Blue Peter is the longest running children's programme in the world, starting in 1958 and still going today. Usually aired on BBC1 for most of its run, but moved to BBC2 during Wimbledon. Nowadays airs on CBBC.
The show is best described as a "magazine show". The presenters (anywhere between two and four at any one time) do a variety of different activities:
- Craft demonstrations, such as a papier-mâché Tracey Island.note
- Presenters doing rather insane challenges. This will involve stuff like painting the Forth Bridge, military assault courses, or climbing Nelson's Column.
- How stuff is made.
- Meeting celebrities.
- Acting in panto(mime)s, historical re-enactments and original tales.
(They once managed to do an entire edition on the Young Bond novels, complete with performances of James Bond songs, and never showed a movie clip).
There are often performances by various people. Everyone who appears on the show gets a Blue Peter Badge, which allows free admission to a number of UK attractions. There are other types of badges, the most famous being the Gold Badge, given to people who have done something very special (presenters are now getting them on departure).
Every year, the team go on a Summer Expedition abroad. There is also the annual charity appeal, with the "totaliser" and the attendant "bring-and-buy sales" - usually, the charity appeals run on a biannual schedule of these and 'collecting X' note , often things which can be reused, or recycled for monetary gain.
The show has a number of resident pets. The most famous of these was a dog called Petra (actually a substitute after the first dog died), whose death became national news.
ITV tried to launch a knock-off imitator called Magpie, but this faltered and failed after perhaps four years, despite the attractions of presenter Susan Stranks.
The show has an extremely good relationship with Doctor Who:
- Presenter Peter Purves also played Steven Taylor, a companion to the First Doctor.
- Actress Sophie Aldred (who played Ace) was awarded two Blue Peter badges as a child, she later wore them as part of her costume (which caused something of a stir until it was confirmed that they were indeed Sophie's badges and not props). Oddly enough, the first one was for a design for a rocket launcher created from a washing up liquid bottle and a garden hose!
- David Tennant received a gold badge in 2009.
- A 1973 edition contains the only broadcast footage of the First Doctor's regeneration and the show has made appeals for lost footage.
- During the 1970s, the show had a nationwide 'manhunt' for a group of criminals who stole a set of Daleks from the BBC. The Daleks were returned within 24 hours, in varying degrees of misuse. In-character Daleks participated in the appeal and updates.
- The show was featured on screen in "Aliens of London", and The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Invasion of the Bane".
- The show has ran numerous competitions for children to contribute to the series, including:
- A contest to design the monster for "Love & Monsters".
- A contest to get an appearance in "Utopia". Especially noteworthy in that this was a significant and dark character.
- A contest to design a TARDIS console for "The Doctor's Wife".
- A contest to design a gizmo for "Deep Breath", resulting in Strax's medical examiner.
- There's been quite a few Who-related crafts.
- Bits of Blue Peter are often included on the DVD releases of classic series stories as bonus clips, often featuring interviews with the actors or displays of relevant Who-mania.
- There's a myth that the last episode of "The Tenth Planet" was lost by Blue Peter (it was conflated with an episode of "The Daleks' Master Plan" which was loaned to them for use in a feature on the show's tenth anniversary and apparently never returned). However, what is true is the clip of William Hartnell's regeneration survives to this day without any loss of quality because of Blue Peter.
There have been 38 presenters over the years; the show is currently presented by Lindsey Russell (who won a televised reality show-style competition to find the new presenter, Blue Peter: You Decide, and is the only presenter to date to be appointed in such a way) and Richie Driss. Notable former presenters include:
- Valerie Singleton
- John Noakes, the longest serving presenter, remembered for his collie and associated Catchphrase ("Get down, Shep!") This sums up John Noakes/Shep quite well.
- Peter Purves, a companion of the Doctor, as mentioned above.
- Janet Ellis, who also made a minor appearance in Doctor Who ("The Horns of Nimon"). Is the mother of pop singer Sophie Ellis Bextor. Left the series when she was denied a new contract for getting pregnant while unmarried. (The baby wasn't Sophie).
- Sarah Greene. Also known from Saturday Morning Kids Show Going Live, and another Doctor Who actor (one of the Cryons in Attack of the Cybermen).
- Simon Groom, later a successful documentary filmmaker. Was well known in his day for his ability to get crap under the radar.
- Richard Bacon. For all the wrong reasons - see below.
- Mark Curry, a man who epitomized all that was tackiest about 1980's style and fashion. Once demonstrated some life-size human sculptures in lego bricks and succeeded in breaking the head off one, which rolled off across the studio floor.
- Konnie Huq ("Huck") - having been on the show for a decade, she's apparently a major draw for students, for the rather obvious reason of her looks. On Mock the Week Dara Ó Briain implied she was attractive and got mocked for it for the rest of the episode. Left in 2008.note
- Gethin Jones. Appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2007.
- Matt Baker. Strictly Come Dancing 2010 finalist, and thought by some the be Konnie's equal in the looks department.
- John Leslie, who's become something of a punchline due to losing a later job on This Morning over rape allegations and admitted drug use.
- Caron Keating, who sadly died young of breast cancer and left the presenting team having to explain the concept of death to a child audience. Not easy.
- Anthea Turner, whose TV career went stratospheric after leaving the show - the completely opposite trajectory to most ex childrens' TV presenters. Less frequently seen in recent years.
- Yvette Fielding, now involved in paranormal reality TV.
- Katy Hill, notable among the The '90s crowd due to wearing miniskirts and the related camerawork attempts to avoid showing anything too inappropriate as a result.
- Zöe Salmon, an ex Miss Northern Ireland. Her moment of notoriety came when she expressed on-air fury about a graphic of the British Isles that showed Ireland as a united whole and did not adequately convey the separateness of Northern Ireland. Worse, Ireland was coloured green. By way of punishment, Zoe was sent to do a report on Irish traditional dancing - the sort which does not attract Protestants for long-established historical reasons - to indicate that the show was not and would never be sectarian.
- Michael Sundin, a former dancer who left BP very abruptly when tabloids outed him as not only gay, but a former porn performer and occasional rent-boy. He has since died of AIDS-related complications. His death was completely ignored, compared to the lengthy eulogy and obituary that Caron Keating deservedly received from the show, and how the long-departed (about 20 years before) original host Christopher Trace got a tribute on his passing.
- Tina Heath, who was asked to leave the show because she had become pregnant outside wedlock and had no intention of marrying the man involved.
- Diane Louise-Jordan, the first non-white Blue Peter presenter. Having joined some years after Tina Heath, her being an unmarried single mother was less of an issue.
- HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, was a guest presenter on the show between 1970-74, although she is not usually counted as one of the "official" thirty-two. A friend and fan of the show, Anne Windsor accompanied the then presenters out to Africa on a summer safari, generally enjoying herself in the company of the presenters, and being very good PR for the Royals. Princess Anne also reported on horsey matters for the show and very graciously gave riding lessons to BP presenters hitherto innocent of the charms of equine contact. Her association with the show diminished after marriage in 1974, but she has returned at intervals.
There have been a number of very notable moments:
- An elephant defecating on camera and walking out of the studio, stepping on John Noakes' foot in the process. (Noakes later claimed that he only shouted "Get off my foot!" for comic effect, and that if the elephant had really stepped on his foot he'd have ended up walking on crutches.)
- Richard Bacon's sacking for taking cocaine, which resulted in a senior BBC official reading a live on-air apology and him being stripped of his Blue Peter badge.
- A Christmas Episode Reunion Show, about ten years later, casting various current and past presenters in a musical, featured an unseen villain named "Richard". Following his defeat the male lead said to the camera "I've cooked his bacon.".
- Shortly after Bacon's sacking on October 1998, Michael Palin was a guest on BP, there to talk about his latest globetrotting TV series. In true Monty Python style, Palin, invited to help with "the make", was seen on camera experimentally holding the glue-pot to his nose and taking a long, deep, investigative sniff.
- Vandals breaking into the Blue Peter Garden and wrecking it, which was treated on-air by the hosts with all the gravitas of a murder. (An American equivalent would be slashing Mr. Rogers' tyres. You just don't do it.) The series Ashes to Ashes (2008), about a cop who wakes up in the 1980's, features a Historical In-Joke where Gene Hunt turns out to be the vandal, destroying it while apprehending a suspect.
- In 2007 there was a handful of scandals about "rigged" audience participation events, including a child who was backstage apparently winning a phone-in competition when the lines went down; the decision to ignore an internet vote on the name of the new cat; and two actors being amongst the kids interviewing impressionist John Culshaw, to ensure the right sort of questions got asked.
In 2012, the BBC announced the end for Blue Peter on mainstream BBC TV. The show left its long-time home on the BBC1 network (along with the last of the childrens' shows in their traditional slot) and was moved to the CBBC childrens' network, one of the BBC's many digital channels. This decision has caused comment and criticism, especially as the BBC, like ITV, proposes to fill the gap left by the departure of children's TV with quizzes and game shows with much lower production values. This follows on from the decision that after forty years, there will no longer be an annual tie-in book.
This show contains examples of:
- Brand X: Enforced due to the ban on Product Placement in all BBC programming. The show invented the phrase "sticky-backed plastic" (for Fablon and Coveron) and used "sticky tape" for Sellotape until it was officially declared genericised. The show once did an entire feature on the production of Smarties, while never naming the product. They also nearly always used the distinctive cylindrically-shaped bottle from Fairly Liquid dish soap without ever actually mentioning the brand-name.
- Catchphrase: "Here's one I made earlier" and "And now for something completely different". The former is rarely used now - it's that cliché - and the latter is far better known for its use on Monty Python's Flying Circus.
- The Christmas Annual: The Blue Peter Book, published from 1964 to 2011 with occasional gaps.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: There are several different varieties of Blue Peter badge, which are all different colours:
- The standard white badge with a blue ship, usually worn by the show's presenters, is awarded for appearing on the show (or submitting a piece of writing or drawing that appears on the show).
- The silver badge is awarded to anyone who already has a white badge who makes a further achievement that would ordinarily merit a white badge.
- The green badge is awarded for environmental-related accomplishments; the badge itself is made out of recycled materials.
- The orange badge is awarded to competition winners.
- The purple badge is awarded under the show's "Team Player" badge, where a group of children got the opportunity to work on the show for a day by submitting ideas for it (later changed to being awarded for writing a review of the show).
- The gold badge (actually a brooch in the shape of the Blue Peter ship) is awarded for "exceptional achievement"; holders of this badge include J.K. Rowling, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Steven Spielberg.
- There have been various other limited edition badges, most of which were to mark an anniversary of the show (including a diamond badge for the 60th anniversary).
- Crossover: With Paddington Bear. The series author Michael Bond worked as a cameraman on the show, and wrote two books in which Paddington meets the Blue Peter cast.
- Depraved Kids' Show Host: Largely averted. Valerie Singleton, (in 2018, now 81 years old) has said that she was utterly frustrated that the rumour about her being lesbian took such deep root that it could never be properly denied, and said living with it for thirty-odd years got pretty hard. She points out that during her time on the show, the love affairs she really wanted to keep secret were with star radio DJ Pete Murray and her co-star Peter Purvis. Fortunately, the assumption she was gay prevented intrusive people from looking any further.
- Later presenter Michael Sundin got it worse, far worse; again he was victim of a prejudice that as a gay man he was utterly unfit to be anywhere near young boys, and this contributed to his sacking from the show in a way that would never have been considered twenty years later. Again the assumption was that a gay man was automatically a depraved kids' show host and unfit for the job.
- However, Richard Bacon's indiscretions were of a different order of magnitude...
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Lesley Judd, a seventies presenter, was holding two appealing juvenile dogs up to camera, close to her chest, when her male co-presenter (possibly Peter Purves) declared "Aren't they a lovely pair of puppies!"
- Similarly, Eighties presenter, Janet Ellis, was talking about the evolution of the humble doorbell and demonstrating the devices man
- While probably unintentional, the name of the show could be one, since "Peter" can be a slang for the penis, thus making the show name very similar to blue balls.
- Two of Simon Groom's best:
- Following an item about two ornate door knockers for Durham Cathedral, "What a beautiful pair of knockers".
- During an item about gardening, "If you've got a good length, then you can manage a good lay".
- Mood Dissonance: The cast's response to Katarina's death scene from The Daleks' Master Plan in the Tenth Anniversary of Doctor Who episode.
- Muppet Cameo: A list.
- Nipple and Dimed: Anthea Turner once did a feature about training with Great Britain's Olympic high-diving hopefuls. The camera man chose to shoot her in increasingly perverted and unflattering angles, including her being filmed shivering in the cold with both visibly erect nipples making a very obvious point about the air temperature.
- Not What It Looks Like: When the BBC was serializing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one host got zapped aboard the title ship and was mistaken for an intruder by Reepicheep.
- One I Prepared Earlier: The Trope Namer, from the above Catchphrase.
- Parent Service: Lots and lots and lots. Lesley Judd, Sarah Ellis, Katy Hill, Connie Huq, Anthea Turner, Zoe Salmon, and (ok then) Gethin Jones or Matt Baker...
- On Monty Python, there was once a sketch featuring a spoof children's magazine programme, featuring John Cleese and Eric Idle in drag, called How to Do It ("And now, how to play the flute: just blow down one end and run your fingers up and down the outside").
- At least one ad for Fairy Liquid riffed on the fact that the crafting segments often used one of their washing-up liquid bottles, to the frustration of a kid who needs an empty one thanks to their new long-lasting formula.
- Sideboob exposure: Zoe Salmon became the first BP presenter to go topless in the history of the show, and quite possibly the first presenter to do so in the entire history of BBC children's' broadcasting. This wasn't even with any high-minded purpose, such as education or art. The presenters were reproducing iconic images from the James Bond movies and it fell to the blonde and pneumatic Zoe to do the one where the girl is covered in gold paint. The Blue Peter Annual no. 36 records the completed image, with a gold-painted Zoe clearly topless in sideboob pose and a combination of hair and right arm covering the contentious bits.
- A Winner Is You: The 50th Anniversary of Blue Peter and what do we get? One very short montage and the other 44 minutes talking about McFly. We did get a cool book about it though.
- You Will Be Spared: The Daleks' reaction to Blue Peter's role in the retrieval of the stolen Dalek props.