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Singleton, Valerie (1937-)

Presenter, Actor

Main image of Singleton, Valerie (1937-)

Born on 9 April 1937 into a middle class home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, the daughter of an RAF flight lieutenant promoted to Wing Commander during WWII, Valerie Singleton possessed a rebellious streak and was once expelled from convent school. An aspiring actress, she won a scholarship to RADA in 1954 and afterwards spent a year at Bromley Rep, performing in 24 plays.

Singleton's received pronunciation and measured tones brought voice-over work in commercials and documentaries from 1958 (including narrating nudist film Nudes of the World). Her television acting debut was in sitcom The Adventures of Brigadier Wellington-Bull (BBC, 1959), playing the Brigadier's daughter. Presenting work came with ITV admags including ATV's The Arnold Doodle Show, hosted with cartoonist 'Mac'.

Singleton joined the BBC as a television continuity announcer in February 1962. In April she auditioned for Blue Peter (BBC, 1958- ), losing out to Anita West but West departed in September for personal reasons, and Singleton was installed alongside longstanding presenter Christopher Trace. Serious but unpatronising, she remained unflappable throughout. Editor Biddy Baxter said of her: "If the studio roof had collapsed in the middle of a live programme, Valerie would have stepped out of the rubble and said 'And now for something quite different,' without faltering." She took a defecating elephant, a studio fire and a near fatal Thames speedboat crash in her stride.

She was best known as part of a Blue Peter trio comprising John Noakes and Peter Purves. When Lesley Judd expanded the team in May 1972, Val made fewer studio appearances, fronting the historic travelogue series Blue Peter Special Assignment between 1973 and 1976 with one final series in 1981. Another spin-off, Val Meets the VIPs (BBC, 1973-74), saw her fielding a young audience's questions as they interrogated personalities from Morecambe and Wise to Margaret Thatcher. Val's last appearance with the Blue Peter team was in December 1974, her final film contribution airing in May 1976.

One of the first children's presenters to transfer to 'adult' television, she said of herself: "I was never conscious of playing to an audience of children. I was just aware of an audience. I was aware that grannies were watching... or maybe the Queen before she went out to some banquet. If one was doing something that was interesting and worth doing you did it whoever was out there." While still with Blue Peter she fronted the weekly 'Consumer Unit' feature on Nationwide (BBC, 1969-84) from 1972 to 1976, assisted by Richard Stilgoe. By 1977 she had joined the series' regular weekday team. In late 1978 she moved to daily late night current affairs show Tonight (BBC, 1975-79) and also presented its Friday arts and entertainment variant Tonight in Town (BBC, 1979). She and co-presenter Brian Widlake helmed The Money Programme (BBC, 1966- ) from Autumn 1980 - her breezier style and the 1980s interest in personal finance boosted figures to three million. She stayed until 1988.

Singleton also presented BBC Radio 4's current affairs magazine PM between 1981 and 1993. Daytime television proved a busy area in the mid-90s with British travelogue Travel UK! (ITV, 1993), Next (BBC, 1994-95; aka Next with Marti Caine), a BBC2 magazine for the over-50s (reporting alongside John Noakes) and history quiz Backdate (C4, 1996).

Singleton still passionately supports Blue Peter, presenting a 40th birthday theme night with John and Pete (BBC2 tx. 10/10/98) and returning to dig up the time capsule for the year 2000 (the trio also fronted Channel 4's Pet Rescue one week in 2003). She recently played the boss of The Singleton Detective Agency in Blue Peter's adventure serials The Quest.

Still working as a travel writer, Singleton received an OBE for services to television in 1992 and later This Is Your Life's red book (BBC, tx. 2/5/2001).

Alistair McGown

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Mind How You Go (1973)Mind How You Go (1973)

Valerie Singleton teaches primary-school children basic road safety

Thumbnail image of Blue Peter (1958- )Blue Peter (1958- )

Live magazine show offering British children a window onto the world.

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Thumbnail image of Noakes, John (1934-)Noakes, John (1934-)

Presenter, Actor

Thumbnail image of Purves, Peter (1939-)Purves, Peter (1939-)

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