The Broader Picture: Semiotics for Beginners

'I HOPE you're not confusing idents and animations,' says Pam Masters, Head of Presentation at BBC Television. I was, and anyone might, because we're talking about the kind of images you see every day, but can never quite put a name to - specifically all those 2's on BBC2.

If you're a BBC2 watcher, you must have registered the numerous variations performed on the number '2' and the conspicuous creativity that goes into it all. There's the 2 with the horizontal paint-splash, the bit of 2-shaped chewing-gum trodden into the pavement, the 2-shaped sweep's brush coming out of a chimney, the Friesian cow with the 2-shaped marking, the donkey with the 2-shaped carrot, the 2 reflected so as to form a heart-shape (very smart). You may also have noticed that in recent weeks a whole new batch of them has arrived - the 2 that planes across a wooden floor, the painting-by-numbers 2, the 2 in a darkened room caught in a wedge of light from the doorway. But idents and animations? It's not just jargon. It takes us into the mysteries of presentation, the designs every channel has upon its viewers, and which almost pass the viewers by. Lots of different 2's, yes. But could you say, for instance, which of the nine mentioned so far would appear immediately before a programme, and which never would? Well then. Let's talk about idents.

Idents are 'channel identities', the little films that tell the viewers which channel they're watching. They are the prime agents of channel branding, establishing 'image' and a sense of continuity between the various programmes. They appear immediately before the start of a programme (almost every programme) and they say: this is BBC2, and here's a BBC2 programme. They're absolutely vital. Now just over two years ago, there was only the one BBC2 ident, simply the word TWO, in red, blue and green capital letters, same every time. And this, it came to be felt, was dull - certainly compared to Channel 4's luminous building-block 4, then the acknowledged brand-leader. So consultants Lambie-Nairn (who had done that 4) were called in for a redesign. And from this consultation emerged the original variations on the 2.

There was a range of no less than nine different idents, each with its own individual mood and name. There was Paint of course, and Blade (where a sharp 2 sticks into a surface), and Silk (billowing silk), and Copper (shooting sparks) and Neon. Although one, called Cut-Out, was dropped almost at once as too feeble, most of them are still in regular use and so are some new ones, like Powder and Optic, which were added last year. Each of them features BBC2's very own colour, viridian, prominently. These then are idents.

Or rather, to be exact, these then are generic idents, idents basically suitable for any programme. But there are also specific idents, which likewise lead into programmes, but which signal that the programme is part of some special evening or season. It might be 'Lovenight' (last Valentine's day, the heart) or 'Birthnight' (the scanner) or the 'War and Peace' season (barbed wire) - but they're only used for their designated occasion. And with specifics the viridian rule is relaxed somewhat, preferred but not compelled.

Animations, on the other hand, are very different. They use the 2, but they never lead into a programme. Rather, they come at the start of trailers (or at the end, or both) and they're an altogether less serious proposition. They include the gum, the cow, the carrot, and there was a notable bunch last Christmas, like the sweep, the snow-shoes, and the 2-shaped Alka-Seltzers that wittily first fizzed on Boxing Day. (But note that the Christmas tree with lights in a 2-configuration was actually the Christmas Ident.) Animations are deliberately distinct: an animation at the end of a trailer might lead straight to an ident before a programme. In an ident the 2 is big, central and upright, the design is cool. But in animations, the 2's are smaller and get messed around with - playful marginalia to the idents' official images - and there is no viridian ever.

Just lately, though, there's been a development. The new lot of 2's, launching the current spring season, are all animations. But unlike previous ones, they are made specific to particular genres. The plane goes with documentaries and science programmes, the painting with arts programmes, the spooky room with drama, and the 2 sitting on floor-boards being sawn around from below with comedy. This has for some reason earned them the name Son of Idents. And the word from Presentation is that they are the future. Watch carefully. -

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own