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BBC 1 1985
A Computer Originated World

Created  Mo 3-Apr-06

A live picture of a spinning globe had been shown before BBC programmes since the Sixties. When colour came to BBC 1, a curved mirror was added behind the globe, and the effect this produced continued to be seen on screen for over fifteen years. But technology had moved on and time was running out for this mechanical symbol.

A solid state device had generated the symbol on BBC 2 since the end of the Seventies. Subsequently, electronic clocks on both networks had replaced the mechanical clocks. And in early 1984, work began on a project to generate a digital symbol for BBC 1 too.

Special thanks to BBC Research & Development and Hywel Williams for supplying the images and much of the information used on this page.

Some of the images shown on this page contain graphics that are copyright of the BBC.


Michael Grade joined the BBC as Controller of BBC 1 in September 1984. When he arrived, work was already underway to develop a new globe symbol. The initial difficulty had been to get the world to rotate one whole revolution with the limited amount of memory chips available. But this problem was soon solved.

Another project was also in development when Grade arrived, a soap opera called EastEnders. The new controller knew he had to arrest the falling ratings on his channel and decided to delay the introduction of the new soap to co-incide with a re-launch of the programme schedule. EastEnders would go out on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm. Terry Wogan would start the evening on the other weekdays with a chat show. The new globe was also delayed so it could form part of the new look.

A new globe for BBC 1, Feb 85. (9K)

Viewers would see the new globe for the first time at 7pm on Monday, February 18th, 1985 as the announcer welcomed them to Wogan.

BBC Globe Player (10K)
BBC Clock Generator (12K)

The device that made the earth move is pictured on the far left. This metal box would have been mounted in a rack together with a similar-looking box responsible for generating the station clock, pictured to the right of it.

As well as the network globe for England housed at Television Centre in London, a player would have been required for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Each English region would also require its own player for the times when it opted-out of the national schedule.

There's a switch on the box, marked CEEFAX, that adds the text "CEEFAX 888" underneath the station name on the network globe. For the other globes it adds text to identify the nation or regional centre.

BBC 1 Scotland globe (9K)
Insides of the globe player (9K)

This is what a globe player looks like when you open it up...

On the left there are ten removable cards filled with PROM (Programmable Read-Only Memory) chips containing 20 000 pixels of map data pre-rendered as frames of animation. Each card has on its side a yellow LED that lights up when that card is in use.

To the right of these cards are five unused slots and to the right of those is a card with a red handle. This is the processor card, to the right of which are four more cards containing the two images pictured below. The player can be made to display these by changing some switch settings on the processor card.

Now we can begin to see how the globe player works. The transparent blue sphere representing the ocean is the background image. The processor uses the map data to decide for each pixel whether to leave it as the sea or overlay a pixel from the golden sphere for the land or simply plot a black pixel to represent the land on the other side of the world.

The golden shell (7K) The blue sphere (5K)

A test image is provided by the player which tests some of the video mixer's abilities, including what the ocean globe looks like when some land is overlayed onto it.

If you look closely, you will see that the golden shell is slightly larger than the blue sphere, so that the land has the subtle effect of floating over the top of the ocean as it rotates.

We end on some globe player facts:

  • One complete revolution takes twelve seconds and each second requires 25 frames of animation, a total of 300, stored on the memory cards.

  • If you remove one of the cards, the globe will display just the ocean when it tries to use the data on that card.

  • Unlike the BBC 2 symbol from six years earlier, the new globe symbol was anti-aliased, so there were no jagged edges where the land met the sea and the sea and the lettering met the background.

  • Inside the BBC, the new globe was known as COW, an acronym for computer-originated world.

  • A version of the COW was also used for BBC Video and another was used in the opening titles of Alas Smith & Jones (on BBC 2). For Comic Relief, a red nose was 'attached' to the globe.

  • The COW lasted just about six years before it was replaced with a new BBC 1 symbol, once again based on a globe.

A test image (8K)
Another view of the new globe (5K)

Take the COW for a spin (or two).

Play Now icon

Play Now. (Requires RealPlayer 8 or later) (23s)

Download icon

Playback jerky? Download first in Real Media 8 format. (108 614 bytes)


Other pages in the TV Logos section...

Other Related Web Sites

>> A comprehensive technical article on the BBC 1 COW was published in Eng Inf No. 20: The Quarterly for BBC Engineering Staff, reproduced at BBeng.info, a website containing recollections of BBC Engineering from 1922 to 1997.

>> In January 2006 A COW player came up for sale on eBay. But instead of showing the BBC 1 legend, this one displayed the logo for BBC Worldwide underneath the globe.

>> An article at Transdiffusion's Intertel section describes how the COW was adapted for BBC World Service Television.

>> The BBC's official web site, bbc.co.uk, has a selection of films of old idents in its Cult / Classic TV / Test Cards section.

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625: Andrew Wiseman's Television Room (2K)