'Out to Lunch' - with the designer, writer & director Bob Blagden to hear his fascinating story on how he designed the original 1970s Top of the Pops logo, and I asked Bob if he would kindly share with us how he came to design the logo and what his inspirations were?
Sometime in 1973, BBC Graphic Design department, BBC TVC, Wood Lane, W12...
"I was an assistant designer working under senior designer Alan Jeapes, who had a reputation for designing high end opening title sequences.
The Design department was finding it hard to get a designer to do the new TOTP title commission. It was considered by the established designers as being low end work, not to dirty their hands with. For me, it was a chance to prove myself.
At Portsmouth Art College, where I studied painting and sculpture 1964-69, I was heavily influenced by the Neo-Pop Art Movement – Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, Dine, Johns etc. We were into the whole Americana thing, Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, skate boarding down the corridors, white Converse All Star trainers, short blonde dyed hair, Levis 501s, tight white T-shirts with cigarette packets rolled up in the short sleeves - very James Dean driving around in those oversized 50s classic cars, with their chrome space rocket inspired design. They had just put the first men on the moon and I was reading Tom Wolfe’s ‘Tangerine Coloured, Kandy Flake, Streamline Baby’ and ‘Medium is the Message’ by Marshal McLuhan.
My final degree show was inspired by all this USA culture and I used a lot of luminescent plastics i.e. Perspex that imitated neon signs, that were formed into iconic space age comic images. My thesis was on the work of Andy Warhol.
It was all these images that were going through my head when I had to come up with a logo that was to be used to re-brand one of BBC’s long running popular music shows. I’d never designed a logo before, just as I’d never been taught the nuances of graphic design. It was a massive challenge – a make or break situation, would I fall flat on my face?
I looked through a lot of my art books including the photographic coffee table book on 50s US cars that I rated as being the real sculpture of the time, the people’s commercial art, that ordinary people were driving around in, not aware they were driving around in works of art – not in art galleries but on the streets. This became my source of inspiration for the TOTP logo, the lettering on the Chevrolet, Chrysler, Pontiac cars. They were linked up by a metal line that connected each letter, so they could be manufactured in one piece and attached to the bonnet, side or hood of the car.
In 1973, TOTPs had a new series producer Robin Nash, who replaced the originator Johnnie Stewart, with his own special logo next to his name – Johnnie sitting on a stool holding his jacket over his shoulder. I showed Robin my various ideas for the new logo and nervously waited for his response. After what seemed to be hours but was only seconds, he pointed to the design he liked. I was physically relieved and went to the 4th floor bar feeling good.
Using pencil and paper, I sketched out various typographic designs, literally cut and pasting as this was all pre-computer and monopolising the only grant projector the department had. You placed your work under this optical equipment to enlarge or reduce elements of your design to make it resolve into the design I was trying to achieve. This took several days before I was happy.
A lettering artist Ted Cload came into see me and I showed him my design. He ummed and arrhed saying it was a hard bit of art work to do and wasn’t confident it would work. I told him to try his best. After a couple of days, and a few anxious phone calls, he finally appeared. He removed the protective cover to reveal the finished artwork – it was ok but the thickness of the lettering and spaces weren't quite working. So I sent him off with the changes I felt it needed but began to have my doubts it was going to work.
I needn’t have worried. When Ted came in with the revised artwork I was so relieved and pleased with the result. I made several sized photo copies and in various colours of the finished logo ready to present to Robin Nash. He was thrilled with the result, so much so, he asked me to design a total title sequence for the re-launch of the new re-branded TOTPs. I was to use the latest digital technology from the US, the only one in the country, especially imported into the basement of Ranks Labs, Wardour Street.
I was warned the test of a good logo was how long it will last – it must have been ok as I think it lasted 15 years."
Bob Blagden, BBC graphic designer 1969-84. Film and TV director - 1984-today.
Here below is a picture of Bob back then along with the football team who met every Thursday evening to practice for fun at Scrubbs Lane, next to the prison, just up from TV Centre.