Blue Peter marks its 60th anniversary this year, making it the longest-running children’s television show in the world. During the past six decades, it has been hosted by 37 presenters (who have had 25 pets, including dogs, cats and tortoises), handed out more than one million Blue Peter badges and made countless craft items.
More than 5,000 episodes have been broadcast since the show was launched (with its enduring Barnacle Bill theme song) by the BBC on 16th October 1958, hosted by the first presenters, Christopher Trace and Leila Williams, in an era when there were very few programmes specifically aimed at children.
As such, it played a significant part in British culture, with its unique format considered radical at the time, as it took a unique view of children, treating them as a specific audience with their own interests, rather than waiting for them to grow up and watch adult TV.
Simple but effective, the programme featured a mix of topical stories of interest to younger viewers, with sections on making craft items from simple household items – think empty washing-up bottles and sticky-back plastic in the early years!
There was also the clever use of the Blue Peter dogs to provide interesting stories and encourage responsible pet ownership – and of course, audience participation was paramount to the success of the show.
Children were actively encouraged to get in touch, whether it was to send in an interesting poem they had written, a picture they had painted, or a fascinating rock they had found. They would receive a coveted Blue Peter badge for their efforts – a trophy in itself.
To be invited into the studio to appear live on air was an honour above all others and was just about the most exciting thing that could happen to any child in an era before social media existed.
Seeing themselves appear on the screen was an experience that couldn’t be matched and is etched in many viewers’ memories, even though they are adults now.
Over the years, there have been lots of memorable presenters, but perhaps none more so than those who hosted the show in what many fans might consider its heyday – the late 1960s and 1970s. In those days, there was a regular and long-standing team of presenters, which included John Noakes, Lesley Judd, Valerie Singleton and Peter Purvis.
Noakes was always accompanied by his trusty but excitable collie, Shep, who was perhaps the best-known of all the Blue Peter dogs. The presenter had a famous catchphrase, “Get down, Shep!” which became embedded in popular culture for evermore.
Many a comic sketch contained the legendary phrase, while it was even made into a pop song in 1978, when comedy group the Barron Knights released Get Down Shep on their album, Night Gallery, which peaked at number 15 in the UK albums chart.
Blue Peter badge
An integral part of the show is the famous Blue Peter badge, a much sought-after memento which also has a practical purpose.
It is presented to any young member of the public who has achieved something notable, or who has appeared on the show for any reason. The badge entitles its recipients to free entry into many of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions.
The Blue Peter presenters wear their badge at all times, as it remains a recognised and prestigious symbol of the show to this day. Badges are awarded mainly to children aged up to 15 who have appeared on the show, although they can also be awarded to adults who have been guests. Around 22,000 badges are handed out each year.
Launched by the show’s editor, Biddy Baxter, in 1963, after producer Edward Barnes came up with the idea, the badges have remained the same shape, as designed by Tony Hart: a shield depicting the Blue Peter ship’s logo. There have been two additional special designs; the pre-2005 competition winners’ badge and the gold badge.
A number of famous people have earned a Blue Peter badge after appearing as a guest on the show. Among the famous recipients of the badge are Olympic medal-winning runner Mo Farah, actor Hugh Jackman (best known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men film franchise), TV presenter Davina McCall and actor Jack Black, who starred in the hit film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, in 2017.
The Guardian journalist Zoe Williams recalled that in 1983, her primary school was chosen to sing Christmas carols on the show.
However, filming took place well in advance, in November, when the weather was still quite mild, so a member of the show’s production team was employed to throw fake snow over the unsuspecting children as they sang!
The show hasn’t changed much over the years, although it has moved with the times in many respects, such as embracing digital technology. In honour of the 60th anniversary celebrations, every episode ever made is available online, as the BBC has digitised them all.
Whether your favourite memories of Blue Peter include Lulu the elephant relieving herself in the studio, or the presenters’ magnificent feat of building Tracy Island out of yogurt pots and foil, relive your childhood on the Beeb’s website.
Talking of craft items, Blue Peter has always placed emphasis on recycling and over the years the show has made some spectacular creations out of old household items that are no longer wanted. The presenters could transform all kinds of junk into fascinating toys and even Christmas decorations such as the Advent crown, using decorated wire coat hangers.
Furthering the recycling theme, since 2017, the famous Blue Peter badges have been manufactured from recycled yoghurt pots, in a solar-powered factory in Cornwall. The new badges are slightly slimmer and lighter, but the famous ship design remains.
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