arts and design

Martin Lambie-Nairn obituary


Martin Lambie-Nairn, who has died aged 75, broke new ground in branding television networks and commercial goods and services. His idents – moving logos shown between programmes – to identify the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK were so hugely popular that they even received fan mail for their wit and originality.

An early adopter of computer animation, Martin used it to create the bold and colourful “animated blocks” identity for the launch of Channel 4 in 1982. Advertisers quickly saw the potential of involving Martin in numerous popular campaigns, including those for Smarties and Hamlet Cigars, the latter a parody of the Channel 4 ident, with its blocks not coming together properly until settling into a resigned but contented cigar-smoking face. It won an award at the Cannes advertising festival in 1985.

Martin and his design agency went on to reinvent and create the visual identities for a host of TV channels and brands around the world, including TF1 in France, BBC One and BBC Two and the oxygen bubbles identity for the mobile phone network O2. Bringing wit and beauty into people’s lives was as important to him as differentiating the brand that he was working for.

A creative contribution to a television programme came with the satirical puppet show Spitting Image (1984-96), whose closing credits acknowledged its genesis “from an original lunch with Martin Lambie-Nairn”. He came up with the idea in 1981, and the caricaturists Roger Law and Peter Fluck turned puppetmakers to realise it with the comedy director John Lloyd. The original run lampooned political life in the eras of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Martin was pleased to see the show return in 2020 with another Tory as prime minister, as the first fresh commission on BritBox, the streaming service run by the BBC and ITV.

Spitting Image with Margaret Thatcher, centre
The original run of Spitting Image lampooned political life in the era of Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: ITV

Martin had a unique talent for surprising audiences through creative daring and innovation. He also displayed great kindness and care for others, and I am one of the countless people in the branding and design industries to have benefited from it.

Born in Croydon, south London, Martin was the son of Stephen Lambie-Nairn, a tax inspector, and Joan (nee Lambert), an accountant. He studied at Canterbury College of Art, now the University for the Creative Arts.

His career in television began at the BBC in 1965. He then moved to London Weekend Television and ITN, where he developed the on-screen graphics for the Apollo space missions and later the design for ITN’s corporate logo as well as the title sequence for News at Ten.

Channel 4 logo
Lambie-Nairn used computer animation to create the bold and colourful ‘animated blocks’ identity for Channel 4. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

With the designer Colin Robinson, in 1976 Martin set up the agency Robinson Lambie-Nairn, and they were joined shortly afterwards by another partner, Ian St John. They went on to win contracts for programme graphics for Weekend World and The London Programme. From then on tThe company quickly expanded and found success throughout the 1980s in both print and television branding. It was renamed Lambie-Nairn & Company in 1990.

That year Martin became consultant creative director for the overall BBC brand, a position he was to hold for 12 years. During this period he rebranded the BBC and its output across all media. The most famous channel identity was for BBC Two, commissioned by the then controller Alan Yentob. The creative brief was simple: “Make the brand feel less stuffy.” All the idents in the first series employed traditional live action. Later, with the need to appeal to a younger generation of viewers, a new generation of idents was commissioned and produced using computer-generated imagery.

In 1997, Martin redesigned the identity for BBC One – getting the long-established globe logo to take off in the form of a red hot-air balloon that was used for a new series of channel idents. The underlying idea was that the channel brought the whole world to every corner of the UK.

He also co-conceived the “rhythm and movement” idents for BBC One, first shown in 2002. In 1999 he worked alongside the television and radio composer David Lowe to launch yet another category-defining identity, this time for BBC News. The aim was to capture the brand’s strength and reputation as a world-class global news organisation. The work is still used on air and online today.

Later national and international branding projects included the rebrand of the Royal Opera House in 2011, the launch identity for the UK’s leading biomedical research centre, the Francis Crick Institute, in 2016, the creative development of the HSBC brand in 2018 and the rebrand of BT in 2019.

Martin was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry in 2012 and was a fellow of the Royal Television Society. His work for BBC Two resulted in a Bafta award.

Always keen to encourage the next generation of designers and creative talent, he was a visiting professor at the University of Lincoln.

In 1970 he married Cordelia Summers. She survives him, along with their two daughters, Fenn and Flavia, and son, Van.

Martin John Lambie-Nairn, graphic designer and branding consultant, born 5 August 1945; died 25 December 2020



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