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BBC Schools Continuity from the 60s to the late 80s

The BBC began broadcasting to schools by radio in 1924. The Beveridge Report says that in 1951 the Corporation were planning a pilot for television; this pilot took place in 1952. Apparently, the national economic situation of the time delayed progress, but three years later planning began for regular broadcasts.

Regular schools broadcasts on television began in the Autumn of 1957 after two years of training and planning. It's thought that these broadcasts were in the afternoons only.

BBC-tv began broadcasting schools programmes in the mornings on 19th September 1960.

These images and videos cover the BBC's Schools' Programmes continuity from the 60s until BBC2 took them over to allow for BBC1's new daytime schedule.

I don't know the year of any of these images and videos precisely - if you can date them, add more information, or put them in the right chronological order (although I think they're right), then please let me know.

Click on the images to view the associated MPEG video, if available.

BBC Schools ident from an EMI leaflet

What about this, then? The caption reads "BBC Television For Schools."

This is cropped from a larger image which has a calendar in it. Unfortunately the photo is too small to make any detail out; the scan is at a high enough resolution but it's very indistinct in the original photo.

I suspect that it may well precede the pie chart, which seems to be confirmed below.

The photo from an EMI leaflet promoting their television sets.

Does anyone know when this was or what that big splodge is on the left? Or can you date the television set?

7th April 2005

Ben Clarke, who supplied the photo, says: "All I've got on that one is that the library card catalogue dates it to circa 1961, so the caption [..] must be from the very early days of Schools Television (I'm pretty certain it is from post-1957 broadcast schools TV rather than the 1952 experiment, because they didn't have sets that big available in 1952 & generally used two screens for a whole class to watch; or so I've read)."


Paul Sawtell sent in this excerpt from the BBCtv logs from Tuesday 23rd January 1962:

Tuning caption and trade tape music 9*

10.04.00 - 10.05.00
Schools opening film

Music for schools - television opening sequence (Dr. R. Fiske) played by musicians through Jack Simmons** recorded onto tape CDLO 64764


* = the number 9 would be the trade test tape coded number
**= Jack Simmonds would be the contractor through whom the musicians playing on the session would have been booked.

Dave Jeffery's evidence (based on information from a researcher at BBC Online) indicates that the 'Schools Opening Film' described above was the Pie Chart. This supports Chris Bowden-Smith's suggestion that it was introduced in 1960.

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No image for this information - help!

BBC Schools caption from an edition of Education

7th April 2005

This image is from an article in an issue of Education (16th February 1968).

It's difficult to see, but I think it says "BBC tv SCHOOLS" (in the sloped boxes). Underneath it says "MAKING MUSIC follows at 11.35"

Thanks to Ben Clarke for the image!

Ben checked the broadcast times for Making Music and its 60s showings were:

Summer 63: Tue 11:35, rpt Thu 09:40
Summer 64: Tue 11:35, rpt Thu 09:40
Summer 65: Mon 10:00, rpt Wed 09:35
Summer 66: Mon 10:00, rpt Wed 09:38
1966-1967: Wed 09:38, rpt Fri 14:05
1967-1968: Tue 11:40, rpt Fri 14:05

He says, "The above is based on me spending a few minutes scanning through Radio Timeses, so is extremely prone to omissions or general carelessness. But my conclusion would be that the photo was taken one Tuesday morning during the summer term of either 1963 or 1964."

Here's a rare glimpse of a BBC Schools interval caption from the 8th May 1972 [Paul L. Arnold].

Paul Sawtell writes about morning start-ups:"As far as I am aware once the BBC decided to begin their trade test transmissions at 0900 which would be sometime in October 1965, the opening sequence for Schools broadcasts was always the same, i.e. the test card would go off at five and a half minutes before programme start, with 30" of black raster [a blank, black screen], caption/announcement [similar to the one pictured left], then some music to run up to the zero minus 2' sequence which is when you would have had the pie chart etc.

"No doubt before the 0900 start was introduced, if schools programmes were scheduled to begin before the official start time (i.e. 1000) then there would have been an opening sequence similar to that used prior to the test card being shown. That would indeed have included sawtooth, day/night captions grey scale and tone [more about this over on HTW]. I doubt if this would have happened in the 1970s however as the 0900 start was firmly established then. The five and a half minute sequence I described earlier would have been used."

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V8 - 1.39Mb

This was followed by the Pie Chart, pictured here.

The Pie Chart's segments, early on (around 1964), used to disappear in the space of a minute, to be followed by a single-fingered clock that ticked for another minute (pictured below). Paul Sawtell says that the 1964 version was accompanied by a woodwind/cello piece which was "taken from BBC library LP 29772 and is untitled save for the information: SCHOOLS TV - OPENING MUSIC composed by Lionel Salter (BBC MS) - that means the composition is unpublished and exists only in original manuscript form." This is the tune that Paul refers to. As an aside, Salter was Head of music at BBC-tv when he wrote this piece. [Dave Jeffery]

The accompanying music for this clip is called Guadalajara, composed by Leonard Salzedo. [Simon McLean] Salzedo also wrote the Open University jingle, which is an excerpt from a longer piece.

Shift-clicking on this picture will download an MPEG (2.8Mb) of a similar sequence: interval caption, Pie Chart (in this example the segments don't disappear), clock and the opening titles to a programme called Maths Today. This is dated as 8th May, 1972 [Paul L. Arnold].

Arthur Vasey recalls: "I also remember the BBC Schools startup sequence of the early 70s. It was [..] a pie chart - but eight-year-old Arthur Vasey (plus assorted other eight-and-nine-year-olds) referred to it as a beach ball. [..] The BBC announcer would come on and say "Merry-Go-Round follows in two minutes" [..]. The pie chart would be shown for one minute, followed by a clock with a second hand for the second minute. At the end of this, the announcer would say "This is BBC 1" [..] and the programme would start."

The MPEG has been digitally enhanced from the tape copy.

As the MPEG is so large, a smaller Realvideo 8 version is available, which is still quite hefty at 1.39Mb. The quality isn't as good as the MPEG though! Want to find out more about MPEG encoding?

MPEG available.


If you thought there was something odd about this schools' clock, it's because it unusually doesn't have any branding on it, eg BBC-1.

If you know of a copy of the full startup which has the pie-chart preceded by a gradient test pattern and tone on tape or film please let us know - no known copies survive.

You can download a copy of the 2-minute piece of music that was played whilst the Pie Chart was running here.

There's more on the Pie Chart at the Historical Television Website.

Robert Richland says, "As I recall, the 60-second "rim" countdown wasn't introduced until around the mid-1960s. Before then, the SCHOOLS tuning signal was shown (with the then familiar classical piece) right up until the start of the programme."

After the introduction of colour, Chris Bowden-Smith writes,"The formal part of the countdown was cut from 2 minutes to one, the programme slide was over the first minute.

"For the second minute, there was a colour version of the single armed countdown clock, rotating through one minute while [music] played.

"It started in January 1970 and lasted about 2 years."

On the other hand, Paul Sawtell writes: "despite the colour service being introduced on BBC1 in November 1969, as long as the pie chart was in use (up to '73) [..] there was not a colour replacement [..] until the introduction of the diamonds."

Can anyone add anything to this?

Although many new programmes were made in colour, schools programmes were repeated year-on-year as there was no education need to update them. Hence the majority of schools programmes were in monochrome to start with, with colour programmes increasing in number with time.

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Pie Chart MPEG, 1972 (3.19 Mb)

This Pie Chart sequence has been positively dated to late November/first week in December 1972, proving that the Pie Chart was in use until at least then. The original video tape's format was black and white.

The announcer informs teachers of programmes being shown in the schools slot that were made for older audiences, but that have enough educational value to be broadcast for use in schools.

There is also a rare BBC1 clock.

The announcer then talks over Guadalajara to make another announcement - something not done in later years. Announcements for teachers in the late 70s/80s were made after the Dots.

The announcer is Roger Maude, a stalwart of the 70s and 80s. Paul Durston says that Roger "retired from BBC TV as a continuity announcer in 1999. He went on to read the News on BBC World Service radio until 2002." [Thanks also to Simon Luxton and others].

A fantastic find, this, by Rupert Booth - big up and thanks, Rupert!

When he discovered the sequence he found that recording was damaged, but as Rupert works in the media industry he was able to recover it to a much improved state as shown in this MPEG.

MPEG available (3.19Mb).

Think back - it's the mid-70s, it's a weekday, it's five to eleven and you've got the flu. You're lying in bed, and there's nothing on but schools programmes. There's a really dull programme on ITV about evolution, so you switch to BBC-2....

MPEG available.

BBC-2 Clock
Early Schools Diamond

Having guessed the correct day during the title sequence of Play School, (it's Tuesday) you switch to BBC-1. The famous schools diamond appears...

The Schools Diamond was apparently introduced in September 1974, although Gene Robertson recalls that it was in January of that year.

Robert Richland remembers: "I first witnessed the diamonds on November 16th 1973 (a Friday) when I was off school for a day or so.

"At the start of that term the pie chart was still being used, but, as I recall correctly, not to the accompaniment of Guadlajara, but of the secondary school "zero minus 2" normally associated with the diamonds!

"So the diamonds music came earlier than the diamonds image!

"My educated guess is the diamonds debuted around half-term, late October or early November 1973."

The debate rages on!

It's a wonderful mechanical model - find out how it worked.

I'm told that this music was played before secondary school programmes.

MPEG available.

Having dozed off during a fascinating programme about castles you awaken to find that you've moved on a couple of years, to the late seventies!

The clock's gone blue and yellow...

MPEG available.

Follows Shortly...

Later Schools Diamond

...just like the Schools Diamond. 

Colour is now taken for granted (as it is not mentioned on the symbol).  Apparently this music was played before primary school programmes.

MPEG available (shift-click the picture).

We also have an almost complete Diamond movie (3.3Mb). Sadly it keeps flicking into monochrome.

A most remarkable find here: thanks to the efforts of Thomas King we have a full BBC1 Schools Diamond!

I've digitally processed it a bit to minimise the chroma displacement in VHS, eliminate some speckles and homogenise the colour. Lovely quality!

It's a hefty download at 5.0 Mb, but well worth it for 2'37" and a full link.

MPEG available.

[Thanks to Thomas King for the video]

Here's a strange one - this was broadcast as a static slide with the secondary music.

I do have the video for this but the tape is badly damaged and isn't worth showing here. This is one of the few good frames from the sequence.

Notice the extra diamond - there are four levels on the 'onion skin' instead of three on the animated model. Looks like the designer of the slide was going from memory when they created this!

Question is, why would they have shown this? Had the model broken down perhaps?

It's also odd that the BBC1 text is the double-line version that was introduced in the early 80s. The mechanical Diamond model was only ever shown with the Futura typeface.

The double-line text was in use, however, in the 70s for programme slides.

Does anyone know any more?

[Thanks to Thomas King for the image]

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Before the discovery of the full Diamond sequence above, there was no known complete Diamond sequence, so I set about creating one from two fragments.

One fragment was in monochrome, so the other had to be monochromised too to match. Once joined and edited to the right length, colour was added (in the best BBC tradition!) electronically.

Then the two music fragments had to be adjusted to match in tone and volume, and reattached to the video to create the diamond you see here!

Interesting to note the announcer talking over the static Diamond before it's done anything - this is probably because the NOD-D (the camera in presentation that swivelled to point at the various mechanical models) wouldn't have enough time to switch from a clock (say) to the Diamond.

MPEG available (5.09Mb)

Bloody hell! It's Science Topics!

MPEG available.

Science Topics
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This is an example on an interval slide, over which was played music until it was time for...

(You can click on the picture to see more slides)

...the BBC Schools Dots! The Diamond has gone!

The central legend "Schools and Colleges" rotated at first. By this I mean that the letters were cut-out of the blue background, and yellow copies of those letter rotated underneath.

Don't try and work that out, just watch a bit of it in the accompanying MPEG.

Did the rotating centre break, or was it purposely stopped?

MPEG available.

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Here's a brief snippet of the dots, with a tune that particularly sticks in my mind.

Simon McLean says: "This is 'Let the Sunshine In', also from 'Hair', and I believe these two tunes are part of a 'Hair Medley' that was used quite a lot. Apparently there was an Abba medley as well."

MPEG available.

There was indeed an Abba medley - I vaguely remember one, but Nicholas Willmott has more information: "Of the many tunes that were played, I remember the following four ABBA tunes: Mamma Mia, The Winner Takes It Alll, Money Money Money [and] S.O.S.

"Note that they were instrumentals. They did not have ABBA singing on them."

Nicholas also wanted to point out that "on BBC1 a tune could span the changeover from Interval Slide to Countdown Clock, thus the changeover could occur mid-way through a particular tune. This was totally unlike ITV, where there was a series of pieces of music for the interval slide, the last of which would stop at its end point before the transition to countdown clock. A separate 60-second piece would then play for the duration of the [ITV] countdown."

We now have a copy of some of the medley - a hefty 6.86Mb, but it is very long, at almost six minutes!

There is a chunk missing out of the middle, but the two bits have been edited together - so you'll hear what sounds like a really poor edit, but it's the best that could be done under the circumstances!

6th April 2005

Alternatively, John Hawksley (an orchestral arranger) has re-created the whole thing. It's hefty at 9Mb, but well worth listening to. The MP3 is stored on John's website.

There's a generous helping of the clock, a 'follows shortly' slide, the dots and the titles some Merry-Go-Round titles. And the presenter saying, "Hello."

MPEG available (6.86Mb)

Abba Medley (6.89Mb)

Here's an MPEG video of a complete junction between two schools programmes.

It starts with a mechanical clock and announcement, a 'follows shortly' slide, the Dots (of course) and the titles to Music Time.

It's included here to give you an idea of how the continuity went from the credits of the programme just finished to the start of the next.

The music is an arrangement of George Gershwin's Let's Call the Whole Thing Off.

MPEG available (3.91Mb).

Whilst in the late 70s here's another interval track - this time a disco remix of the Star Wars theme. Listen out for the farty analogue synth sounds, proving that farty synths were around well before Flat Eric and the Levi's ad!

The music is faded too early on this, leaving quite a bit of quiet air.

Anyone have the full version of this music?

MPEG available (2.73Mb)

Star Wars Interval  Track

Schools Dots (3.89Mb)

This is a replacement for the old MPEG that was here, with a more complete rendition of "Bart."

It begins with a 'follows shortly' slide, then cracks on with the dots in full, and as a bonus continues with the titles to Maths Topics.

MPEG available (shift-click the picture - 3.89Mb).

The old MPEG is still available.

Whilst on the theme of unusual interval tracks, here's a rare recording of such a beast with vocals.

As I recall there were a few of these - I seem to remember one being the Bee Gees' Stayin' Allive. Nicholas Willmott adds that The Monkees' Daydream Believer and The Bee Gees' Night Fever were also used.

This one, however, is Cat Stevens' (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard.

MPEG available (2.33Mb)

Dots - Old Schoolyard

Here's a curiosity - when certain events took place (the opening of parliament, a royal wedding and such like), schools programmes were shifted onto BBC2.

This is from a Super 8 home cine film transferred to VHS.

The inner text ('SCHOOLS and COLLEGES') is bigger than in the other examples on this page, particularly the 'and.' Compare it with the one above.

Is this a second mechanical model? Or is it an early version?

Notice how the '2' is squarer than the one used in the 80s.

Nicholas Willmott says that "[Prior to] September 1983, schools programmes were occasionally shown on BBC2. For example, the day of the State Opening Of Parliament in 1979 (a Tuesday Summer Term 1979), they were shown on BBC2 that one morning. Here the Dots Countdown Clock was shown with the 'ribbon'=2= beneath it (just like the mechanical 'polo mint centred' clock of the time). Unfortunately, for some strange reason, the dots failed to disappear during the one-minute countdown on the one programme I saw at school that day, 'Watch'."

Mark Boulton suggests that this "would have been a static slide - which is why the scale of the dots and lettering is different. This is how I remember it."

Another contributor adds, "As I understand things, the Noddy machine was controlled by the announcer and located reasonably close to him... so it would have been difficult to say the least to channel the output of the BBC1 Noddy over to the BBC2 suite. These models were fairly time consuming to make, so I can't imagine
the powers that be putting time, cash and effort into making a BBC2 version of the countdown clock for very occasional use."

[Thanks to Simon Luxton for this image]

To round off the 70s, here's a clip of the end of the schools day on BBC1. It begins with the mechanical clock, then an announcement and finally Test Card F.

MPEG available (4.43Mb)

Schools Into Testcard

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The typeface used for the text 'BBC1' changed in the early 80s, and the schools clock followed suit.

The mechanical dots were replaced with computer generated ones towards the end of BBC1's provision of schools programmes.  

I'm sure, though, (and Dave Jeffery confirms) that the typeface used here for the legend "Schools and Colleges" in the centre of the clock was also used on a late version of the mechanical Dots Clock.

The 'BBC1' legend has changed to fit in with BBC2's early 80s stripy =2=.  The dots don't spin away into non-existence any more - they fade to black.

MPEG available.

  Schools CGFX Dots

Here's another example of schools programmes temporarily moving to BBC2 from BBC1.

This from Summer 1983, just before schools programmes moved permanently to BBC2.

The =2= is most likely an opacity (ie. printed onto card) and superimposed over the BBC1 logo that would usually be present. It's not even in the middle!

On the original video the clock starts off by saying BBC1, then someone remembers what channel they're going out on and switches in the BBC2 logo!

[Thanks to Simon Luxton for this image]

In 1983, BBC1 launched a new daytime service. To make way for this, schools programmes were moved to BBC2, beginning September 1983.

This is the special ident used to present the programmes.

To replace the dots, a small digital countdown timer used to be shown in the corner of the screen - an example of this is coming soon.

Does anyone have any "once-in-a-while" examples of the Dots Countdown Clock appearing on BBC2 instead of BBC1?

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The 'follows shortly' slides survived, though. You can see more slides by clicking on the picture (takes you to the same slides page as linked above).

When the gap between programmes was long, BBC2 used to show Test Card F, as BBC1 did before it.

Later on though, BBC2 used to show pages from Ceefax's Daytime on 2 section instead.

MPEG available.

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After this period, when BBC2 changed its ident to the stencilled "TWO" on a white background, BBC2 didn't make any particular effort to differentiate its schools presentation from that of its other output. Sadly, then, this is where our voyage through BBC schools continuity comes to an end.

We also have some MP3s of BBC Schools Interlude music.

On to ITV For Schools and Colleges
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