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Magpie (1968-80)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Magpie (1968-80)
Thames Television for ITV, 30/07/1968-06/06/1980
Over 1000 episodes
Devised bySue Turner
 Lewis Rudd
ProducersSue Turner
 Randal Beattie
 Tim Jones

Presenters: Tony Bastable; Susan Stranks; Pete Brady; Douglas Rae; Mick Robertson; Jenny Hanley; Tommy Boyd

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Twice-weekly live children's magazine series devised as an ITV rival to the BBC's Blue Peter.

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Magpie is doomed never to be considered on its own merits, forever compared with Blue Peter (BBC, 1958-). This is inevitable since it was squarely devised as the ITV rival to the BBC show. One-time presenter Tommy Boyd was convinced Magpie was named after the opportunistic bird because it amounted to "a complete theft of Blue Peter's format". The two never clashed directly, Magpie settling into a pattern of Tuesday/Friday editions, avoiding Blue Peter's Monday/Thursday.

Many comment that Magpie had sexier and hipper presenters than its BBC counterpart; Susan Stranks in tight T-shirts, sultry blonde Jenny Hanley, Mick Robertson looking like a lanky version of rock star Marc Bolan. For all this, it's worth comparing their public-school diction with that of Blue Peter Yorkshireman John Noakes. Other presenters Tony Bastable, Pete Brady (a Canadian) and Doug Rae wore sensible jumpers (while the BBC's Peter Purves was in flares and paisley shirts), with dry-humoured Tommy Boyd somewhere in-between.

Magpie seemed aimed at a slightly older age group than Blue Peter (Boyd called it a 'youth club' audience), including material rarely seen on its rival. Mick's Pop Slot was a regular feature, while the last edition looked back at punk and the Sex Pistols. Fare more familiar to Blue Peter viewers included environmental feature Endangered Species, annual expeditions to foreign parts and action stunts. These were generally less dangerous than those of rival Noakes, but Stranks was still almost killed in a hot air balloon crash and Rae fell fifty feet down a mountain, saved only by his safety rope. Appeals for worthy causes provided Magpie's most thoughtful film reports - the appeals aped Blue Peter but requested cash donations, not discarded 'junk'.

Magpie had fewer resources than Blue Peter and a claustrophobic studio. Boyd defiantly felt they were nevertheless "more in touch". Blue Peter doyenne Biddy Baxter recalled the competition as studiedly anarchic: "They used to make the presenters arse around in a way that children found extremely embarrassing and patronising and it was just a terrible mess." Robertson regards this as "typical Blue Peter propaganda" and that if his show was messy theirs was "sterile".

Magpie ended in 1980 with no public reason given (Boyd cites Seventh Floor power struggles) and Thames attempted to fill the gap with Ace Reports (1981), 'pirate' magazine CBTV Channel 14 (1982-85) and Mick Robertson's hobbies show Freetime (1980-85; 1988).

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Youth club appeal (5:15)
Blue Peter (1958- )
Thames Television
Children's TV in the 1960s
Factual Children's Television