an impressive ident package into one where you kinda feel bad for the network, as if they're trying to relive their glory days only to just stumble around.

I'm surprised Northern Ireland were allowed to just completely diverge from the ident package and do their own thing, and I desperately wish the other networks did too because they nailed it. At some point they were just showing off, by bringing back random obscure idents like the Cut-out and Cinema or the old Christmas ones, or doing the cool negative effect with the logo on Wave Day.

Either way I'm glad we've left that era entirely with the curves. Imagine all the retro-fitting they'd have to do to bring back the 1991 idents again with the Chameleon look. Eeesh.
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Don't think I need to say anymore.... 

Though it's probably more telling that they revived a good chunk of the 1991 idents about 15 years later for a 90s night, and then ended up retaining them.
[-] The following 1 user Likes Neil Jones's post:
  • UTVLifer

The soundtrack on all of the original 2 idents were superb, but Steam was the best

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It started off well, so can we try and keep some discussion going in this thread please, rather than just have a collection of links to YouTube videos? Smile

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