Nine O’Clock News (BBC1, 1970-2000)
Having recently looked back at News At Ten, I thought that it would make sense to also take a look at the BBC’s equivalent main evening news. Again, I hope I can avoid making fairly boring observations about the set design and the like, but the way that this show developed over the years whilst always trying to maintain that the viewers were informed is rather interesting.
After News At Ten turned out to be a success for ITV, the BBC realised that it would be a rather sensible idea to also have a main weekday evening news show in a fixed timeslot. Nine O’Clock News originally featured only one host, although this was soon changed to two. By this point, the newsroom was shown behind them using a blue-screen effect.
This meant oddly that when the shot changed to the other host, the background remained the same. And this would be long before computers and the like, and it’s rather unusual now seeing only typewriters and telephones everywhere. It does make me wonder how TV shows were able to be put together at this point, waiting for technology to catch up, and I feel it’s surprising that anything ever managed to get to air before 1985.
By the late-70s, this had changed back to one host again, in a rather drab-looking studio. The style was definitely professional, but also very straight, there were standards that were expected to be met, there was no “and finally”-type coverage going on here. By the mid-80s, there was another return to two hosts, along with the famous “exploding fish fingers” opening sequence being introduced.
And then in the late-80s, they returned to one host yet again, and they had another new opening sequence, while the other BBC news shows that had their openings introduced in the mid-80s kept them well into the 90s. There was a new transmitter-style symbol, and the music was rather loud, anyone who might’ve been nodding off by this time would probably have fallen out of their chair with the shock.
The next relaunch in the mid-90s featured the famous virtual studio, and hosts at this point included Michael Buerk, Martyn Lewis, and Peter Sissons. They were all respected, but this was at a time when the BBC took their commitment to news very seriously. By the late-90s, the News 24 channel launched. And then, in 1999, News At Ten came to an end on ITV, which provoked a big change.
It had always seemed a little unusual to me that the BBC had a news show barely two hours after the last one, but suddenly there was a gap at 10pm that it seemed fairly obvious to move their news to, meaning that more shows could be tried out in a 9pm slot. By now there was a brighter look, along with music that I remember was described by one critic at the time as “self-important tom-toms”. In 2000 the move took place, and the news continues at that time to this day.