I’ve never really understood how TV works. All I know is that someone does something a bit entertaining somewhere, and then people use magic to somehow make it come on your TV. Aliens might be involved.
Thanks to idents, though, I’m reminded that production companies and channels are responsible for making TV and film happen, rather than magic and aliens. These little snippets of credit are sadly overlooked by a lot of people, yet they make fascinating viewing, if you’re me.
Here, in no particular order, are 20 of my favourite TV and film idents. Some are creepy, some are nostalgic, and some are hilarious, but they’re all memorable in their own way.
1. Channel 4
Apart from the Intel Inside jingle, I can’t think of another four notes that have become so deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness.
(Please note: the Mister pointed out that Intel Inside “isn’t four notes, it’s five”. To punish him for being ‘that guy’, I have made him write an article about Bargain Hunt.)
This ident uses a snippet of a larger piece called Fourscore by David Dundas. The theme played over Channel 4’s first broadcast – a montage of clips from upcoming shows, before they proceeded to throw Countdown at us.
2. Sky Movies
Certainly my favourite modern ident, and possibly my favourite ident ever. A 360° panorama of various cinematic landscapes (the Wild West, a futuristic cityscape, a New York street, an 18th century garden, and a frozen ocean with a pirate ship), accompanied by an epic musical montage. Shortened versions of the panorama are used to introduce genre movies (action & adventure, sci-fi, comedy etc.).
The ident really captures the excitement of being transported into the world of the movie, and creates an atmospheric setting before the credits roll. Sometimes I’ll even put on a movie I hate just to see this ident. The problem is that sometimes I forget to turn the movie off afterwards, so then I accidentally watch something like The Hottie And The Nottie.
3. BBC Video
One of the creepiest, most disturbing idents known to man. Made more harrowing by the fact that it came straight after the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth. Imagine being a kid and watching that poppy field fade out, immediately followed by that music. It’s no wonder we’ve all grown up weird.
4. Thames Television
This makes the list because it is always, without fail, followed by the Rainbow theme tune. In my house, anyway.
As kids, we were all impressed by the clearly expensive production values of this ident. ‘Wow, where did they get such a shiny statue? That must be real silver. And look, they’ve even had their name engraved on it! I bet this thing cost like a million pounds to make.’
As adults, it’s just an ornament on a record player. It’s adorably shit.
I’m not very technically minded, but I know THX has something to do with surround sound standards. This explains why their ident contains every frequency that human ears can manage, and about 7 more.
THX have made other idents such as this one, entitled Amazing Life, but they will always be known for creating that vague sense of ‘what the hell’s going on?’ before seeing the logo and realising ‘oh it’s those guys’.
If the above isn’t enough THX ear-bleed for you, someone on Youtube has extended the ident by 800%.
7. Sumo TV
Sumo TV was a short lived Sky channel, where viewers were invited to create and submit their own content. Their idents were created by animator Cyriak Harris, and feature such delights as pole dancing cows, laser-eyed Jesus with the body of a duck, and jockeys being ridden by horses.
8. MTV Moonman
Watch any of the classic MTV idents, and you’re instantly transported into a world of power hair, rock ‘n’ roll and ripped jeans. But the ‘Moonman’ is really the daddy of them all. So iconic is Moonman, in fact, that he is also the statue given away at the VMAs.
And now for the obligatory MTV comment: Hey, do you remember when MTV did music instead of just endless reruns of Teen Mom?
9. ITV Nightshift
ITV Nightshift signalled the handover from normal service to, well, the shows that ran through the night. A staple of my childhood, because on Tuesdays it came after The Equalizer, which I didn’t care about, but just before American Gladiators, which I cared about very much, and this was why I fell asleep at school on Wednesdays.
I thought that when I was a grown up my nights out would be as impossibly cool as this ident. Imagine my disappointment to find myself in a Wetherspoons, trying to wipe the table with my sleeve.
This 80s/early 90s ident combines the most famous Nickelodeon jingle with one of the other staples of childhood – doodling in your notebook. And now I can’t mention Nickelodeon and doodling without also bringing Yikes! pencils into the conversation.
11. Channel 4 Roller Coaster
In recent years Channel 4 has moved away from its mega blocks theme, and has tried out different ident styles. For me, the most successful of these has been the roller coaster point-of-view ident, filmed on the Jaguar coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm, California. CGI was used to add ride elements and theming that aren’t a part of the real ride.
The fun thing about this ident is that you can’t watch it without tilting your head as if you have some sort of VR headset on. Go on, try to keep your head perfectly still. If you can, you’re not watching it hard enough.
12. BBC2 Fluffy Dog
Created by Lambie-Nairn, the company responsible for the iconic Channel 4 ident mentioned above. Any of the classic era BBC2 idents would have deserved a place on this list, but this one just happens to be my favourite. Other contenders included ‘Fly Zapper’ and ‘Swan’; you can view the entire collection here.
I would like to know if they got the innards from an actual yapping dog toy, and put it in a weird furry ‘2’ costume? Or did they make it from scratch? The longer you watch it the creepier it gets.
13. The Video Collection
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the most 80s thing you’ve ever seen, apart from that MFI cabin bed you used to have.
14. Palace Video
I’m not sure how I came to know the Palace Video ident. A look on IMDB shows that they distributed a wide selection of classics like Vampire At Midnight and Night Of The Demons, which is not what I’d have watched as a small child. They did, however, distribute The Snowman on VHS (and Betamax), so that’s one possible explanation.
As well as the terrifying neon palace animation, Palace Video was famous for its ‘OR ELSE! Warning which preceded their films. It is widely known among experts that the ‘or else’ was code for ‘we will come to your house and kill you if you so much as mention you own a copy of this video’.
15. Yorkshire Television
Sod your fancy animation, all we need is a crap fanfare! That’s because we’re from Yorkshire and we’re too busy at’mill to faff around with all that London stuff. Lard!
Disclaimer: Only I am allowed to say anything about Yorkshire. You Londoners are not.
After watching about 45 minutes of American idents from the 80s and 90s, I came to the conclusion that there is something wrong with Americans. It’s probably a coincidence, but is this ident supposed to be so similar to the music at the end of Protect And Survive? Idents shouldn’t make you start worrying about nuclear war.
Let’s not mess about here – ‘Dic’ sounds a bit like ‘Dick’, and that is why this is a good ident.
I’m not alone in holding this opinion. I watched this version, I laughed until I cried, and then the Mister called me a child.
If that isn’t enough for you, someone’s sped it up, slowed it down, and reversed it, where it now sounds a bit like he’s saying ‘shit’.
18. Walt Disney Home Video
Adults of a certain age will have had this tune carved into their brains at some point. Always good to hear, because it preceded something exciting, unless you were watching Fantasia.
Also, the ident is particularly lovely when you compare it to this abomination. No kid should have to sit through that.
19. Pearl & Dean
Pay attention now:
“Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baaaaaaaaaa BA!”
Or, there’s the extended version:
“Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa BA!”
20. Cartoon Network closedown/startup
In the early days of Cartoon Network, it shared a channel with TNT Classic Movies. They’d hand over to TNT every evening, and pick back up again the next morning. These animations marked the changeover.
What I like about these is the effort that’s gone into them. They could have just rerun one of the standard idents, but instead they chose to show these animations featuring characters getting ready for bed, and waking up. Plus, I always thought the idea of puncturing the sun to make it set was exactly what the guys on Cartoon Network would do.
Honourable mention: Channel 5 Launch
Ah, vintage Channel 5 – home of Hitler documentaries and porn. Back in 1997 we had such hopes for what would be the first new terrestrial channel for 15 years. I’m not sure this is technically an ident; I think I’d call it more of an extravaganza, or possibly a spectacle. Obviously something fitting was required for such an important event, so who better to get the ball rolling than the Spice Girls? It was a toss up between them and God.
If you’re a nerd and you want to read about the Channel 5 launch in depth, this is a brilliant site.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.