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Children's Television by Alistair McGown
Introduction Scheduling Puppets Merchandising Long-running Presenters
Drama Youth Imports Schools    
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Still from Blue Peter

Blue Peter (BBC, 1958-)
John Noakes and Shep

Children's TV presentation in the 1950s carried on radio traditions of middle class Auntie and Uncle figures, kindly if sometimes patronising types like Desmond Morris on Zoo Time or Picture Book's Patricia Driscoll and Vera McKechnie. Warmer characters were Johnny Morris, reading stories in the friendly guise of The Hot Chestnut Man, and TV artist Tony Hart.

In the 1950s and early '60s, male presenters wore smart suits and ties, with Eamonn Andrews and Leslie Crowther sober figures among the high-jinks of Crackerjack. Christopher Trace, the first Blue Peter presenter, wore suit and tie before softening his image with comfy sweaters. John Craven first hosted Newsround in 1972 and decided against wearing a suit so as to appear more welcoming - he chose shirt and tie before adopting a comfy jumper style, still retaining his authority with viewers.

Mid '70s fashion victims included Peter Purves presenting Blue Peter in loud patterned shirts, flared trousers and shoulder-length hair. Trendy DJ Noel Edmonds dressed similarly on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, and his Radio 1 colleague Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart hosted Crackerjack, ditching his predecessors' suits. ITV's Magpie presenters Mick Robertson and Jenny Hanley were also clearly shopping in London's happening boutiques.

Despite the fashions, Mick and Jenny were still from middle-class, Home Counties upbringings. Blue Peter, often criticised for middle-class presentation, had in 1965 brought a regional voice to children's television, with Yorkshireman John Noakes. Still, parents complained about Caron Keating's 'annoying' Northern Ireland accent when she joined in 1986! The first black Blue Peter presenter, Diane-Louise Jordan, did not join until 1990. and Konnie Huq became the first Asian presenter in 1997.

Both Play School and Rainbow introduced presenters who behaved like big children with no sense of embarrassment, while TISWAS introduced scruffy presenters behaving like unruly tykes. Wacky presenter Timmy Mallett, with his outrageous glasses and loud fashions, followed.

Parents might comment that, like policemen, children's TV presenters seem to be getting younger everyday, but are probably correct to notice the never-ending parade of spiky hair and crop tops. The trend for credible 'street' youth figures backfired in 1998, when Blue Peter's Richard Bacon was sacked for taking drugs.

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