Flagship show - Why we still love Blue Peter, 60 years on
PUBLISHED: 15:11 16 October 2018
It was 60 years ago, on October 16 2018, that Blue Peter first arrived on our screens. People in East Anglia have been sharing their memories of the iconic children’s show.
The programme has seen many changes over the years, including moves from London to Salford and, perhaps even more controversial, from BBC1 to digital channel CBeebies,
But it has proved its staying power, and earlier this year it was voted the greatest children’s show of all time in a Radio Times poll.
Over 60 years, it has had scores of presenters and pets, while countless models have been made and recipes cooked up on screen, as children frantically jotted down notes.
Blue Peter showed the way forward to today’s green culture by reusing all kinds of household items, from loo rolls and washing-up liquid bottles to cardboard boxes, even if the famous “sticky-backed plastic” added a less eco-friendly note.
Nowadays, it’s much easier to follow the instructions, as you can find them on the show’s website. But the ideas are as enterprising as ever, with the latest batch including a recycled plastic bag kite, a flower pot made from a plastic bottle, and a recipe for edible marshmallow slime!
The demonstrations of how to make things were all part of an ethos which encouraged children not only to watch, but also to become involved with its appeals, competitions and campaigns.
Presenters with links to region
Several of the programme’s presenters have had links with East Anglia over the years, including the late Christopher Trace, who was one of the two original presenters in 1958, hosting the show alongside Leila Williams. After his eight-year stint on the show, he moved to Norfolk and presented shows including Look East.
Another of the most famous presenters from the early days, Peter Purves, now lives in Suffolk. He presented the show for 10 years and even put a spin on one of its most enduring catchphrases when he published his autobiography, Here’s One I Wrote Earlier.
A more recent presenter, Simon Thomas, was born in Norwich, lived in Cromer and attended school in Grimston, near King’s Lynn.
He spent six-and-a-half years with the show, and stuck up for it a few years back when long-time presenter Valerie Singleton suggested it might be time to call it a day, following a fall in viewer numbers.
Mr Thomas pointed out that there were now many more channels to choose from, and said: “I still think it’s got a place, It’s adapted, it’s changed and that’s a good thing because you have got to do that.”
Katy Hill is yet another presenter linked to East Anglia, as she presented Katy’s Capers on BBC Radio Essex at the start of her career.
The show has often visited the region over the years, including a challenge filmed in 1967, Much-loved presenter John Noakes, the show’s daredevil, climbed up the mast of Royal Navy training ship HMS Ganges, based at Shotley in Suffolk. This was one of the stunts recalled by many people when tributes poured in following Mr Noakes’ death last year.
Another popular presenter, Konnie Huq, visited RAF Honington near Thetford back in 2007, to film an opening title sequence for the show before its 50th anniversary.
She was joined by children from Honington Primary School and members of the Suffolk Army Cadet Force, RAF Marham, RAF Fire Service, and RAF Honington First Response paramedics. They all helped to spell out the word ‘Blue’ by holding light blue umbrellas up along the base’s redundant runway.
Our favourite Blue Peter moments, and how we won our badges
Andy Russell from Norwich said: “Anthea Turner making Thunderbirds Tracy Island in 1993 out of yoghurt and margarine pots was brilliant, and a great relief for parents who could not buy the real thing because they sold out in toy shops as soon as they were unpacked. A feat of engineering and one of the most complicated builds the show did. I started, but then bought one ... what a cop out!”
Katy Sandalls from Ipswich said: “I do have a Blue Peter badge for a little ironing beads design I made of the Blue Peter ship. I was absolutely thrilled to get it and showed it off at school. My favourite presenter as a kid was Katy Hill, as she was the only other person I knew who spelt her name like me. I loved getting the annuals each Christmas and re-reading them endlessly. My sister still has a small collection of them.”
Judy Rimmer from Ipswich said: “I enjoyed Blue Peter as a child in the 1960s, but I must admit I don’t think I ever bothered to make anything out of sticky-backed plastic - I was never a great one for making elaborate models. Or any models, let’s face it. I did love the show’s pets, though, and I collected lots of used stamps from envelopes for one of their appeals, though I don’t now remember what it was in aid of.
“My family also used to watch the very similar show on ITV, Magpie, which had a funkier theme tune - but on one day each week it caused us a certain amount of agony when the two programmes clashed for around 20 minutes. In those days before video recorders, we always chose to watch all of Blue Peter and miss part of Magpie.
“Many years later, as a reporter for the Ipswich Star, I went along to Crown Pools when one of the Blue Peter presenters visited. It was Mark Curry, who was on the show from 1986 to 1989. He was funny, friendly and charming, exactly the same in real life as on the TV show - but very difficult to interview, because he kept asking me about life in Ipswich and what it was like working for a local paper, so I could hardly get any questions in myself!”
Liz Nice from Bury St Edmunds said: “I am going to be controversial here and say that I never really liked Blue Peter that much. I always saw it as the boring thing that came on after the good programmes like Scooby Doo, Grange Hill and Rentaghost.
“I never much cared about making things and ‘here’s one I made earlier’ was just annoying. If I couldn’t make it as quickly as they did, I couldn’t really be bothered.
“The dogs were nice - I was particularly fond of Goldie - but I was always living in hope that one of them would poo in the Blue Peter garden and I don’t think any of them ever did.
“I do like the music though and to hear it is to hear one’s childhood, to feel my grandfather sitting behind me in his armchair while I watched the programme leaning against his leg. I suppose that’s what nostalgia does for you. If something stays around long enough, you grow to love it, even though you were never really that keen.
“I did love Shep, though he was a little before my time, and John Noakes is probably the inspiration for any young person who thinks of doing a thing and then, instead of just thinking about it, just goes right ahead. My favourite moment was when Janet Ellis revealed that she was pregnant live on air, which was clearly unscripted and, I think, a little controversial as she was unmarried at the time. Maybe I am remembering that wrongly, but, as a journalist, it’s the naughty bits, the things that went a bit wrong, that stick in the memory. So when I think about who I became, perhaps it was my inspiration after all.”
Paul Geater from Ipswich recalled: “I started watching Blue Peter when it was hosted by Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton. Trace (who later presented Look East) was very keen on model trains and prompted me to pester my parents to buy me a set when I was about seven years old. My mother resisted - an interest in trains was clearly something I would soon grow out of!
“I remember John Noakes being introduced as the “Action Man” and I continued watching during the halcyon days of him, Peter Purves and Singleton. By the time they moved on at the end of the 1970s, I was too old for Blue Peter - but I must admit I did tend to tune in when I was at home. It just felt like part of my life.
“I was aware of the new presenters who came along after that, and my daughter enjoyed the show (including repeated old episodes from the early 1970s that turned up on UK Gold when that first started broadcasting).
“One segment that always interested me was the Blue Peter Garden. Coming from a green-fingered family I liked seeing Percy Thrower trying to persuade us all to get growing - and when we visited Manchester on our way to a holiday in the Lakes a couple of years ago I could not resist visiting the relocated Blue Peter Garden in the Media City complex at Salford Quays.
“The bust of Peter Purves’ dog Petra is there along with the Blue Peter ship symbol. I haven’t seen an episode of Blue Peter for about 15-20 years now, but as a national institution, it’s in a class of its own!”
Will Jefford, who lives in Ipswich, said: “I once had a Blue Peter badge for painting a picture of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. I think I did it with oil paints. I lived at Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, and I was able to use the badge to get into Stratford Butterfly Farm, as Blue Peter Badge-holders were allowed in free.”
On Facebook, Katrina Clarke-Abbott from Suffolk said: “I have a Gold Blue Peter badge. Had it 30 years.”
Jane Smith, also from Suffolk, said: “I have a Blue Peter badge - I was a runner up in a competition when John Noakes, Lesley Judd, and Peter Purves were presenters. Then also years later both my boys received badges. Great programme!”