THE BLOG

Blackadder to CNN; Q&A with Kemistry's Graham McCallum

31/01/2014 10:41 GMT | Updated 30/03/2014 10:59 BST

From the 1966 graphics department of the BBC to transforming the look of contemporary broadcast news with CNN's redesign, Kemistry gallery founder Graham McCallum takes time to reflect on a five decade career, his work for iconic Jackanory and Blackadder, the genius of Saul Bass and how "fresh ideas come from engaging with the real world, not Google".

Q Can you tell me a little about the redesign of the BBC 2 logo?

A When I first started working at the BBC, both the BBC 1 and BBC 2 logos were mechanical models. They ran 24 hours a day with a remote camera on them. This was very practical as it meant the presentation editor of the day could simply hit a button in the gallery, go live at any time and the indents would always ready to perform. The difficulties of animating them either on film or tape was that this needed a run up time for the film or tape to get up to speed. It was only when computer graphics arrived that this became practical.

Sometime in the 60's BBC2 had a week of American Television and I was asked to make some sort of on-screen promotion for it. As the BBC2 was made of horizontal stripes I had the simple idea of colouring them red and white and adding stars. This was to my knowledge the first time an on screen logo had been used to promote content and permission for this had to go up to the Director General. There was much discussion at the time as to whether this would somehow contaminate the BBC brand but in the end it was cleared for transmission.

Q What did you actually execute for Jackanory and Blackadder?

A ..Jackanory was simple; a famous actor would sit in a chair and tell a story illustrated by pictures. Drawing the picture proved to be an almighty task;five programmes a week, each using up to 10 pictures, meant we had to draw between 50 and 60 pictures on a three week turn-around..

For Blackadder I had to make the opening and closing titles and supply any graphic props needed during the series. For the Blackadder iii titles I had to film Rowan Atkinson on a library set. The joke was that he found a hollowed out volume with a racy paperback in it that contained the title episode based on the Jane Austin novel 'Sense and Sensibility' In Blackadder's case these became 'Nob and Nobilty' or 'Sense and Senilty'. On the day of filming we kept getting phone calls all day to say Rowan had been held up but was on his way. He eventually turned up right at the end of the day. We shot the entire sequence in under an hour.

Q What was your brief for CNN?

..it was pointed out that the channel looked essentially American which could be interpreted by the viewer as news seen from an American perspective. If the channel was to be truly international, it had to assume a 'stateless' look.

The look had derived from the analogue technology of the day and was borrowed from the Stock Exchange tickers and sports results. We knew that the mood should feel urgent with a constant stream of information being scrolled across the screen together with market reports, headlines and constant 'Breaking News' banners. We discovered in our researches that some viewers were actually masking the bottom of the screen because they found it too distracting. We developed a look that de-cluttered the screen and allowed to news stories to 'breath' This new look was subsequently copied by many other news channel but CNN was bold enough to do it first. 

Q Does design matter?

A Design matters because it's the mark of truly civilised society..I can't remember which designer said it, but when I client asked why his design was so expensive when it had only taken him a day, he replied 'No, it took me 35 years'.

Q Photoshop/Illustrator or 'pencil and pad'?

'pencil and pad'. When I look round are studio today, I see designers at their keyboards, headphones on in their own virtual bubble. They'll even e mail the person on the next desk if they have a question..I do feel something has been lost; fresh ideas come from engaging with the real world not Google.

Q Why is the D&AD needed?

A What makes D&AD special is that if the jury doesn't see something in a category they feel worthy of a pencil, they don't award one. Their promotion of new blood is also impressive. 

Q Is there any piece of design that you consider ahead of its time or even genius?

A Saul Bass practically invented feature film titles. I would put him in the genius category. I remember going to see West Side Story's graffiti inspired title sequence set the film up beautifully and is a work of art in it's own right..He changed the game. We were thrilled when we got his original posters for a show in our Kemistry Gallery. Pablo Ferro's titles for Dr Strangelove have influenced designers to this day.