The BBC Balloon
launched at 7.05 am on Saturday, October 4, 1997. It replaced the computer generated spinning globe which had been used as the main ident
on BBC One
since 1991. It launched the same day as a BBC-wide rebrand, and thus the new idents also carried the new BBC logo, changing its name from BBC1 to BBC One.
The balloon and the concept was designed and implemented by the Lambie-Nairn design agency in London. The balloon itself was predominantly red, with the map of the world picked out in orange. The clouds are overlaid on the globe in white. The balloon itself was made in Bristol and its aircraft registration was "G-IBBC".
The original sequences were filmed over six weeks in June and July 1997 at eleven locations around the United Kingdom. The locations were:
- Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands
- Forth Rail Bridge, Edinburgh
- Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland
- Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland
- Snowdonia National Park, Wales
- Cardiff, South Wales
- South Downs (Near Arundel), West Sussex
- Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk
- Norfolk Broads, Norfolk
- Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria
- London Docklands
From these eleven locations, forty-seven different 35-second films were produced featuring the balloon floating serenely over British landscapes. Much of the photography was from a helicopter at heights of up to 3,500ft. One noticeable and intentional aspect about the original balloon films was that none of the sequences featured people or any distinct human activity.
A year after launch in 1998, several more idents were created and added to the collection. The main differences between these new additions and the originals, were that people were now included in the sequences. However, the balloon itself was inserted digitally by computer on to pre-filmed locations and did not actually fly over the following locations:
The balloon symbol was also shown on BBC America between 1999 and 2003, and lasted several months after it had been retired by BBC One. Unlike BBC One, BBC America employed shorter, snappier cuts of various balloon sequences with slight changes to the familiar musical score.
The balloon idents were also spoofed by comedian Ben Elton for the junctions into his programme during the late 1990s.
In 2000, the BBC wanted the balloon idents to become more inclusive, so they introduced the 'lifestyle' idents. These featured skateboarders, a busy market scene, a bungee jumper and a carnival, all of which featured the balloon flying past in the background. The BBC's website was also added above the BBC One logo to all idents for the channel, as with the subtitles, and was also added to other BBC channels.
There were also many special idents made for new programmes, sporting events or, most notably, the Christmas holiday (however, the balloon was replaced by symbols in connection with the 12 Days of Christmas
in 1997, and a giant red bauble in 1998). These included:
- The 1999 eclipse of the sun (the balloon eclipsed it instead).
- The 1999 BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs (the balloon flew over a desert wasteland as an Ankylosaurus walked into view).
- The Euro 2000 football tournament (the balloon flew over a full stadium, where a goalkeeper lets a goal pass his net. The first announcement was an apology about the power cut that year).
- The 2000 Olympics in Sydney (the balloon was seen flying above the Sydney Opera House, while an athlete shone a flaming torch in its direction).
- The 2001 BBC series The Blue Planet (the balloon was seen from underwater from a shark-infested sea).
- The 2001 BBC series Walking with Beasts (similar to Walking with Dinosaurs, except the balloon flew over a land of ice and prehistoric woolly mammoths).
- Christmas 1999 (the balloon flying alongside a holographic Santa Claus).
- Christmas 2000 (the real Santa flies the balloon and delivers presents).
- Christmas 2001 (three toys play around in a cosy room while the balloon floats by outside).
The three toys used in 2001 (produced by Aardman Animations) were all connected to BBC One's Christmas Day schedule that year, so there was a dog (the terrestrial premiere of Toy Story), a dinosaur (the dramatic epic The Lost World) and a Reliant Robin van (the comeback of Only Fools and Horses after it had last aired in 1996).
In 2002, after much speculation, the balloon idents were replaced as the icon of the BBC's main television channel with a set of idents with the theme of 'Rhythm & Movement'
. More controversially, the globe motif was dropped from the channel after 39 years. These new idents, featuring dancers dressed in red and white, were disliked by critics and television presentation fanatics. They accused the corporation of 'dumbing down' and becoming 'overtly politically correct'.
The balloon last took to the skies in the summer of 2002 when it took part in the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. It is now wrapped up and held in a museum by a preservation society.