Blue Peter is a typically British institution, it’s a children’s television programme that has been running continuously since October 1958.
The format has remained pretty consistent through its fifty year history, two or three respectable young presenters demonstrate how to make things, care for pets and learn about the world.
The programme was first broadcast in October 1958, introduced by Christopher Trace and Leila Williams. Miss Williams (a former Miss Great Britain) left the programme in 1962 and was replaced by Valerie Singleton who stayed with the programme until 1975, although she ceased to be one of the regular presenters in 1972.
It was the sixties that are often considered to be Blue Peter’s golden years.
The team of Peter Purves, Valerie Singleton and John Noakes proved to be both popular and informative, and shook off competition from ITV’s unashamed Blue Peter clone ‘Magpie’ (1968 to 1980).
There have been 34 presenters of Blue Peter at the time of writing, and many have gone on to presenting more mainstream television.
Blue Peter Pets
It was also in the sixties that the ‘Blue Peter pets’ were first introduced, with the acquisition of a puppy and a competition to name it. ‘Petra’, as the puppy was named, became a surrogate pet for millions of children, and after her death a statue was made of her and placed in the ‘Blue Peter Garden’ in the grounds of the BBC’s Television Centre. I say a statue of Petra, actually some years after the dog’s death in 1977 it was revealed that the original puppy had died a couple of days after the first broadcast and had been replaced.
Other ‘Blue Peter pets’ include ‘Shep’ a mischievous and excitable Border Collie that accompanied John Noakes, Shep’s excitability leading John Noakes to coining a popular catch-phrase “Get Down Shep!”.
Over the years Blue Peter has had nine dogs, nine cats, five tortoises and two parrots.
Blue Peter Badges
One of the first features of Blue Peter were ‘Blue Peter Badges’ – given as reward for various activities and achievements. Various grades of badge were available, from a white shield featuring the Blue Peter logo (designed, incidentally by Tony Hart) up to a gold badge for an outstanding achievement – dragging a pensioner for a burning building or similar.
One I made Earlier
The phrase “Here’s one I made earlier.” was attributed to the presenter ‘Christopher Trace, and for may of my generation evokes Blue Peter’s regular features of making interesting and useful’ articles from household rubbish, including yoghurt pots, coat hangers and toilet roll tubes, connected with ‘sticky tape’ or ‘Sticky backed plastic’ – brand names are never mentioned on the BBC.
Probably the best remembered of these were the ‘advent crown’ – first made in the early sixties from four wire coat hangers and lots of tinsel
and ‘Tracey Island’ a homemade version of the best selling ‘Thunderbirds’ tie-in.
The replacement of the puppy ‘Petra’ was the first of several ‘scandals’ that Blue Peter has endured in its fifty year history. In 1998 the presenter ‘Richard Bacon’ resigned after being exposed by a tabloid newspaper taking cocaine; in 2007 the programme was involved in controversy regarding fake competition winners and the naming of the cat ‘Socks’ – which was supposed to have been by a phone poll, but the public vote was over-ruled by the Blue Peter production team.
That Blue Peter has survived with so few scandals is probably tribute to Biddy Baxter who edited the programme from 1965 to 1988, it was she, more than anybody who ensured the direction, morality and ethics of the show.