Friday, November 25, 2011

A Lambie-Nairn showreel from 1996

I recently stumbled upon an old showreel and a presentation video from the UK broadcast design agency Lambie-Nairn that had been uploaded to Youtube by a user called "deeman3000". Founded in 1976, Lambie-Nairn established itself as a leading broadcast design agency in the late 1980s/early 1990s. These videos were probably produced in 1996 and mostly feature material created during the five years prior to that.

This was during a time when it seemed like the company strived to rebrand a channel in every European country. Aside from the acclaimed work the BBC, Lambie-Nairn also worked with other UK broadcasters as well as clients in France, Germany, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Benelux and Russia.

Although every project is unique, one can detect some recurring methods in this body of work, like many filmed sequences featuring different props or actors with heavy makeup, rather than three-dimensional computer animation. Many of these could be shown on television today, if properly remastered for high-definition, but they are of their time and would probably be considered too high-brow in today's environment.

But most of all, they are marked by a certain British wit and sober design sensibility, even in some of the fast-paced epilepsy-inducing examples.

This period was not the peak for the agency. The very next year, it would win the prestigious assignment to rebrand the BBC. Not only did the company create the current straightened-up BBC logo. The Beeb was at this point gearing up to launch a string of new digital channels, both regular public service channels and advertising-funded ones as part of the UKTV partnership, and this would provide steady work for Lambie-Nairn over the following years. If you were watching the BBC between 1997-2003, you could expect the channel branding to be created by Lambie-Nairn.

The agency also continued its international activities, delivering new branding to clients like VRT Belgium (1997), Euronews (1998), the Sci Fi Channel (2002) and LCI France (2005) as well as new Middle Eastern networks like Alhurra and Adu Dhabi TV. It would also move into non-TV branding, and was behind the successful launch of O2 in 2002.

Martin Lambie-Nairn himself left in 2008, one of his last projects being a relaunch of BBC News. Most of the creative professionals who worked with him during these years have also moved on to other agencies.

The two videos can be seen below, along with some stills and short descriptions of the work featured in them. Martin Lambie-Nairn published a book in 1997, and it provides extended descriptions of the work included in these videos. Unfortunately, it is out of print and is somewhat hard to get hold on if you aren't close to a UK library.

The videos start and end with Lambie-Nairn's own ident at the time, a close-up on a piece of cloth with a tartan pattern and the sound of static, which reminds me somewhat of the intro to "God Save the Queen".

When The Disney Channel was launching into the United Kingdom in 1995, they turned to Lambie-Nairn to adapt the brand for local audiences. Lambie-Nairn created a "devastatingly simple" solution, where various playful animations would end up with the iconic Mickey Mouse silhouette alone on screen. When The Disney Channel later expanded into other markets, it brought this identity with it.

The French-German cultural channel Arte launched a package produced by Lambie-Nairn in January 1995. The previous identity had been inconsistent and confusing, and the programmes where seen as elitist. Lambie-Nairn took what was good from the previous identity and created something more tidy and consistent, including a simplified logo and new idents.

In the early 1990s, BBC's second TV channel, BBC2, was considered "worthy but dull". Not an ideal image for someone investing in new innovate comedy programming. In 1991, the previous silent ident was replaced by several new ones featuring a 2 figure. Public perception quickly changed for the better. This package was designed to be added upon over time, and dozens of idents with the same visual property were created during the ten years it was on the air.

Orange was a new pay TV channel in New Zealand, launched with the help of Lambie-Nairn in 1994. The fruit-based branding helped differentiate the new channel from its strong competition.

Meteor Sport and Meteor Kino were two thematic channels launched by the Russian state-owned broadcaster RTR in 1996. They had two differently explosive idents.

After the fledgling "Nordic Channel" had been bought by American investors it was soon relaunched as "TV5 Nordic", with an award-winning graphics package from Lambie-Nairn.

The Swiss-Italian broadcaster TSI was facing increasing competition from glitzy networks across the Italian border. Lambie-Nairn created a sophisticated identity inspired by Northern Italian culture, producing several idents featuring a troubadour wearing a mask.

The 1982 launch identity for Channel 4, Britain's fourth TV channel, ran for almost 14 years and remains admired to this day.

European Business News was a 24-hour financial news channel launched in February 1995 by Dow Jones and Flextech plc. Lambie-Nairn's identity completely avoided graphs and stock tickers, going for fresh visuals and theme music featuring a soprano! EBN merged into CNBC Europe in 1998.

In 1992, the German satellite channel Tele 5 introduced an acclaimed identity created by Lambie-Nairn. Unfortunately, Tele 5 ended up being replaced by the sports channel Deutsches Sportfernsehen in 1993.

A nostalgic ident inspired by 1950s/1960s broadcasting and cinema created for Bravo, and early cable channel with classic movies and TV. 

Lambie-Nairn's northernmost work was done for the Norwegian satellite channel TVNorge in 1995. Idents showed water, ink and breaking glass in Norway's national colours. 

When creating a modern identity for the Welsh-language broadcaster S4C, sought to avoid Welsh clichés. Based on the red Welsh Dragon, idents featured red objects behaving as a dragon, often spraying fire. This identity was apparently very successful and lasted between 1993-2007 with constant updates.

Lambie-Nairn created the launch identity for BBC World for its launch 1995. Most of the graphics included animated made up flags, as Lambie-Nairn sought to avoid the spinning globes and satellites usually seen on news channels. Two years later, the company would produce a package for the BBC news channels with filmed flags.

Carlton Television took over as the London weekday contractor in the ITV system on January 1, 1993. Trying to establish Carlton as the new name for television from London, the launch idents featuring Londoners exclaiming "This is Carlton - Television from London".

This intro for The Beatles Anthology is one of few programme openings included in the reel.

This intro for the cinema advertising company Pearl & Dean premiered in 1996. It combined a classic musical theme with moving film scrolls.

Ka2, a new Belgian commercial station launched by the leading commercial broadcaster VTM in 1995. It is now known as 2BE.

Whatever ARK2 is/was, its on-screen branding featured a lot of light bulbs.

Notable omissions in these videos are Lambie-Nairn's work for Portugal's Televisão Independente 4 and the 1995 launch of BBC Prime. Most pre-1991 work is also omitted, including identites for BBC1 (1991), BSB (1990), Anglia (1988), BBC News (1988) and Super Channel (1987).


  1. Since posting these two videos on Youtube I never expected quite such a thorough breakdown and analysis. Thanks very much! The work certainly deserves the close attention you have taken the time to give it. I believe ARK2 was a Christian channel - Deeman3000

    1. Glad you stopped by and shared your appreciation. I'm a fan of Martin Lambie-Nairn's work, and was thrilled to find your videos. Not putting together an article about them was out of the question.