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Blue Peter (1958- )

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Blue Peter (1958- )
BBC, 16/10/1958 -
c. 3700 episodes by start of 2003 (colour from 14/09/1970)
EditorsBiddy Baxter
 Lewis Bronze
 Oliver MacFarlane
 Steve Hocking
Series ProducersBridget Caldwell
 Richard Marson

Presenters include: Valerie Singleton; John Noakes; Peter Purves; Lesley Judd; Simon Groom; Sarah Greene; Peter Duncan; Janet Ellis; Mark Curry; Caron Keating; Yvette Fielding; John Leslie; Diane Louise-Jordan; Anthea Turner; Tim Vincent; Stuart Miles; Katy Hill; Konnie Huq; Simon Thomas; Matt Baker; Liz Barker

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

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Taking its name from the flag of a ship beginning its voyage, Blue Peter has journeyed far and wide since it launched on Thursday 16 October 1958. Initially commissioned for five-to-eight year olds too old for Watch With Mother and too young for the junior magazine Studio E, the original weekly fifteen-minute shows featured train sets for boys, dolls for girls and stories illustrated by Tony Hart.

This television institution's rituals were largely formulated by Biddy Baxter, producer/editor from 1962-88 (with Edward Barnes and Rosemary Gill also key). In December 1962 presenter Chris Trace unveiled Petra, 'a dog for everyone', intended as a companion to children who could not keep an animal. From June 1963, it introduced a shield badge (with a galleon design by Tony Hart), awarded to viewers writing in with letters and ideas. Viewers also became involved via yearly appeals from 1962, collecting old junk and household items to be converted into cash for good causes, from guide dogs for the blind to schools for the Third World. 1965 saw the programme escaping the studio, with its first 'summer expedition' to far-flung Norway producing several films screened on the team's return.

The coming of John Noakes in 1965 expanded the presenting team to three, enabling more location filming. Noakes' reputation as the original 'action man', parachuting, bobsleighing or climbing Nelson's column, would be taken up by many subsequent presenters. Much of Blue Peter's success, in the public's eyes, depends on the chemistry of its presenting team. 'Val, Pete and John' are seen as definitive but successive generations have their favourites.

Blue Peter became the children's programme most watched, copied, studied, parodied and pilloried. The young audience was encouraged to be active - to make, to care for animals and help others. It was also an early adopter of environmental issues in the late 1980s ('green' badges were issued). Despite this, critics complained about its 'bourgeois ideologies'.

The weekend after the programme's fortieth anniversary programme a tabloid claimed presenter Richard Bacon had snorted cocaine in a nightclub. Bacon was immediately sacked, with children's controller Lorraine Heggessey apologising on air the next Monday. Soon, outgoing colleague Stuart Miles was calling the series 'twee', arguing it should have tackled Bacon's misdemeanours and other adolescent concerns head on. Nevertheless, the programme bounced back with an enthusiastic new presenting team, remaining relevant if always mindful of its illustrious past.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Valerie in Kenya (1:40)
2. John's Channel swim (6:02)
3. Drayhorse parade (2:16)
Complete episode (24:19)
Magpie (1968-80)
Baxter, Biddy (1933-)
Noakes, John (1934-)
Purves, Peter (1939-)
Singleton, Valerie (1937-)
Children's TV in the 1960s
Children's TV in the 1970s
Children's Television
Factual Children's Television