The Speedbird is the stylised emblem of a bird in flight designed in 1932 by Theyre Lee-Elliott as the corporate logo for Imperial Airways. It became a design classic and was used by the airline and its successors – British Overseas Airways Corporation and British Airways – for 52 years. The term "Speedbird" is still the call sign for British Airways.
The original Speedbird was designed in 1932 for Imperial Airways by Theyre Lee-Elliott. It was initially used on advertising posters and luggage labels. Later, it was applied to the nose section of the company's aircraft and could be seen for example in 1938 on the company's Short S.30 improved C-class flying boats.
With the creation of BOAC in 1939 the logo was retained, continuing to appear on the noses of aircraft throughout World War II despite the military-style camouflage that had replaced the airline livery.
From 1950 BOAC gave the Speedbird greater prominence on the aircraft using it on the tail fin, either in navy blue on a white background or vice versa, and also using it widely elsewhere, such as on airport buses.
With the advent of air traffic control and the adoption of call signs to identify aircraft and their operators, BOAC chose the name of their now well-known logo, "Speedbird", as their call sign when in flight.
In the mid-1960s the design of the Speedbird was slightly altered, with a slimmer "body" and larger "wing", and on the tailfin coloured gold on a navy blue background. Elsewhere the colours used for it were mostly a combination of cyan and white.
In 1974, BOAC was merged with British European Airways and others to form British Airways. The speedbird logo was retained unaltered, but returned to the nose section of the aircraft. A prominent Union Flag design now occupied the fin.
The Speedbird survived for another ten years, finally being retired in 1984. It was replaced by the speedwing, which was itself replaced by the current speedmarque in 1997.
As British Airways prepared for privatisation, a new corporate look was adopted in 1984, developed by Landor Associates. Referred to as the Speedwing, the red flash on the lower dark blue part of the fuselage bore a slight resemblance to the original 1930s design. The current Speedmarque ribbon bears a tangential resemblance to the original Speedbird. "Speedbird" continues to be used by British Airways as the ICAO callsign for its main international services. On its domestic services, it uses the callsign "Shuttle".
Hatton Cross tube station (open 1975) still has "Speedbird" decorating its platform pillars.
Theyre Lee-Elliott was a graphic artist and painter working in London in the 1930s.
Other notable works by Lee-Elliott include posters for the London Underground and the Airmail logo. Many of his paintings and original artworks are in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Speedbird House was an office block at Heathrow Airport. It was originally the headquarters of BOAC and, until the company moved, of British Airways.
Speedbird Way is a road near the Colnbrook Bypass, close to Heathrow Airport.
Speedbird is also the name of one of the British Airways Sailing Club yachts.
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BOAC's Speedbird, one of the classics of airline and advertising design
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