The History of the Channel 4 logo and idents

On the 5th of November this year Channel 4 will be 25 years old, as part of the celebrations, C4 is screening some of the classic programmes that made the channel famous – and infamous – on C4, More4 and they’re also all available for free for a month on 4oD. We’ve also constructed a special 50ft 4 outside Horseferry Road, but more on that later. First, let’s have a look at how that 4 has changed throughout the years.

First up, the classic multicoloured 4 that the channel launched with and kept for over 13 years. It worth noting the choice of colours, which as the widget on this page demonstrates make up the light that comes from your TV. Red, blue and green, and then purple from red and blue and yellow from red and green. Of course if you add all three together you get white… but more on that later. If you look at late 70s and early 80s TV sets from makers such as PYE you see their logo often features the primary colours, the take up for colour sets back then, indeed technology in general, wasn’t as fast as it is today, and the bright new channel no doubt wanted to show if its full glorious colour credentials.

The original exploding then reassembling motion was called ’round and back’, (see it in motion here) accompanied for most of those 13 years by David Dundas’ (now Lord Dundas) iconic Fourscore theme tune, which was actually four minutes long – though only the final few note made up the piece that went over the ident. Dundas retained the copyright to the ‘parps’, and at £3.50 for each use, the Channel was reputedly paying him over £1000 a week for ten or so years, nice work if you can get it Dave. There’s a nice non-youtube history of the logo’s here at TV Twirl as well as loads on youtube.

The Channel 4 logo’s always been up for customisation and alteration, or what nowadays would be described as a mash-up. Here’s a Hamlet cigar parody of it which appears genuine, but I can’t find any credible info in it. In the early days the logo was adapted for special programmes, especially the alternative sports brought to the UK in the late 80s and early 90s. Below are the idents that preceeded coverage of Sumo, NFL football and Football Italia.

There was also a Horse racing one, that turned the logo on it’s side to look like a horses head complete with bridal, but I couldn’t find that one. It’s strange that nearly all the sports got custom logos, with the exception of that Mongolian horseback game which used to use a goats head, and of course Kabaddi – the Indian breath-holding game of tig/British Bulldog. An episode of Kabaddi is available on 4oD. I remember watching the sumo coverage and loving the ceremony behind it all. Of course channel 4 doesn’t really cover minority sports anymore which is perhaps a shame as it introduced teh UK to some really interesting alternatives.

There was a move in the early 90s to what was called the ‘Tapping’ campaign, which saw different people tap the screen, the multicoloured block logo is still present in the corner however. This ran for 15 months and from ’93 onward featured our on screen talent… and zig and zag.

As well as sports, the logo has been transformed for one off special weekends and seasons. Here’s one from the mid 90s for Sci-Fi weekend.

It’s interesting in that it features the exterior of the Horseferry Road headquaters, completed in 1994, which the channel probably wanted to show off. Even our own website describes it as being in one of the more charmless parts of Westminster. One of the urban myths around Channel 4 is that the Richard Rogers ‘owns’ the copyright to images of the building, much like the city of Paris ‘owns’ the copyright to shots of the Eiffel tower at night.I wonder if this is true?

Eventually in 1996 after paying Dundas a ton of cash rather than perhaps buying the score outright in the first place, the channel evolved the logo and score away from the iconic 3D blocks and into what was called ‘Connections’. This was produced by the design agency Tomato, and met with general apathy. It is perhaps the design equivalent of a second album.

It’s main contribution however was knocking the colours from the logo, as perhaps now colour didn’t need trumpeting quite so much as it did in the early 80s. The circles were displayed in various combinations, sometimes forming a four, sometimes not. It also introduced the idea of a back ground scene of modern Britain, though a guy washing his car was a bit dull.

But who’s this future teen popstar and time traveller? Why it’s a very young Billy Piper in a ident for 4Schools from the mid 90s.

It was soon replaced in 1999 by ‘Bars’ which has tonal bars shifting around over a white inverted four tile.

By 2002 the bars had evolved to be things like areoplane trails and such. Also the web address appears directly under the tile.
Here’s an interesting one from TV Twirl that preceeded childrens cartoons in the morning. And here’s a Christmas one that went in front of Children’s drama – Dinotopia. Also at Chirstmas channel 4 asked B3TA do design/mash up/fuck with it’s logo, and here’s the results.

It’s worth noting that ‘Bars’ started the whole thing of placing the 4 tile on the left in the middle, and in the middle is where the logo appears to this day, on stationary, staff passes as well as on air.

On December 31st 2005 the Channel launched it’s current set of ‘drive by’ idents.

New York?

As well as a bowling one, hay bales, flats, market. etc (all on Flickr and youtube) In a way I feel these are a combination of a return to the exploded 4 mixed with the scene from somewhere background that was first put forward in Connections in ’96. The drive by implies that there’s many view points on a subject, but at one point and one point only there’s the Channel 4 one. And that’s our remit really, to approach subjects in a Channel 4 way, and offer a different viewpoint. Channel 4’s 25 now, it was once fresh, young and crazy, it’s grown up now, it’s part of the broadcasting establishment. What’s more it’s had kids, tearaway E4 and clever clogs More4, as well as its online and +1 services. I think they’re all on their way to standing on their own two feet. So where next for 4? Well, Kevin Lygo’s outlined what he sees as the future at Edinburgh, and it’s downsizing, back to smaller more interesting things perhaps?


What’s certainly not small, but is interesting is the 50ft high exploded 4 now standing outside Horseferry Road. It was unvailed last week by Culture Minister Margaret Hodge and will feature the work of three artist, Nick Knight, who work adorns it now, El Anatsui and Mark Titchner. I’ve been working with marketing on putting a webcam in the Greycoat hospital school opposite. You can watch a timelapse construction of it here and see the live webcam here . Anyway here’s some images of the launch.
Big 4

Big 4
More on Flickr.

And if you want to experience it in full high res 3D VR stylee check this, it’s ace!

Like all good logos, the 4 has stood for what the channel is all about. It changed over the years as we’ve seen, but it’s also grown, it’s not taken itself to seriously, and it’s tried to work new and interesting talent. And for the real design fans out there… here’s the C4 on air style guide. And if and GCSE design student cribs all this for your final thesis, you’ll have me to answer to!

Happy Birthday Channel 4.

(Did I mention I’m sooo glad I’m not at the BBC right now, or do you sort of get that…)

6 Responses to “The History of the Channel 4 logo and idents”

  1. 1 Jim October 21, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    That Hamlet ad is genuine – I remember it from broadcast.

    And what a great story the ‘4’ has. It’s good to see that, even with its variations, it’s stayed the same basic design.

  2. 2 James Wallis October 23, 2007 at 12:48 am

    A friend who claimed to know David Dundas once told me that there were words to the five-note C4 ‘parps’:

    “I’VE earned THREE-FIFty.”

  3. 3 Chris M January 7, 2008 at 2:02 am

    Bless, a style guide. I love it when companies give me these… then sit in meetings where they ask for the site to be nothing like the style guide states, its the old, ‘OK, So you gave me this for what? Me to scan the logo out of?’

    Anyhow you seem to have had a cool design past with the big two main stations (in my head anyway). I hope you find your exploits with food are just as fun if not a hundred times better.

  4. 4 Matt February 6, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    The 3rd ‘drive by’ logo is Los Angeles and features the Westin Bonaventure hotel in the background – the building of which Fredric Jameson equates as being the start of the postmodern era.

  5. 5 Chris Johnston December 31, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Start date was 2nd November 198i2 not 5th November

  1. 1 Bing « Mr Shev's Blog Trackback on November 30, 2009 at 8:08 pm

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
October 2007

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