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Programme Information

Network TV Week 42


50 facts about Blue Peter

  L-R: Valerie Singleton, John Noakes, Lesley Judd and Peter Purves at the site of the first Blue Peter time capsule
L-R: Valerie Singleton, John Noakes, Lesley Judd and Peter Purves at the site of the first Blue Peter time capsule

Blue Peter 50th Birthday Programme / Blue Peter At 50
Thursday 16 October on BBC ONE / Day and time to be confirmed BBC TWO
Programme copy (Blue Peter 50th Birthday Programme)
Programme copy (Blue Peter At 50)

The Beginning


1. Blue Peter first aired on 16 October 1958 and transmitted for 15 minutes.


2. The first presenters were Christopher Trace and Leila Williams. Christopher Trace was the stand-in for Charlton Heston in blockbuster Ben-Hur and Leila Williams had been crowned Miss Great Britain the previous year.


3. Blue Peter was created by John Hunter Blair. Throughout the programme's 50-year history, there have been just six editors: Biddy Baxter, Lewis Bronze, Oliver Macfarlane, Steve Hocking, Richard Marson and the current editor Tim Levell.


4. The 50th anniversary edition of the show on 16 October will be programme number 4,406.


Ships and Songs


5. Blue Peter is named after the blue and white flag hoisted when a ship is ready to set sail from port. The reasoning for the choice is that the programme is intended to be a voyage of adventure and discovery for the viewers, constantly covering new topics.


6. The ship's symbol, the Blue Peter Galleon, was designed by much-loved TV artist Tony Hart, who received just £100 for his work – which is worth an estimated £1,537 in today's money. Had he been paid royalties they would have made him a millionaire.


7. The theme tune is called Barnacle Bill. There have been nine versions of the theme tune, and the latest arrangement was introduced for this year's series.


The Faces


8. There have been 34 Blue Peter presenters, including this year's new recruits, Helen Skelton and Joel Defries.


9. The longest-serving presenter was John Noakes, who presented the series for 12 and a half years and was 45 when he left. On one famous occasion, John was asked to drop his trousers for the show to show the bruises he had sustained during a bobsleigh film. According to his recollection, he realised that he was wearing his wife's underwear which he had put on by accident in the dark! On 17 May 1976, John Noakes collapsed in the studio due to exhaustion and Lesley Judd had to take over.


10. John Noakes's famous catchphrase was "Get Down Shep". In 1978, pop group The Barron Knights released a single of the same name which reached No. 44 in the charts.


11. Peter Duncan is the only presenter to do two stints on the show. He became a gold badge holder after he was made Chief Scout in Feb 2007.


12. Yvette Fielding was the youngest-ever presenter. She was 18 when she joined the series.


13. Sarah Greene met her husband, former TV presenter Mike Smith, through Blue Peter whilst being filmed learning to dive on the Mary Rose wreck.


14. The shortest-serving listed presenter was Anita West, who lasted for just four months before returning to her acting career.


15. The following stars applied to be become presenters but didn't make it: Kevin Whately, Sally James, Howard Stableford, Gail Porter, Jake Humphrey, Todd Carty and Sidney Sloane.


The Badges


16. The famous Blue Peter badge was launched on 17 June 1963.


17. There are six types of badges – Blue, Green, Silver, Gold, Purple and Orange. Blue can be won by viewers sending in an interesting letter, poem, picture or story, or by appearing on the programme. Silver is for viewers who already have a blue but have to do something different to win one. Green is the environmental award, for viewers who make contributions on "green" subjects. Orange is given to viewers who have been either a winner or runner-up in a Blue Peter competition. The Gold badge is Blue Peter's highest award and is only given to people who have shown outstanding bravery and courage, or have represented their country in an international event. Introduced in 2006, the Purple badge is awarded to "Team Player" children who take an active role in the show, either by reviewing it, suggesting ideas for items or helping with audience research.


18. Famous Gold badge winners include Her Majesty The Queen, who received one in 2001, David Beckham, JK Rowling, Torvill and Dean and Bonnie the Blue Peter dog, who was given one on her retirement in 1991. It has also become tradition to present a leaving presenter with a gold badge on their final show.


19. In 45 years of the badge scheme it is estimated that the programme has awarded half a million badges.


20. Every guest who comes on the show gets a badge. Celebrities with badges include: Madonna, Tony Blair, Mr Bean, Morph, Ewan McGregor, Dawn French, David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Gordon Brown, Uri Geller (who did his first fork-bending on Blue Peter), David Cassidy, ABBA, Elton John, Carrie Fisher and Pele. Bryony Stokes, 2008 Olympic medallist, wore her Blue Peter badge as she windsurfed to her Bronze medal victory.


21. A Blue Peter badge and certificate will get children of 15 years and under free admission into 200 venues up and down the country.


Blue Peter and the Doctor


22. Peter Purves was a Doctor Who assistant before he joined the children's series.


23. Sophie Aldred's Dr Who character, Ace, wore Blue Peter badges which were Sophie's own.


24. A competition to design a Blue Peter monster in 2005 generated 43,920 entries. The winning monster was the Abzorbaloff, which appeared in the story Love & Monsters.


Blue Peter pets


25. Blue Peter's pets are almost as well-known as its presenters. There have been eight dogs, five tortoises, nine cats and two parrots.


26. George the tortoise is the longest-serving pet. He made his first appearance in 1982. When he died in 2004 he was around 81 years old. He is the only pet buried in the Blue Peter garden. He once became amorous with a pair of Sarah Greene's shoes, thinking they were another tortoise…


27. Another tortoise, originally named Fred, had to be renamed Freda when it was discovered he was, in fact, a she.


The Trips


28. From Morocco to Mexico and Japan to Jamaica, there have been 43 Blue Peter summer expeditions covering every continent on the globe.


29. During a Blue Peter expedition to Egypt, presenter Tina Heath was caught short with a dodgy tummy and had to use her script as toilet paper!


Here's One I Made Earlier


30. In 1962, a housewife named Margaret Parnell sent in the idea for the first "make" and spent the best part of the next 40 years creating them, designing over 700.


31. Early makes included the classic Christmas Advent crown, doll's hammocks and bird-seed cakes. Recent makes include a Tardis pencil case.


32. The most popular make was Tracy Island, which received 100,000 requests for the Factsheet in 1993. Anthea Turner still has the Tracy Island she made on the show.


Helping Out


33. The Blue Peter Appeals started in 1962 when viewers were asked to collect postage stamps to raise money for homes for the homeless.


34. It's estimated that, across the 46 appeals, children have raised the equivalent of over £100m in today's money. The 14 Bring & Buy Sales have raised the equivalent of an estimated £57m. Other items collected by the appeal include over 948,025,000 stamps, 19m aluminium cans, 800 tons of wool and over 1,450,000 pairs of shoes, including David Beckham's boots.


35. Between 1962 and 2007 the appeals have raised money to buy, amongst others, the following: two guide dogs, 25 life boats, eight flats for homeless people, 32 ponies , 57 lorries, three caravans, two day centres, six bungalows, 12 houses in Romania, 8,350 lavatories and three schools.


36. The Blue Peter lifeboats can still be found at seven lifeboat stations around the country. They've been launched over 4,600 times and have saved, up to 20 March 2008, 1058 lives.


Blue Peter and Green Fingers


37. The Blue Peter Garden was launched on 21 March 1974. Percy Thrower was the first gardener and was awarded his gold badge in 1988. The second gardener was Chris Crowder, followed by Clare Bradley and, currently, Chris Collins.


38. The Blue Peter Garden was vandalised three times – in 1978, 1980 and 1983 – before security cameras were eventually fitted.


39. TV executive Edward Barnes "nicked" the idea for the garden from rival series Magpie.


Blue Peter babies


40. In 1968 it was decided that Blue Peter would feature a baby on the programme, to show viewers what it was like to have a little brother or sister. On 30 September of that year, baby Daniel made his first appearance at just 14 weeks old and made regular appearances over the next two years.


41. Presenters who had babies during the time they worked on the programme were Tina Heath, who had Jemma, and Liz Barker who had Dexter. In 1987, presenter Janet Ellis was the focus of national scrutiny when she had baby Jack out of wedlock.


Incontinent Elephants and Beautiful Knockers


42. Peter Purves attributes the blame for Lulu the incontinent elephant to editor Biddy Baxter, who allegedly asked Lulu's keeper to do without the stick he used to keep her under control. The ensuing chaos saw Lulu pee, poo and generally misbehave around the studio, dragging her gamekeeper through the mess.


43. Other memorable moments include Simon Groom's innuendo-laden: "What a beautiful pair of knockers", when commenting on a replacement for Durham Cathedral's historic door knocker; Mark Curry knocking the head off a LEGO model; and Diane-Louise Jordan falling flat on her face whilst covering John Leslie's run in the London Marathon.


The Competitions


44. A competition to design a frock for presenter Caron Keating solicited responses from 69,928 debut dressmakers. In 1981 a competition to design a Christmas stamp generated 74,000 responses, and a contest to design a character for Aardman Animations in 2006 attracted 47,268 budding Nick Parks.




45. Children who appeared on the show and have gone on to be famous include: Formula 1 ace Lewis Hamilton and popstar James Blunt (then James Blount). Konnie Huq also appeared in 1989 with the National Youth Theatre before she went on to become the programme's longest-serving presenter. Richard Deverell, the current Controller of BBC Children's, appeared on the show in 1976 as part of a troupe of knitting scouts.


46. Blue Peter has many Royal friends. A young Prince Edward visited Blue Peter in 1969 and, in 1970, Valerie Singleton and HRH Princess Anne filmed their Royal Safari in Kenya. Her Majesty The Queen visited the studio in 2001 and was given a gold badge. Blue Peter's current presenters and a specially selected number of former presenters and production staff have been invited to The Palace to meet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate the 50th anniversary.


47. There have been four Blue Peter time capsules. The first was buried at BBC Television Centre in 1971 and the second in 1984, when the first box had to be moved because of development at Television Centre. Another was buried in 2000, which will be opened in 2029. There is also one hidden under the Millennium Dome/02 Centre which will be opened in 2050.


48. Blue Peter is the longest-running children's TV series in the world and the programme and its presenters have earned themselves countless records. John Noakes's Long Fall gave him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest delayed drop by a civilian; Janet Ellis jumped 20,000 feet – a European record for a civilian woman; and Matt Baker's tandem hang-gliding also made the record books.


49. Blue Peter has won 40 awards, including two Baftas, a National Television Award and an RTS Award.


50. If you sat down and watched every episode of Blue Peter ever made, back to back, it would take around two and a half months – about the same amount of time needed to drive four times round the world.




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