How we're deciding on the 36th Blue Peter presenter

Monday 24 June 2013, 12:38

Helen Bullough Helen Bullough Head of CBBC Productions

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"Are you mad?  You're going to let KIDS decide who the next Blue Peter presenter will be. By voting?" "Yes we are", we said. That's exactly what we're doing.

39 year ago, in Leeds, a nine-year-old boy called Damien watched spellbound as John Noakes introduced a new idea for kids who liked to paint but never really knew what to draw - a motorised cardboard spinning machine.

John Noakes, Blue Peter Presenter John Noakes constructs the cardboard spinning machine

Brit-artist icon Damien Hirst traces one of his remarkable successes back to this Blue Peter moment, which he says was inspiration for his famous spin paintings. Some people might be a bit puzzled by them. But they fetch a lot of money when they go to auction.  

We gave Damien Hirst a gold Blue Peter badge last year for all he's done for British art; he joined an elite gold-badge bunch that includes Her Majesty The Queen, Valerie Singleton, Gary Barlow and Lewis Hamilton.   

Two months ago in Salford, and another art story on Blue Peter. This time we were awarding an equally important prize to nine year old Priya who'd beaten loads of other kids to win the opportunity to design the 2013 Wimbledon Championships poster. It will be seen all over the tournament and feature on our own BBC idents. Who knows where Priya's painting might take her in twenty years!

The fact is, that whatever lazy barbs are thrown at Blue Peter, the programme is as relevant and popular now as it's ever been.  

Almost twice as many children now watch Blue Peter on CBBC than joined in with us on BBC One two years ago, and 1.1 million have watched on BBC iPlayer so far this year. It's in CBBC's top ten – on numbers and approvals. Our target audience of 6 to 12 year olds talk about it to each other, and they talk to us. 80,000 visit the Blue Peter website each week and we receive around 2,000 letters and emails every week. CBBC Controller, Cheryl Taylor, is a fan, admiring of what it brings to the channel, in terms of action, access, fun, live performance, diversity and interactivity – 52 weeks of the year.

In ‘media-speak’, it was that talk-ability and interactivity which prompted the then Blue Peter editor, Tim Levell, to put forward  the original idea for Blue Peter – You Decide! Cheryl had just arrived at CBBC and she loved the notion of the audience having a say in such a key decision. And, yes, we knew it would get grown-ups talking too. We pondered it properly with her and with Director of Children's Joe Godwin. And then – we were off!

So here's the Blue Peter – You Decide! story so far. We got more than 20,000 responses when we launched the search. Three and a half thousand people went on to apply. Many, many hours of painstaking production auditions and panel discussions followed until we'd agreed on the ten we wanted to put through to the final, televised recruitment phase.  

They're an amazing bunch, energetic and charismatic – I couldn't choose between them and I'm very glad I don't have to. Talking of which… selecting the right judges took nearly as long as the shortlisting, but the effort paid off there too – our ten hopefuls are being scrutinised by celebrity judges Myleene Klass, Eamonn Holmes and Ceallach Spellman as they compete in a series of challenge-based heats.

Blue Peter - You Decide! The shortlisted hopefuls who will battle it out to become the next Blue Peter presenter

As the show progresses, hopefuls will be eliminated by the Judges until only three remain. And then it’s the viewers who have the final say on the ultimate winner, casting their vote online at the end of July to choose the 36th Blue Peter presenter!

The first show is on tonight – we'd love to know what you think of it.  It's been quite a nerve wracking process for production as well as the hopefuls!

I went to the first elimination, in a quirky attic location above a Tesco in East London, and watched as ten young people arrived in the judges HQ, all imagining they might be the next Blue Peter presenter. Only six left with their dream intact. Tears had to be expertly mopped up by presenters Dick and Dom, who might be better known for mad cap antics but are certainly showing their empathetic sides on this project. Executive Producer Darrell Olsen and Series Producer Zoe Thorman have been quite remarkable at coping with these creative AND emotional challenges. And there are people everywhere working really hard to make this bold project a success – from the Blue Peter team itself, led by Editor Ewan Vinnicombe, to dear and patient colleagues in every part of the BBC, from Online to Legal, every one of them giving the talented in-house team invaluable support.

We’re not there yet, of course - two thirds of the series is still in the edit. We’re also planning the “big reveal” which we’ll be doing live from Leeds as part of a major three day CBBC Channel event there. By tea-time on Thursday 25 July, all the votes will have been counted, and one of our ten hopefuls will be about to be announced as our next Blue Peter presenter. And maybe – just maybe – in a living room or bedroom elsewhere in the UK, another dream and ambition will be ignited.

In CBBC Productions we always look at our custodianship of Blue Peter in a particular way – as lucky guardians, if you will, as the world’s longest running TV show for children outlasts all of our tenures. And like Dr Who, Panorama and Horizon, Blue Peter is living proof of the power of so-called legacy brands to be relevant, entertaining, award-winning.

Just in the last few years we've worked with the Royal Air Force and the Red Arrows; we’ve gone behind the scenes in the top secret Apple design laboratory with Sir Jonathan Ive and peaked inside the Royal Household; the Royal Navy helped us move into our new studios at MCUK and we helped Number 10 decorate the Downing Street Christmas tree; the intrepid Helen Skelton is currently training for an ultra-gruelling Yomp with the Royal Marines and Barney's just christened a new roller coaster and will be tested in his new trombone-playing ability at The Proms

With energetic leadership from its Editor, the show looks contemporary and fresh - over the last couple of weeks we've had Stooshe and Hip Hop Shakespeare Company in studio, Bhangra Dancing in the Blue Peter garden, and in partnership with BBC Sport we’ve just unveiled a brand new Sports Badge, to encourage children to get their mates involved in their own sporting activites. There's no time to rest on any laurels on a 52 week a year schedule . And we’re really looking forward to welcoming our 36th presenter. As chosen by the viewers!

Helen Bullough is Head of CBBC Productions.

 

  • Blue Peter - You Decide! begins on Monday 24 June at 5pm on the CBBC channel.
  • Find out more about CBBC programmes on the channel's homepage.

 

UPDATE: On Thursday 26 July 2013 Lindsey Russell was announced winner of Blue Peter - You Decide at CBBC Live. More information about Lindsey including a selection of her highlights from the series can be found on the BBC Media Centre website. 

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