Martin Parr shoots BBC1's new TV idents

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If you have turned your telly over to BBC One in the past week, you may have spotted a team of swimmers in colourful caps, standing knee-deep in a brisk-looking Severn Estuary. They are a group of open-water swimmers from Clevedon, Somerset, and on New Year’s Day they were the inaugural image from Martin Parr’s new BBC One idents.

After ten years, the BBC has chosen to retire its ‘Circle idents’ in favour of new campaign that visualises ‘oneness’ by portraying “different groups of people coming together across the UK, united by their shared passions and interests”. Gone are the serene, circling hippos, in their place the open water swimmers, or an energetic woman in a headset leading a roomful of Zumba devotees.

Parr started work on the project late-November, shooting sports clubs and exercise classes around the south west and Wales. “The groups have been very nice to work with, I don’t think they quite realised how big this would be,” he says. “This is an amazingly open and well-circulated project. People are going to see it day in day out, it’s almost a bit scary.”

Parr had photographed the Clevedon swimmers before, and says he was very happy to work with them again. “They’re always a great bunch of characters, and going [swimming] in November is quite an achievement in itself,” he says.

Parr composed and shot all the still for the campaigns but also directed all the filming, describing it as an interesting experience “because I always do the camerawork myself”. He’s probably Britain’s best-known contemporary photographer but is also no stranger to the DV camcorder, having filmed a BBC Two documentary called Think of England back in 1999, and Graham Fellows’ comedy documentary It’s Nice Up North in 2006.

Parr is still shooting the idents, and by the time he’s finished will have made 24 in total, released throughout the year. He can’t say exactly what he’ll be shooting for all of them – not least because the content has yet to be decided for some – but confirms they’ll relate to the seasons and cultural events, laughing that “Wimbledon will have a tennis one”.

But most of all he hopes they will “capture an evolving portrait of modern Britain in all its diversity”, and says the groups are selected with this in mind.