Little animated cygnets

They’ve gone. Remember those cute animated 2s that used to breeze across the TV screen before you watched a BBC2 programme?

The familiar 2s have been replaced by a wash of colourful curves that look a bit like a 2 but aren’t. According to the controller of the channel, Patrick Holland, the new curves represent the “constantly eclectic and stimulating mix of programming” on BBC2 and will help define the channel in the exciting more-channels-than-we-have-had-before age.

Does a channel’s identity, or its ident, matter? After all, in this smorgasbord world of Netflix, iPlayer, and taping programmes to watch later (even though actual tape is no longer involved, we can still call it that and skip the adverts), does which channel a programme is on affect our desire to watch it?

Since it first arrived on 20 April 1964, BBC1’s younger sister has always had a more sophisticated, cultured air than its mainstream ratings-chasing older sibling. The big hitters — EastEnders, Panorama, Question Time, even the coronation when we next have another one — will always be on BBC1. Little tiddlers that become big fish and thus too large for the BBC2 pond migrate naturally to BBC1. Hello, Who Do You Think You Are? and The Apprentice! Bake Off is also a prime example, even if it was later poached.

When BBC2 was born, the concept of “channel surfing” was as-yet unborn. If you wanted to change the channel, you got up, walked over to the TV set, faffed around with some dials, and ran the risk of losing anything watchable for the rest of the evening unless you played with the bunny ears.

This meant that audiences were much more loyal to a particular channel. If you settled in for the evening with BBC2, you might experience a nun telling you about art, wander through the life of a drug addict, listen to David Attenborough whispering to a gorilla in the forests of Rwanda, and end the evening with the raw comedy of The Young Ones with perhaps a bit of fishing or opera in between. BBC2 has certainly brought us moments of magic: it took the chance on a six-part series about men who’d just lost their jobs wandering around the streets of Liverpool, for example.

We don’t settle in like that any more, do we?

Guess what? In the UK, most of us still watch most of our TV live on a television set.

Yes, younger viewers are changing their habits and moving to streaming services but apparently a channel’s identity is still worth spending money on.

Perhaps the atmospheric animations will win the teenagers back. Perhaps.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch flowerbeds spring into life, little cygnets swim past a swan, or a butterfly in the shape of a 2 fly away, you’re not alone. That’s why BBC Two has put a collection of its old idents together for you.

As they’d say on The Fast Show: Nice.

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4 thoughts on “Little animated cygnets

  1. I liked the way they’d put the flowers one before a gardening programme, or the steam one before the cooking shows. Not sure an ident ever made me choose to watch a particular channel, though.

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