Fancy a Brew – a life in web design

Published on 22 February 2011 in , , , , , , ,

So yesterday I announced the closure of Fancy a Brew, my website on Mark and Lard.

The end of Fancy A Brew

Closing things down is never easy, and I think it’s always good to celebrate the life of something, especially when it’s been online for a long time.

And that’s what this post is. I’ve delved in to my extensive website archives to look back at 14 years of terrible web design. Looking back at Fancy a Brew over the years is a bit like taking a time machine and exploring the past. So pop on those old fashioned clothes and prepare to head back to 1997…

Incidentally, larger versions of each screenshot can be found by clicking on the image.

Fancy A Brew in March 1998

I first launched a website in the early spring of 1997, however not once did I consider backing it up until about a year later in March 1998. That said, this may well have been the first design of Fancy A Brew. Note the high use of images, which at that time would have been fun for many users on dial-up. However that was an experience I wasn’t personally to have until 1999 when I left university and finally invested in a modem for my home PC. Until then I was always using the (relatively) super fast network of the University of Durham, so didn’t give such things a notice.

Also worth noting is the way the second image is mysteriously broken. I’ve absolutely no idea why there was no border round it, nor why I never fixed it.

Fancy A Brew in June 1998

By June someone must have told me that downloading the site on a 33.3kbps modem and I’d reduced the graphics load and simplified the design. Either that or I couldn’t find suitable images for the Shirehorses Story which has now arrived, along with the curiously named “Some Other Stuff” and “Gratuitous Links”. Ah the days when people used to bother having links pages… I gave up many years ago.

In case you’re wondering, the “Website Theft?” (and previous “Rough Justice?”) link went to a page with a story and a half.

Around about this time the Radio 1 website launched with a fancy new design and lots of new content. Unfortunately much of the content seemed suspiciously similar to Neil Johan’s Unofficial Scrawn and Lard website. And by similar, I mean identical. Even Neil’s spelling mistakes were replicated.

The regulars on the newsgroup were naturally outraged, and I was one of them. Much indignant communication went on with the BBC. Spelling mistakes were corrected. In protest I hosted an open letter of the situation, and a spoof sketch which explained it all. The sketch told the story in the form of Sue Lawley fronted investigative TV programme “That’s Here And Now”, which was the result of current affairs TV programme “Here and Now” being merged with “That’s Life!” in order to save money.

As far as I can recall, we never particularly got satisfaction from the BBC and as a result I decided to keep the webpage online “as a permanent embarrassment to the BBC”.

And then I stopped being an indignant student and, err, started working for the BBC. I decided to take the page down. It had done it’s job (terribly) and I’d bring down the system from within instead (or somet.)

Of course these days that page would have been cached by Google, and probably stored in the Web Archive. It was a bit easier to hide your past in those days…

Fancy A Brew in December 1998

It was all change in December again, with yet another new redesign, now with lots of text links rather than those big chunky images. I suspect I’d probably got fed up of creating them. Text was much easier.

Throughout all the above you’ll see some common features of the internet like guestbooks which, in those days, weren’t just full of pointless spam! And then there’s the webring!

I used to join as many webrings as I could. They were so much of their era. A way of exploring and curating related content by each site linking to each other. This was a time when finding content was difficult, and searching the internet meant trying to find stuff in Yahoo!’s web directory. Getting content in to Yahoo!’s directory seemed to be nigh on impossible and webrings provided an alternative route.

As search improved, webrings (like links pages) ultimately became an irrelevance. But that would be a few years yet.

Incidentally this version of the site saw me introduce my own custom webring image which, if we’re honest, looked just a bit nicer than the “official” one.

Fancy A Brew in Easter 1999

As a student I seemed to do little bar redesign websites. I originally started building using Netscape Composer 3 before quickly learning that coding by hand was so much faster.

Sadly the awful cup background image remained. Quite why I couldn’t see that it made reading text really difficult I don’t know, however that’s how much of the web was at that time, and at least it wasn’t animated like so many background images available from sites like Geocities (see also MySpace all those years later…)

Fancy A Brew in 2000

Moving forward to 2000 and the design has been simplified and cleaned up. By this point I’d started working at the BBC and with proper web designers. The web was getting better designed as a whole, and for the first time it was becoming less of just a student and computer enthusiast thing. Freeserve had launched; it’s free ISP model helping to bring the internet slowly to the masses.

Thankfully the cup background image had gone, although the cup remained in banner image area.

Such clean and relatively clear designs are quite popular to this day. But it wasn’t to last…

Fancy A Brew in June 2001

Forward on to June 2001 and for the first time all my website used a standard template. I’d been moving in that direction for some time, however some sites like Fancy a Brew remained outside.

The reason for the consolidation was practical and about time saving. I was running the whole of Planet Bods through a templating system, One minor change could be easily made everywhere.

That said, there were still design differences for each section – colours could be changed easily. Each of the main categories had its own colour scheme. The homepage was green, television was muddy brown that (for some reason) I had a bit of a thing for at the time.

The WebRing logo looks strangely modern and that’s because it probably is. By this point the Webring system had moved to using JavaScript and I guess it’s still active, although broken.

Fancy A Brew in May 2002

In May 2002 tabs were all the rage! As a site Planet Bods was getting too big, and the navigation was struggling to cope. Or something. Why else could there be tabs, section navigation and crumbtrails?

Anyway, besides the grey, the other big thing is the arrival of Mark and Lard Corner, of which Fancy a Brew became part, alongside new sections on catchphrases and the quality items which peppered the Mark and Lard show.

Fancy A Brew in April 2003

The new additions didn’t last particularly long. By April 2003 they’d been shuttered and put in an archive. Fancy A Brew was back, now in it’s former glory.

Fancy A Brew in 2006

In 2004 Mark and Lard left Radio 1. Mark Radcliffe went to Radio 2; Marc Riley to 6music.

With that, the premise of the whole site just fell apart.

Throughout their Radio 1 shows, the concept was always that Mark Radcliffe was the clever one, who was lumbered with this slightly dim, lumbering idiot “Lardy-boy”. Throughout Fancy a Brew’s history, I’d told their story but flipped it. The real story was that Scrawny boy was the muppet, and Marc Riley was the clever one.

As their double act ended, that concept just didn’t make sense any more. It was meaningless.

After much umm-ing and ah-ing, I decided to re-invent the whole thing as a proper, informative history of both presenters, with pages for each of their shows and everything.

The site was redesigned, and taken given it’s own templates once more. The red colour which I’d favoured in one form or other for so long, returned and… oh lordy… the cup was replaced! The original, ropey clip art was retired and replaced by a new, shiny vector image which I cunningly rotated.

And notably even as late as 2006, the webring code remained.

Ironically it was this redesign that started the demise of the site. Suddenly I had to start putting effort in to keeping it up to date.

The final version of Fancy a Brew

2006 was to be the last major design change to Fancy A Brew. It got some tweaks a few years down the line – the horrible grey background replaced by a cleaner white. Some images moved to the left instead of the right. Oh and the webring went for good.

And that is, ultimately, how it will stay. Well with a banner at the top saying it’s closed down. It’s the end of an era. Really. It is.