The series was named after the blue and white flag hoisted by sailors when their vessel was 24 hours out of harbour.
Christopher Trace won the role when he bonded with the producer John Hunter Blair over their love of trains. Whilst being interviewed, Trace enthusiastically played with the OO gauge layout in Hunter Blair's office. The Blue Peter train set would become a regular feature of the series, and was often brought out of retirement long after Trace's departure.
Blue Peter was broadcast live and no autocue was used, meaning that the presenters had to memorise their lines. No mean task when they only received the script just the day before, and a double problem when the show went twice weekly in 1964.
Also in 1958
British post offices introduced postcodes. Top of the hit parade were Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls Of Fire and Elvis Presley with Jailhouse Rock. Christopher Cockerell invented the hovercraft, coal rationing finished and the UK's first motorway - the M6 Preston bypass - opened. Prince Charles was created Prince of Wales at the closing of the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.
In 1962 the producers hit on the idea of having a Blue Peter pet, so that children not allowed to have animals of their own could have a virtual one on the box. The mongrel chosen made her debut just before Christmas (this was before the RSPCA told us a pet wasn't just for the Yuletide), but unfortunately she was a sickly little mutt and died after just one appearance. Not wishing to upset the kids, the production team scoured the country for a lookee-likee and a new dog was found. The puppy was named Petra by viewers in a competition, thus establishing a tradition that is still upheld to this day.
Blue Peter Appeals
In 1962 Biddy Baxter hit on the idea of the appeals. Convertible currency, such as spoons and forks were asked for instead of money, because she wanted even the poorest child to feel they could contribute. The idea was a tremendous success, with many of the targets exceeded, but we can't help but have visions of horrified parents finding their cutlery gone.
List of appeals and targets
1962 and 1963 - toys for Christmas presents
1964 - silver paper for a guide dog for the blind, named Honey by viewers
1965 - old wool for a tractor for a farm in Uganda
1966 - paperback books for an Inshore Lifeboat
Blue Peter Badge
Clever Biddy also decided to reward viewers who had written into the programme with ideas, drawings, stories and poems etc. In 1963 three badges were created. The easiest badge you could win was a blue one. After you won one of these you could win a silver one, but you had to do something different. Finally, gold badges were only awarded for a really outstanding achievement, such as saving someone's life. In 1965 another badge was created to reward competition winners.
All the badges feature the famous ship logo, created by Tony Hart. Tony asked for a penny for every time his design was used, but instead was paid a flat fee of a hundred pounds. He therefore missed out on a fortune.
Blue Peter Book
In 1964 Michael Foxall of Lutterworth Press approached the BBC to ask if he could produce a Blue Peter book for the Christmas market. Permission was granted, and Biddy Baxter and the team wrote the content, namely an article on training Petra, a behind-the-scenes feature, and top tips for model railway enthusiasts. The book was such a success that the BBC decided to print their own the following year.
Here's one I made earlier
An important elements of the series was the 'makes'. One of the most memorable was a life-size Dalek, made from egg boxes and, of course, a sink plunger. You can see a picture of the end result in the gallery.
Chris on the Blue Peter train set: "I remember a particularly complicated layout that I had gone through in great detail with the director... before we went for a tea break. But when we did the show, trains were coming from everywhere except the places I was expecting. It was chaos. I just couldn't understand what had happened. Then I discovered that during the tea break someone had sneaked in from the next studio and had been playing with all the trains. There was a big enquiry. The culprit was... Richard Dimbleby".
The Blue Peter Expeditions
In 1965 it was decided that the Blue Peter team should visit far-flung locales to top up their tans, erm… make films during the summer break, so that viewers could see countries they otherwise wouldn't see. The first Expedition was to Norway followed by Singapore and Borneo the following year.
On one show the production team arranged for a lion cub to come into the studio, but the animal that was brought in was almost fully grown. During the piece the lion attacked his owner, but being a professional, Chris kept his cool and completed the piece, even though blood was streaming down the owner's arm and the camera crew had scarpered.
Go with Noakes
John Noakes joined the team, at Christopher Trace's request, when he apparently told the production team he was 'bloody knackered' after a year presenting the show twice weekly. John joined in 1965 and soon took over the action man role, a relief to Trace as he suffered from vertigo.
When Trace left the show in 1967, Huw Wheldon was flabbergasted and prophesised, "There will be no Blue Peter without Christopher Trace." After he left Trace regularly phoned the Blue Peter office with ideas for features. Revisiting the show for the 20th anniversary in 1978 he suddenly announced, to the surprise of everyone, that he'd like to give an award for outstanding achievement. The award has since become an annual event.