Martin Lambie-Nairn – Graphic designer and branding consultant
Born August 5, 1945; died December 25, 2020
Martin Lambie-Nairn, who has died aged 75, was a designer whose work will be known to millions who have watched British terrestrial TV over the last forty years or so, even if they don’t know the name of its creator. This came through a series of animated logos that gave both the BBC and Channel 4 their corporate identities. More recently, Lambie-Nairn was behind the oxygen bubbles ident for mobile phone network, O2. Lambie-Nairn was also the brains behind the original Spitting Image (1984-1996), which became one of the most iconic TV programmes of its era.
The puppet-based satirical sketch show‘s grotesque rubber caricatures created by Peter Fluck and Roger Law matched the brash, no-holds-barred scurrilousness of its material. Lasting a phenomenal eighteen series’, the programme was described as being ‘based on an original lunch with Martin Lambie-Nairn’.
Spitting Image captured the spirit of its time just as much as Channel 4, the bold new station launched two years earlier by Lambie-Nairn’s pioneering computer generated block-based animation. As it flagshipped the station’s creative heart, the image of the blocks ushered in what in programming terms at times turned out to be the shock of the new in a refreshingly user-friendly manner.
As the blocks tumbled into view, fanfared in by a clip from David Dundas’ commissioned theme, Fourscore, it was as if each different coloured piece of the jigsaw were taking a run up, before slotting into position with a synchronised sculptural display. Once it took shape, the completed figure ‘4’ announced itself as the future of television with an inviting flourish. After introducing the station to the world in November 1982, it was used umpteen times daily for the next fourteen years, with assorted revamps retaining its central image to this day.
Lambie-Nairn did something similar with a package of more than thirty idents for BBC Two, screened between 1991 and 2001. These included the numerous variations on the ‘2’ figure, with each one giving it a cartoon character style personality that was often as inventive and as entertaining as the programmes they trailed.
In 1997, Lambie-Nairn oversaw the corporate rebrand for the BBC as a whole. Gone was the rigid monochrome stuffiness of the public service broadcaster’s image of old. In its place, Lambie-Nairn fostered a sleeker, slicker, and more playfully open plan approach. Key to this was taking the BBC’s old globe and transforming it into a hot air balloon in flight, with the aim of suggesting that the channel was for the entire world.
Lambie-Nairn began at the BBC in 1965 as an assistant designer, before working as a graphic designer at Rediffusion, ITN and London Weekend Television. He worked on the on-screen graphics for the Apollo space missions, and designed the logo for ITN and the title sequence for News at Ten.
In 1976, after leaving LWT, with Colin Robinson he set up Robinson Lambie-Nairn, where he developed new graphic techniques used in Sunday politics show, Weekend World. In 1990, the company was rebranded as Lambie-Nairn & Company. The same year, he became consultant creative director of the BBC brand, a post he held for the next twelve years.
Lambie-Nairn went on to create graphics for BBC Three and BBC Four, CBeebies and Question Time. Many of these are still used today, including his world in motion rebrand of BBC News. He also worked for international TV stations, including TF1 in France.
Lambie-Nairn produced the UK’s first computer generated TV ad, a thirty-second commercial for Smarties. He had already created a self-mocking ad for Hamlet cigars, which pastiched the original Channel 4 logo. With the blocks unable to come together, they remain in a messy heap until moulding themselves into a resigned face shape and have a relaxing smoke. The ad epitomised Lambie-Nairn’s over-riding wit that fuelled much of his work, and won an award at the 1985 Cannes Advertising Festival. The wit was there too in the title of his 1997 book, Brand Identity for Television: With Knobs On.
In 2007, Lambie-Nairn founded design consultancy, ML-N, and in 2009 joined brand agency, Heavenly, as creative director, before reviving ML-N in 2011. The same year, he oversaw the rebrand of the Royal Opera House in London. In 2012, he led a competition on Blue Peter to design the official emblem for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Later work included the launch identity of biomedical research centre, the Francis Crick Institute in 2016, the development of the HSBC brand in 2018, and the rebrand of BT the following year. He was a Royal Designer for Industry, a Fellow of the Royal Television Society, and an honorary doctor at the Universities of Lincoln and Northampton.
Lambie-Nairn’s generosity and encouragement towards a new generation of designers arguably helped sustain a youthful zest in his own work. At the heart of this was a dynamic and expansive approach that didn’t just help change the face of television, but of the cultural landscape it occupied. By making television as a brand look different, Lambie-Nairn subsequently made the world look different too.
He is survived by his wife, Cordelia (nee Summers), who he married in 1970, their two daughters, Fenn and Flavia, and their son, Van.
The Herald, January 14th 2021