Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - Printable Version

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Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - RandomMe - 15-09-2022

Had this idea since the Great Anthem Debate in January, whereupon two events and my knowledge of British TV closedowns led me to assemble the data.

First, discussions in Parliament that suggested that BBC One should resume playing the anthem, likely at the handover to the BBC News channel, and the reaction by GB News to include the anthem before 6am. These two were met with massive criticism regarding the usage of the anthem, most of them coming from people who never saw an anthem at closedown first-hand.


From what I was told, the BBC started playing the anthem at closedowns in the wake of memorable events the Queen had in 1953, that led to a skyrocketing in television set ownership. Up until then each period of the BBC Television Service ended with a The End card (children's programming in at least 1952) had an animated one), even the last period of the day. Sketchy reports say that closedowns in the 1950s and 60s had footage or still photographs of the Queen, similar to many ITV companies.

It's unknown when exactly did BBC (1) start putting its ident at closedown during the national anthem. I'm pretty sure that the recording of the anthem (still used by BBC Radio 4) was first used a little over fifty years ago. Before, a slower recording was played. When BBC 1 had English regions handling all primetie continuity (until 1980), some regions like BBC 1 South used the same copy of the anthem as the playout in London, others like BBC 1 North West didn't. Scotland and Northern Ireland later adopted the anthem used in much of England.

The anthem was played over the regular ident, before 1974 (?) over the regional icons, and also at Christmas. There were some unique situations:

1984: a nighttime version of the three-way cracker ident, its last outing had a dignified ending with the lights dimming on them
1985: the regular COW ident was played instead
1990: the anthem failed to play during the Boxing Day closedown, causing that year's Christmas ident music to play for a second, the ident itself aired for a minute
1992: the bosses of the channel thought the Christmas ident of the year was "too jolly" and was replaced by a static photograph of the Queen
1994: likely due to the nature of the ident (varied depending of the day), the regular ident was repeated. Likely the ident didn't even cover a 40-second period

One time, one of the "BBC North" regions (per a YT closedown) had a rare double anthem. Since BBC 1 in the 1991 look didn't offer the clock kit to the English regions, including the announcement, the ident was seen for two minutes allowing for two complete spins.

Wales opted for a solution combining the end of the Welsh anthem and the start of the British one. At Christmas there were a few exceptions (unless otherwise the anthem was strictly used in the Christmas closedown):
1986: Christmas carols over the ident, before the clock was keyed over it
1990: Christmas carols over the national Christmas ident (the first time the same ident was used in all four nations)
1992: days ahead of Christmas, a generic BBC Wales Christmas promo with a Wales Today presenter played before the anthem, and finished with the stripes of the BBC Wales logo being formed out of a wreath. In the early 90s, BBC Wales had a few promos that played a lot with the red stripes motif, there was even a cricket one with the stripes formed out of cricket sticks
1996: on Christmas Day's closedown, the anthem was replaced by a choir of kids followed by an adult one singing Panis Angelicus (a common carol in Wales) ending with a generic "Christmas Greetings" ident first seen the previous year (thank you for watching and listening in 1995). The regular BBC 1 Wales Christmas ident with its soundtrack was played afterwards, clean without voiceover

Then came the month where the closedown saw the Balloon. For the first and last time, the anthem was never keyed over the clock, and instead was a separate video file put after the clock. It''s unknown if Wales had its own version, as no Welsh closedown from the period has surfaced.

The start of BBC News 24 led to the end of the anthem at closedown. There have been calls to bring it back several times,  in 2002, 2011 and 2022. The purpose of BBC News 24's simulcast was to provide access to people without the channel, but now that everybody in the UK has access to it? It just makes no sense. Even a closedown in the old sense would be anachronical.

BBC 2 never closed down with the anthem, under the grounds that the channel would shut down some time before BBC 1 did. Meanwhile BBC 2 had lots more later closedowns than BBC 1 and they never made something about it.


The tour of the ITV companies will follow a chronological overview of when they started.

A-R and ATV London adopted the anthem by default, ATV Midlands and ABC too.

Granada was the first ITV company to ditch the national anthem as the Bernsteins that ran the channel in its beginnings were known for their progressive liberal views. There was a national scandal, to the extent that a meat pie company protested for the fact that Granada didn't play it. An exception was held on the Queen's birthday in 1986, over a special slide (per a tv68 upload), without the clock and the ILR slide. Granada preferred to use its own themes at closedown. Viewers in the North saw the anthem until 1968 on ABC North, the anthem played by them was a little long, as if it were trying to climactically reach its end. Transdiffusion has some audio recordings of the last ABC North closedowns, as it turns out the last face seen on the station was a photograph of the Queen.

Scottish Television only played half of the anthem, according to 1980s closedowns online.

TWW (possibly also Teledu Cymru)? played a dual anthem because it broadcast to two jurisdictions. The Welsh anthem including scenes of Wales and its then-prosperous industry, while the English anthem had the inevitable footage of the Queen. The anthems changed during the twin flags: the Welsh one ending its anthem and the British one starting the national one. The channel didn't play the anthem in its final night on air.

Southern played the anthem during the entirety of its existence, with numerous footage of the Royal Family, excluding its last night on air with the Southern star poetically spinning and disappearing from view. (it was here that I found out the ring in the Southern logo was ovular)

Tyne Tees played the anthem for 29 years.

Anglia played the anthem for about 28 to 29 years, since they opted out from closedowns rather early in 1987 on weekends to air the Night Network. They went 24/7 in the last days of the Knight.

Ulster played the entire anthem despite the tense nature of the Troubles in later phases. They preferred using static images in the 80s (some companies aired slideshows)

Westward had the anthem but with the march preceding it. In its final years on air Westward had the more pompous sequences of an ITV station, with the extended ident's pompous tune being played while the announcer did the closing announcement "on behalf of the studios and the transmitters"). In the last days of Westward, STER's first color closing breakbumper with Loeki (and the STER "fish/birds" logo clearly visible) played after the "don't forget to switch of your set" message.

I heard Border played the anthem in its early years, but the information is still sketchy. About a decade in, they preferred using tunes, and in the 80s, nothing followed the clock.

Grampian played the anthem. In the 80s it was played over the Scottish flag.

Channel also played the entire anthem.

The 1968 Franchise Round led to the creation of new ITV companies. Some of these refused to play the national anthem.

Yorkshire Television in the new region refused to play the national anthem but only did once during the Queen's birthday in 1982, during the clock.

ATV Midlands continued using the anthem. During its last years on air (and its last closedown) they used an arrangement played on an organ.

Thames refused the closedown, playing numerous songs over its closedown menus and clock, though by the time of the last closedowns the announcer went straight to the clock. Exceptions include situations like a mid-80s strike that led to an early closedown.

LWT used the national anthem, the predictable videos of the Queen. By the time the channel moved to 24/7 broadcasts, the anthem was scarcely being used. One time in 1989, they played the anthem at closedown as they were entering maintenance. In subsequent maintenances the anthem wasn't played. The 1989 situation can be touted as the last time an ITV company played the anthem.

Lastly the companies that emerged out of the 1982 Franchise Round.

The only ITV company out of the new ones that refused was Central. They instead preferred using the Central theme over a Good Night slide (animation starting 1986).

TVS and Southern continued using the national anthem until they went 24/7. TVS even used it well past the time where they closed down around 4am and still aired Company, as they didn't become a 24/7 operation upon starting Night Network (they didn't carry Thru To 6 as it was limited to LWT), the last closedowns being announcerless. Since TSW took over Westward's control during its last few months on air, they initially inherited Westward's closedown anthem video before changing it.

GB News

Although it isn't a closedown, their anthem video is somewhat reminiscent of some ITV start-up videos from prior to the 1982 FR. For the first time, a television channel plays the anthem strictly at the beginning of proceedings (in this case live programming) before 6am.

Honorable mentions

Canada and Australia as Commonwealth realms. The British anthem was widespread before the formerly unofficial anthems (O Canada and Advance Austrlaia Fair respectively) were ratified as official anthems. The anthem also closed down TVB and ATV in Hong Kong before the territories were handed to the PRC, Rhodesia on RBC (later RTV now ZBC TV), later replaced by the later Rhodesian and Zimbabwean anthems, and also BFBS Television (went 24/7 in the late 90s) in British military bases abroad.

RE: Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - Nini - 17-09-2022

I do appreciate your research into this, well done!

RE: Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - AidanLunn - 28-10-2022

I’ve had several discussions about this in the past on Transdiffusion’s many Facebook pages. Chris Bowden-Smith of Transdiffusion told me a fair few times that Thames and Yorkshire played the anthem before both dropped them at different points in the 70s, he didn’t specify the visuals, though.

Don’t forget there will be many examples of regular closedown routines that won’t survive because of the rarity and expense of domestic video recorders before 1981-ish. Plus different formats would have meant in many cases recordings on old video formats being disposed of when replaced by something newer of a different format in pre-internet days. I’ll bet a lot of N1500/N1700/SVR recordings were dumped in the early 80s and the 90s!

It’s impossible to say that “XX company never did this as standard” based just on video recordings for companies before the early 80s. That’s where memories of people like the older Transdiffusion members come into play, they had interests in this kind of thing so would have paid more attention than the average viewer.

RE: Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - RandomMe - 24-12-2022

The archeologists at Kaleidoscope unearthed another example of the BBC departing from using the anthems at closedown for Christmas with more Latin Christmas carols, this time featuring the web premiere of the 1980 Christmas ident used there, where England had the ice skaters.

RE: Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - palmer7 - 30-12-2022

Any time I hear "God Save the Queen", I always sing "My Country, Tis of Thee" (can be sung to the same tune)

RE: Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - RandomMe - 31-12-2022

David Baldwin posted mock-ups of what the 1977 and 1978 BBC 1 Christmas idents would have looked like if the national anthem played over, and in the description from his shaky memory he said that in 1977 they used a still picture (same as 1992) and he was uncertain about 1978, likely the same as 1977

I mean I can justify what happened in 1978 going by the "nature" of the ident, but not 1977

Very likely that the anthem was played over a photograph of the Queen like in 1992 and like some ITV companies (remember a picture of her was the last face seen on ABC)

RE: Historical overview of the British anthem at closedown - RandomMe - 23-02-2023

There were however times where the anthem was played at a lower pitch. Take a look at this partial closedown from 1979:

Literally the same thing happened ten years later over one of the Christmas closedowns. I wonder how and why did the anthem change pitch occasionally, if that was a fault from the record that played it