The Blue Peter logo (2011–present)
|Created by||John Hunter Blair|
Barney Harwood (2011—)|
Lindsey Russell (2013—)
Radzi Chinyanganya (2013—)
(See full list)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||4,937|
15 minutes (1958–1960s)|
25 minutes (1960s–2008)
35 minutes (2005–06; CBBC Channel Extension)
24 minutes (2008–11)
28 minutes (2012—)
BBC Television Service (1958–1960)|
BBC TV (1960–1966)
CBBC (formerly Children's BBC) (1960—)
CBBC HD (2013—)
|Original release||16 October 1958 – present|
Blue Peter is a British children's television programme, shown on the CBBC television channel. A significant part of British culture, it first aired in 1958 and is the longest-running children's TV show in the world. Although the show has a nautical title and theme, it is a magazine/entertainment show containing viewer and presenter challenges, as well as the famous arts and crafts "makes".
During its history there have been many presenters, often consisting of two women and two men at a time. The current presenters are Barney Harwood, Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya. The show is produced mainly in a television studio, but there is also a garden, often referred to as the Blue Peter Garden, used during the summer months or for outdoor activities. The programme has always featured a number of pets; currently a tortoise called Shelly makes appearances from time to time.
Blue Peter's content is wide-ranging. Most programmes are broadcast live, but usually include at least one filmed report. There will also often be a demonstration of an activity in the studio, and/or a music or dance performance. Between the 1960s and 2011 the programme was made at BBC Television Centre, and often came from Studio 1, the fourth-largest TV studio in Britain and one of the largest in Europe. This enabled Blue Peter to include large-scale demonstrations and performances within the live programme. From the September 2007 series, the programme was broadcast from a small fixed set in Studio 2. However, from 2009 the series began to use the larger studios once more; also more programmes were broadcast in their entirety from the Blue Peter Garden. The show is also famous for its "makes", which are demonstrations of how to construct a useful object or prepare food. These have given rise to the oft-used phrase "Here's one I made earlier", as presenters bring out a perfect and completed version of the object they are making – a phrase credited to Christopher Trace, though Marguerite Patten is another possibility. Trace also used the line "And now for something completely different", which was later taken up by Monty Python. Time is also often given over to reading letters and showing pictures sent in by viewers.
Over 4,000 editions have been produced since 1958, and almost every episode from 1964 onwards still exists in the BBC archives. This is extremely unusual for programmes of that era, and is a testament to the foresight and initiative of editor Biddy Baxter, as she personally ensured that telerecordings and, from 1970, video copies were kept of the episodes.
Many items from Blue Peter's history have become embedded in British popular culture, especially moments when things have gone wrong, such as the much-repeated clip of Lulu the elephant (from a 1969 edition) who urinated and defecated on the studio floor, appeared to tread on the foot of presenter John Noakes and then proceeded to attempt an exit, dragging her keeper along behind her. Although it is often assumed to have been broadcast live, the edition featuring Lulu was one of the rare occasions when the programme was pre-recorded, due to the non-availability of a studio on the normal transmission day. Other well-remembered and much-repeated items from this era include the Girl Guides' campfire that got out of hand on the 1970 Christmas edition, John Noakes's report on the cleaning of Nelson's Column, and Simon Groom referring to a previous item on the production of a facsimile door knocker for Durham Cathedral which was displayed alongside the original, with the words 'what a beautiful pair of knockers'.
Blue Peter was first aired on 16 October 1958. It had been commissioned to producer John Hunter Blair by Owen Reed, the head of children's programmes at the BBC, as there were no programmes in existence that catered for children aged between five and eight. Reed got his inspiration after watching Children's Television Club, the brainchild of former radio producer, Trevor Hill, who created the latter show as a successor to his programme Out of School, broadcast on BBC Radio's Children's Hour; Hill networked the programme from BBC Manchester and launched it aboard the Royal Iris paddle steamer on Merseyside with presenter Judith Chalmers welcoming everyone aboard at the bottom of the gangplank.
It was subsequently televised about once a month Hill relates how Reed came to stay with him and his wife, Margaret Potter, in Cheshire, and was so taken with the "Blue Peter" flag on the side of the ship and the programme in general, that he asked to rename it and take it to London to be broadcast on a weekly basis (see Reed's obituary). The "Blue Peter" is used as a maritime signal, indicating that the vessel flying it is about to leave, and Reed chose the name to represent 'a voyage of adventure' on which the programme would set out. Hunter Blair also pointed out that blue was a child's favourite colour, and Peter was the common name of a typical child's friend.
The first two presenters were Christopher Trace, an actor, and Leila Williams, winner of Miss Great Britain in 1957. The two presenters were responsible for activities which matched the traditional gender roles. As Asa Briggs, the historian of broadcasting, expressed it in 1995: "Leila played with dolls; Chris played with trains". They were supported on occasion by Tony Hart, an artist who later designed the ship logo, who told stories about an elephant called Packi (or Packie). It was broadcast every Friday for fifteen minutes (17.00-17.15) on BBC TV (which later became BBC One). Over the first few months more features were added, including competitions, documentaries, cartoons, and stories. Early programmes were almost entirely studio-based, with very few filmed inserts being made.
From Monday October 7, 1960, Blue Peter was switched from every Friday to every Monday and extended from 15 minutes to 20 minutes (17.00-17.20). In 1961, Hunter Blair became ill, and was often absent. After he produced his last edition on 12 June 1961, a series of temporary producers took up the post. Hunter Blair was replaced the following September by Clive Parkhurst. He did not get along with Leila Williams, who recalled "he could not find anything for me to do", and in October, Williams did not appear for six editions, and was eventually fired, leaving Christopher Trace on his own or with one-off presenters. Parkhurst was replaced by John Furness, and Anita West joined Trace on 7 May 1962. She featured in just 16 editions, making her the shortest-serving presenter, and was replaced by Valerie Singleton, who presented regularly until 1972, and on special assignments until 1981. Following the departure of Furness, a new producer who was committed to Blue Peter was required, so Biddy Baxter was appointed. At the time she was contracted to schools' programmes on the radio, and therefore unable to take up her new post immediately.
It was suggested that Edward Barnes, a production assistant, would temporarily produce the show until Baxter arrived, at which point he would become her assistant. This suggestion was turned down, and a more experienced producer, Leonard Chase, was appointed, with Barnes as his assistant. Baxter eventually joined Blue Peter at the end of October 1962.
During this period, many iconic features of Blue Peter were introduced. The first appeal took place in December 1962, replacing the practice of reviewing toys that children would ask for themselves. Blue Peter's first pet, a brown and white mongrel dog named Petra, was introduced on 17 December 1962. The puppy soon died of distemper, and having decided against upsetting young viewers over the news, Barnes and Baxter had to search London pet shops for a convincing clandestine replacement. Features such as "makes" (normally involving creating something such as an advent crown, out of household junk) and cooking became regular instalments on Blue Peter and continue to be used today. The Blue Peter badge was introduced in 1963, along with the programme's new logo designed by Tony Hart. Baxter introduced a system that ensured replies sent to viewers' letters were personal; as a girl, she had written to Enid Blyton and twice received a standard reply, which had upset her.
The next year, from 28 September 1964, Blue Peter began to be broadcast twice weekly, with Baxter becoming the editor in 1965, and Barnes and Rosemary Gill (an assistant producer who had joined as a temporary producer while Baxter was doing jury service) becoming the programme's producers. The first Blue Peter book, an annual in all but name, was published this year, and one has been produced nearly every year since. A third presenter, John Noakes, was introduced at the end of 1965 and became the longest-serving presenter. A complete contrast to Trace, Noakes set the scene for "daredevil" presenters that has continued through the generations of presenters. Trace left Blue Peter in July 1967, and was replaced by Peter Purves in November. The trio of Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves lasted five years, and according to Richard Marson were 'the most famous presenting team in the show's history'. In 1965, the first Summer Expedition (a filming trip abroad) was held in Norway, and continued every year (except 1986 and 2011) until 2012, all over the world.
The first colour edition of Blue Peter aired on 14 September 1970, and the last black and white edition on 24 June 1974. A regular feature of the 1970s were the Special Assignments, which were essentially reports on interesting topics, filmed on location. Singleton took this role, and in effect became the programme's "roving reporter". Blue Peter also offered breaking news on occasion, such as the 1971 eruption of Mount Etna, as well as unique items such as the first appearance of Uri Geller on British television. In May 1976, presenter Lesley Judd interviewed Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, after he had agreed to bring his daughter's diaries to Britain. From 1971, the summer expedition from the previous year was edited into special programmes broadcast under the title Blue Peter Flies The World, televised during the summer break when the team were recording the latest expedition. The first was shown in July 1971 and featured the expedition to Jamaica
In 1974, the Blue Peter Garden was officially opened in a green space outside the Television Centre restaurant block. By this time, Blue Peter had become an established children's programme, with regular features which have since become traditions. Its theme music was updated by Mike Oldfield in 1979, and at the end of the decade a new presenting team was brought in, consisting of Simon Groom, Tina Heath and Christopher Wenner. They were overshadowed by the success of the previous two decades, and failed to make an impact. Heath decided to leave after a year when she discovered she was pregnant, but agreed to have a live scan of her baby, something which had never been done on television before. Blue Peter was praised for this by the National Childbirth Trust who told the BBC that in 'five minutes, Blue Peter had done more to educate children about birth than they'd achieved in ten years of sending out leaflets'. Wenner was unpopular with viewers, so left along with Heath on 23 June 1980.
Sarah Greene and Peter Duncan both joined in 1980, and a new producer, Lewis Bronze, joined in 1982. The 1980s saw the Blue Peter studio become more colourful and bright, with the presenters gradually wearing more fashionable outfits, in contrast to the more formal appearance of previous decades. Several videos of Blue Peter were released from 1982, the first being Blue Peter Makes, and an omnibus comprising the two weekly editions appeared in 1986 on Sunday mornings. On 27 June 1988, Baxter took part in her final show, after nearly 26 years of involvement, and Bronze took her place as editor. Around this time, Blue Peter became distinctively environmentally aware, and introduced a green badge in November 1988 for achievements related to the environment.
In 1989 (and again in 1992 and 1994), new arrangements of the theme tune was used. Due to falling ratings in BBC children's programming, BBC1 controller Alan Yentob suggested airing a third edition of Blue Peter each week from 1995. This meant that it was sometimes pre-recorded; Joe Godwin, the director, suggested that the Friday edition should be a lighter version of Blue Peter, which would concentrate on music, celebrities and games. A fourth presenter, Katy Hill, was introduced in 1995, but unlike earlier decades, there was little stability in the line-up, with resignations and new additions made almost every year of the decade. The 1990s also saw many more live broadcasts on location, with many shot entirely away from the studio. Blue Peter was also one of the first television series to launch a website. Oliver Macfarlane replaced Bronze as editor in 1996.
1998 marked the 40th anniversary of the TV show and the most talked about event to celebrate the show's 40th birthday was a trip behind LNER Peppercorn Class A2 60532 Blue Peter On an Edinburgh to London railtour. Due to safety rules, none of the presenters were permitted to ride on board the footplate during the trip; however, Peter Kirk (the man in charge on board 60532 and who was presenting from the footplate) allowed Stuart Miles to travel on board the footplate between Newark-on-Trent & Peterborough (the reason for this was being due to this section being where, back on 3 July 1938, an LNER A4 Locomotive no. 4468 Mallard set a world speed record of 126 mph; this record still stands to this day).
In October 1998, Richard Bacon was sacked, following reports in News of the World that he had taken cocaine. Steve Hocking then replaced Macfarlane as editor, at a time that was believed to be a difficult period for the programme. He introduced a further re-arrangement of the theme tune and a new graphics package in September 1999.
The 2000s started off when two time capsules that had been buried on Blue Peter were opened up. The former presenters were invited back to assist, and the rest of the programme looked at life in the 1970s when the first capsule was buried. With Hill's departure and replacement by Liz Barker in 2000, the new team of Konnie Huq, Simon Thomas, Matt Baker and herself made the programme strong and consistent for the next five years, which had been somewhat lacking in the 1990s. The Friday edition, as in the previous decade, featured games and competitions, but additionally there was a drama series, The Quest, which featured cameos from many former presenters.
Basil Brush also made several appearances on Fridays. It was at this time that the new Head of the BBC Children's Department, Nigel Pickard, asked for Blue Peter to be broadcast all year round. This was achieved by having two editions per week instead of three during the summer months, and using pre-recorded material. The early 2000s also introduced Christmas productions, in which the presenters took part. In 2003, Richard Marson became the new editor, and one of his first tasks was changing the output of Blue Peter on the digital CBBC, which for the first year of the channel's launch consisted of repeated editions, plus spin-off series Blue Peter Unleashed and Blue Peter Flies the World. This new arrangement involved a complex schedule of live programmes and pre-recorded material, being broadcast on BBC One and CBBC. Marson also introduced a new set, graphics and music.
In September 2007, a new editor, Tim Levell, took over. At the same time, budget cuts meant that the programme came from a smaller studio. In February 2008 the BBC One programme was moved from 5 pm to 4.35 pm to accommodate The Weakest Link, and as a result, Blue Peter's ratings dropped to as low as 100,000 viewers in the age 6–12 bracket but have since steadily improved.
Writing in the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel, in 2009, BBC Children's Controller Richard Deverell announced plans to re-invent the show to be more like the BBC's motoring programme Top Gear. Deverell hopes that by adding "danger and excitement", Blue Peter will achieve the same "playground buzz" among children as Top Gear.
On 29 March 2011, Blue Peter became the first programme in the UK to broadcast an entire show in 360 degrees on the web. Viewers were able to watch the programme via their TVs and simultaneously interact with the television studio in front and behind the cameras on the website. Viewers were also challenged to play a game where they had to find particular crew members and staff dressed up in distinctive costumes.
The final edition of Blue Peter to broadcast from the BBC's Television Centre in London, was broadcast on 28 June 2011, before a move to the BBC's new facilities at MediaCityUK in Salford. The set left behind at BBC Television Centre was subsequently purchased and installed at Sunderland University's David Puttnam Media Centre in August 2013.
When the new series started on 26 September 2011, after the usual summer break, Barney Harwood and Helen Skelton revealed the new look Blue Peter studio along with the new music and title sequence. Departed Blue Peter presenter Andy Akinwolere was not initially replaced, and for the first time in 50 years only two presenters remained on the programme until Lindsey Russell joined the team in July 2013.
From 12 January 2012, Blue Peter has been broadcast all year round (with no break for summer) once a week, its original premiere being on CBBC Channel on Thursdays at 5.45pm, changed to 5.30pm from April 2013 then 5.00pm from March 2015. It was usually repeated on Fridays on BBC One, although this ceased in December 2012. A repeat airs at 9.00am on Sundays. At this time, Levell left to work at BBC Radio 5 Live; he was replaced (initially in an acting capacity) as editor by Ewan Vinnicombe, who had worked on the programme as a producer since 2007. The reformatted Blue Peter occasionally also includes specials and spin-offs such as "Helen's Polar Adventure" or the Stargazing Live special on other days of the week.
Presenters and contributors
Christopher Trace and Leila Williams were the first presenters of Blue Peter in October 1958, and since then, there have been 35 subsequent presenters. The current presenting team comprises Barney Harwood, Radzi Chinyanganya (who replaced Helen Skelton in October 2013) and Lindsey Russell. Russell is the first presenter to be chosen by viewers following a contest to find a new presenter, entitled 'Blue Peter! You Decide' and Helen Skelton left Blue Peter in September 2013, after 5 and a half years on the show. Barney the red-setter dachshund went with her. Prior to this, in the first two years of the programme's new home at Salford, guest presenters occasionally covered for Helen and Barney in the studio or in some film reports.
Other people who have played roles on the show include the zoologist George Cansdale, who was the programme's first on-screen veterinarian, and Percy Thrower who was the show's gardening expert from 21 March 1974 to 23 November 1987 and was presented with a Gold Blue Peter badge shortly before he died in 1988. He was followed from 1988–91 by Chris Crowder and from 1991–2000 by Clare Bradley. From 2004- 2013 by Chris Collins. From 2014–Present, The Skinny Jean Gardeners Lee & Dale Connelly
Another contributor, though rarely seen on screen, was Margaret Parnell, who created almost all of the show's "makes" from 1963 until her retirement in 2001. Her role was then filled by Gillian Shearing, though Parnell's name still appeared in the credits from time to time when a classic "make" was re-used.
Director/producer Alex Leger who joined the show in 1975 as a production assistant finally retired in 2011, making him Blue Peter's longest serving staff member ever. Presenter Anthea Turner said of Leger: "Alex was the director we feared and loved in the same sentence; he would push you to your limits of endurance and in my case made me face my fear of water by taking me to Crystal Palace to shoot a film about high board diving. Never have my knees knocked so much." Writing on The Huffington Post in November 2012, Leger admitted the "piles of clippings, strange souvenirs from overseas trips, half-finished 'makes' from the show and half-dead pot plants disguised the fact something ground-breaking was happening in the cramped Blue Peter offices". Leger published his book, Blue Peter: Behind the Badge, on 5 November 2012, in collaboration with many of his former colleagues.
The Blue Peter pets are the animals who regularly appear on the programme. These include dogs, cats, parrots and tortoises. Among the most recent Blue Peter Pets are: a dog, a red setter-dachshund called Barney; two cats, one called Socks and one called Cookie; and one tortoise called Shelley. Mabel retired on 30 March 2010 after 14 years on the show. The latest pet to join is 2-year-old Barney, a red setter-dachshund, who made his TV debut on Tuesday 22 September 2009, but left four years later at the same time as presenter Helen Skelton. Lucy, a golden retriever, died aged 13 in late March 2011. In July 2013, Socks and Cookie made their final appearance in the studio in Salford, as (like Shelley the tortoise) they live in London, but they are still regarded as part of the programme team. The trained Guide Dog Iggy appears regularly.
Blue Peter Garden
The presenters also maintain the Blue Peter Garden. The original garden, adjacent to Television Centre, was designed by Percy Thrower in 1974. Its features include an Italian sunken garden with a pond, which contains goldfish, a vegetable patch, greenhouse and viewing platform. George the Tortoise was interred in the garden following his death in 2004, and there is also a bust of the dog Petra, sculptures of Mabel and the Blue Peter ship, and a plaque in honour of Percy Thrower. The 2000 Blue Peter time capsule was buried in the Garden and later relocated to the current location, where it is due to be opened in 2029. The garden is also available to other programmes for outside broadcasts, and is often used for the links between children's programmes during the summer months and for BBC Breakfast's weather forecasts.
When the programme's production base moved to Salford MediaCityUK in September 2011, sections of the garden, including the sculptures and the sunken pond, were carefully relocated to the piazza of the new studio facility. It was officially opened on Thursday 23 February 2012 by HRH The Princess Royal.
On the Monday 21 November 1983 edition, Janet Ellis reported that over the weekend the garden had been vandalised. The report contained an on-air appeal for viewers to come forward with information—which now often appears on clip shows. The garden had been vandalised previously in 1978. A rumour circulated in the early 1990s that the vandalism had been carried out by a gang including the footballers Dennis Wise and Les Ferdinand when they were teenagers. Both men have denied direct involvement in the actual vandalism, although Ferdinand did later appear to confess to "helping a few people over the wall." Later still, however, Ferdinand claimed that his admission of involvement had merely been a joke, and that he had not been involved at all.
Children (and adults) who appear on the show or achieve something notable may be awarded the coveted Blue Peter badge. The Blue Peter badge allows holders free entry into a number of visitor attractions across the UK. In March 2006, this privilege was temporarily suspended after a number of badges were discovered for sale on the auction site eBay. This suspension was lifted in June 2006, when a new "Blue Peter Badge Card" was introduced to combat the problem, which is issued to each badge winner to prove that they are the rightful owners.
The presenters almost always wear their badge; the only exception being when their apparel is incompatible (for example, a life jacket), in which case a sticker with the ship emblem is normally used instead. In addition, large prints or stickers of the ship are attached to vehicles driven by the presenters Barney Harwood and Helen Skelton during filming assignments.
In addition to the standard "blue" badge, several variations of the badge exist, for various achievements, including:
- Silver badges, For sending in a letter or poem to the show when you already have the blue badge
- Green badges, for contributions with a conservation, nature or environmental theme
- Gold badges, the most rarely awarded, for exceptional achievement
- Competition winners orange badges, for competition winners or runners up (replacing the previous circular "competition winner's badge")
- Purple badges, awarded for completing a review of the show by completing the form on the Blue Peter website
- 50th anniversary badge, awarded for sending a picture, poem or letter on the subject of the programme's 50th birthday
- Factbyte factory badge, Awarded to people who completed up to V.I.P. level 7 on the Factbyte factory online game on the official Blue Peter Website in 2009.
- Sport badge, awarded to people from July – September 2013 (and again each summer since) for inspiring a friend or family member to try a new sport.
The programme also marks annual events, including Chinese New Year, St David's Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mothering Sunday, Guy Fawkes Night and Christmas. The latter, in particular, is a special occasion with a traditional format repeated year on year.
Usually shows one of the presenters making a pancake. It is usually the newest presenter who makes the pancake and attempts to toss it perfectly.
Usually shows the viewers how to make their own Mother's Day card or present.
Guy Fawkes Night
The traditional Christmas programmes usually opens with the signature tune being replaced with a brass band arrangement of the carol "Good King Wenceslas" juxtaposed with shots of viewers' home-made Christmas cards and followed by the lighting of the final candle on the Advent Crown. The programme's Christmas manger figures are featured, reminding viewers of the Nativity story, a last-minute Christmas make, either a song and dance or filming assignment and the grand finale; the Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band and children from various schools, assisted by members of the BBC Symphony Chorus, marching "up the hill" and into the studio from the cold outside (lanterns in hand!) singing a Christmas carol (alternating years between either "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" or "O! Come All Ye Faithful") around the Blue Peter Christmas tree. In some years there was a Christmas play, either spoofing hit movies like Grease, popular songs or a Pantomime. Much of the script has been repeated year after year for this special programme. However, for the 2007 Christmas programme, none of these traditions were featured (although the crib had been glimpsed in the previous edition), ending a format repeated annually since the 1960s. Apart from presents for the presenters and pets and a brief look at the programme's nativity crib, the traditional elements remained largely absent in 2008 and 2009. From 2010 the closing carol was reinstated, with the Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band being replaced by the Salford band from 2011 onwards, as the programme had moved to MediaCity by then. In 2014, the full traditional content was revived (and retained in 2015), including the viewers' home-made cards accompanied by the Good King Wenceslas arrangement, the Advent Crown (although now using electric candles for safety reasons) and (after an absence in the previous two years) the sparkling ship logo appearing by the shot of the crib in the studio at the end of the closing carol.
An enduring feature of the programme is the annual charity appeal, which asks viewers to collect items that can be recycled or sold to raise money for the chosen cause. This is always a charity project in the UK in odd-numbered years, and abroad in even-numbered. The appeal is usually launched in late November and runs through to February or March of the following year. Until 1979, only waste products were ever collected, such as stamps, linens, coins, scrap metal etc. In 1979, one of the most popular forms of raising appeal money was introduced; encouraging viewers to hold "Blue Peter Bring And Buy Sales" at which buyers are also encouraged to bring their own bric-a-brac or produce to sell. The Great Bring And Buy Sale was used every few years or so as a means of adding variety to the collecting theme during other years.
Between 2001 and 2003 a series of "Bring And Buy Appeals" led many viewers and the media to voice their concern that the traditional method of collecting scrap items to recycle was being abandoned in favour of the "easier revenue" generated by the sales. This led to an on-air explanation by presenter Konnie Huq during the 2003 Get Together Appeal that this particular appeal required the sort of funding that only Bring And Buy Sales could raise. The 2004 and 2005 appeals saw a return to the collecting theme: the first being to collect old clothes that Oxfam could sell in its stores to raise funds for a family-searching service in third world countries ravaged by war, and the second being the collection of old mobile telephones and coins that could be recycled to raise money for ChildLine. Continuing the return to collecting unwanted items, Blue Peter launched its Shoe Biz Appeal campaign in 2006. In partnership with UNICEF, its aim was to collect unwanted pairs of shoes or other footwear in order to raise money for children orphaned by AIDS and HIV in Malawi. The 2007 appeal was the "Disc Drive" – working with Barnardo's to sell unwanted CDs and DVDs.
During appeals, the sum of money or objects collected is presented on the totaliser – a display that lights to show the amount collected. With some appeals, a second totaliser has often been introduced immediately after the original target has been met, with the aim of providing an incentive to keep on donating.
The 2007 Disc Drive Appeal was, controversially, handled in a different editorial style, and it was not featured in each programme since its launch as in previous years. Also the totaliser, previously a part of the studio set, was relegated to an on-screen animation/graphic.
The 2008 appeal was called Mission Nutrition, an attempt to provide children in the UK, Bangladesh and South Africa with better food. As part of this appeal, the Blue Peter presenters held the world's biggest bring and buy sale on 18 February 2009, which was attended by several celebrities as well as regular people. Since the 2008 appeal there has been a return to regular features on the Appeal's progress in each edition, and the reinstatement of a physical studio set Totaliser.
The 2009 Appeal was "Send a Smile Appeal" which was symbolic as being the first Appeal in the history of the programme to blend a collecting theme with the Blue Peter "make" methodology. Children were encouraged to collect unwanted T-shirts to be donated to Operation Smile, a charity providing free reconstructive surgery to children in the developing world, where they were to be used as surgical gowns for their operations. Appeal contributors were encouraged to customise their gowns in a variety of creative ways, as well as following instructions given on the programme for how to include eyelets and ties to the backs of the gowns. In subsequent years, the traditional Appeal has been dropped in favour of general fundraising and awareness-raising for BBC Children in Need.
As part of the 50th year a BBC estimate was that since the first appeal started Blue Peter has raised over £100 million (inflation adjusted figure to 2008 value) by appeals.
In 1964, the first Blue Peter book was published. Although an annual in all but name, the books are rarely referred to as such. Each book (published in time for Christmas) features highlights from the previous twelve months of Blue Peter features, and chronicles major guests who visit the studio, the Summer expedition, the annual appeal, and the pets. The style of the books' contents has changed very little over the years, with the only noticeable difference between a 1960s book and the current formula being the increase in colour photography and digital artwork; otherwise, the principle is the same. There was, in 1986 and 1990, and between 1992 and 1997, a break in the publication of the books. Since Pedigree took over the books in 2004, there has been an increase in quality. The books are now bigger than before, with a greater number of pages. The Blue Peter editor and members of the production team write the book, and choose its content, though the book is written from the presenters' point of view. As for the 'book or annual' debate, it is interesting to note that, as of Book 34 in 2004, the cover makes reference to it as "Annual XXXX" and the spine marking it as "Book XX". This is probably because The Beano and The Dandy books were renamed as annuals in 2003, leaving Blue Peter the only one still using the name book on its annuals.
A collectors' market has developed, with "Book One" being especially rare and commanding triple figures on online auction websites. Books from the late 1960s and 1970s are more common, and often turn up for less than a pound in second hand bookshops or charity stores. Books from the 1980s and 1990s tend to be more expensive and rarer, as people realised the value of keeping hold of them.
In the early 1970s a set of Blue Peter mini books were produced, covering specific topics that had been featured in the TV series. A set of these were buried in 1971 in the time capsule for the year 2000. The spin-off series Blue Peter Special Assignment also had books.
BBC One (1958–2012)
Blue Peter first aired once a week on Mondays on the BBC Television Service, now BBC One, for a duration of 15 minutes. From 28 September 1964 until 1995 it was shown twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays, extending its duration to 25 minutes. A third show was added in 1995, broadcasting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 2000 the show began airing at 5pm, due to Newsround moving to a later slot.
From 2006 the show's output began to be reduced, first by dropping the Friday edition, and initially moving the programme schedule to Monday to Wednesday, before moving again to Tuesday to Thursday. In May 2007, it was announced the show would lose a show a week and return to broadcasting twice weekly, leaving Tuesday and Wednesday the only days on which Blue Peter was broadcast on BBC One. At the time the BBC claimed that the purpose of returning to two shows a week was to increase the quality of the programme's content rather than simply a means of reducing production costs.
The show's schedule was changed again in February 2008 when Blue Peter was moved to the 4.35 pm slot on BBC One, due to The Weakest Link moving from BBC Two to replace Neighbours which had transferred to Five. However, this timing change led to a decrease in viewing figures for the weekday afternoon CBBC One slot, with Blue Peter receiving fewer than 100,000 viewers, down from around 335,000 in 2003. The BBC Trust recommended that the BBC produce plans, detailing how they intended to increase viewership, by mid-2009.
In September 2010, the show was moved from Wednesdays and Tuesdays to Mondays and Tuesdays at the same time slot.
CBBC Channel (2012–)
From Thursday, 12 January 2012 another episode was dropped, with the show coming full circle by only broadcasting one new episode each week. For the first time in the show's history, first run episodes were now broadcast on the CBBC Channel, at 5.45pm on Thursdays. However, a repeat was still broadcast the following day on BBC One.
Eventually however, in December 2012, Blue Peter ended its 54-year run on BBC One and now airs only on the CBBC Channel. The move came as regular children's programming was removed entirely from BBC One and Two following the completion of the digital switchover. Viewing figures determined that 93% of CBBC's target audience was now watching the BBC's children's programming on the dedicated CBBC Channel (including first-run episodes of Blue Peter), and few viewers were watching solely on BBC One.
Repeats and spin-off shows
Blue Peter was first repeated in full on satellite and cable channel UK Gold in the 1990s, one of the first archive channels in the UK. Later it moved to sister channel UK Gold Classics when UK Gold began broadcasting more recent programmes, although that channel lasted only six months before closing.
In September 1998, the BBC launched its first digital only channel BBC Choice. A few months after launch, a new weekend afternoon CBBC Choice strand began broadcasting, and as part of this a highlights show Re:Peter showcased the best of that week's Blue Peter shows. Re:Peter, along with a similar highlights show for Live & Kicking known as L&K Replay, ended when the strand was axed in April 2000 and became the daily 6am-7pm CBBC on Choice programming block which launched in November 1999. 9. However, in 2002, repeats of Blue Peter started being shown on CBBC on Choice's successor, the newly launched CBBC Channel, along with spin-off shows Blue Peter Unleashed and Blue Peter Flies the World. From 2003 a new arrangement involved new material being shown daily, on both BBC One and the CBBC Channel.
Signature tune and motif
The signature tune has always been a hornpipe, originally using variations of Barnacle Bill. The original opening titles showed a Blue Peter flag being lowered on a ship. In 1979 it was updated by Mike Oldfield, and again in the 1990s. From the 2008 series onwards it became a rendition of the similar Sailor's Hornpipe. However, from 14 October 2008, the tune has become a blend of both tunes.
The programme's motif is a stylised sailing ship designed by Tony Hart. Hart's original design was never successfully used in a totally uniform fashion, with several different reproductions used in studio, on badges, the Blue Peter books and on-screen graphics. This was until the show's redesign in 1999, when the ship's rigging and hull detail was removed, and in 2000, the flags were subtly reshaped. For the 2008 series there has been a return to the original flag design on the ship, although some of the mast detail on the bow and stern has been removed.
The Blue Peter opening theme is called "Barnacle Bill" and was composed by Ashworth Hope (1880–1962), who was a successful solicitor as well as a composer. It has been used ever since the programme began in 1958, apart from a brief period in autumn 2008 when a version of the "Sailors Hornpipe" was used instead.
The opening theme has been updated several times. The following is a list of all the versions of the Blue Peter signature tune, "Barnacle Bill" that have been used on the show :
- Sidney Torch & The New Century Orchestra: October 1958 to January 1979
- Mike Oldfield: January 1979 to June 1989 (see "Blue Peter" (Mike Oldfield instrumental))
- Simon Brint: September 1989 to September 1992
- Simon Brint: September 1992 to September 1994
- The Yes/No People: September 1994 to August 1999
- David Arnold and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: September 1999 to June 2004
- Nial Brown: September 2004 to December 2006
- Dave Cooke: January 2007 to June 2007
- Dave Cooke & Blue Peter Music Makers September 2007 to June 2008
- Dobs Vye: September 2008 – June 2011
- Banks & Wag: September 2011 to present
The debut of a new version of the famous theme tune "Barnacle Bill" is sometimes accompanied with an introduction by the presenters at the time explaining the reasons behind the new rendition. Mike Oldfield appeared on the programme around 1979, and his version of the theme tune was so popular with viewers that the producers decided to record it for use as a permanent theme.
Despite a new rendition of the theme music being introduced in 2004, a further new version was arranged by Murray Gold and recorded in 2006, as part of a viewers' competition, with prize winners taking part in the final orchestral recording. Viewers were told that this new version of the theme would be used when the series returned from its summer break in September 2006; however, for unknown reasons, this was not the case, save for excerpts being used as incidental music. Instead, when the September 2006 series began, a slightly shortened version of the 2004 arrangement was used, with the opening bars removed. Between January and June 2007, Dave Cooke re-arranged the theme tune, although it was confirmed that Murray Gold's new arrangement would be used from the new series in September 2007, to coincide with the programme's 50th anniversary celebrations. However, the version that ultimately aired bears little resemblance to either the original Murray Gold/Music Makers recording or any previous recording of the theme.
It is unknown what the closing music of Blue Peter was in its earliest days, but certainly by the mid-1960s, the show was closing with an edit of Parts Two and Three of "Drums and Fife", from a 1961 suite of six library cues by Wilfred Burns, performed by The Light Symphonia, conducted by Roberto Capelli (Conroy, BM 301-A). This recording remained in use until 1979 when it was supplanted by a cover version by Mike Oldfield. The same tune remained in use thereafter, being re-arranged in line with subsequent versions of the opening signature tune; however, between 1999–2004, a shorter version of the opening tune was used to close the programme. The editor at the time, Steve Hocking, said that he was happy for the same tune to be used at the beginning and end of each broadcast; however, in recent years the traditional finale tune has returned, with Nial Brown rearranging the closing tune from 2004 to 2006, and Dave Cooke doing so as of January 2007. From September 2007 to June 2008 the closing theme was slightly extended and rearranged, once again by Dave Cooke.
For the start of the September 2008 series "Barnacle Bill" was dropped as the signature tune after nearly fifty years of use and replaced by an arrangement of the very similar traditional dance tune "Sailor's Hornpipe". On 14 October (the same week as the 50th anniversary) the opening arrangement of the tune was reworked to include elements of "Barnacle Bill" once again. The closing theme for 2008 is the same as opening signature tune.
In September 2011, the series returned to using "Barnacle Bill" though with the opening bars and drum roll omitted (along with the "Sailor's Hornpipe") and the traditional closing signature tune not used.
1958–1989: The earliest episodes featured stock footage of a sailing ship under the opening credits.
By the late 1960s, Blue Peter's opening sequence featured extracts of that edition's filmed inserts or an event in the studio where speech was absent accompanied by the signature tune and superimposed presenter credits. The theme music would either play out in full, or fade out appropriately depending on the programme's content.
1989–1997: From 1989, a 2D animation of the Blue Peter ship had been developed and used alongside the 1985-introduced word-logo and was used as a method of displaying both the ship and Blue Peter name to precede any film or episode footage as before. From 1992 a 3D animation was used and further replaced by another graphical sequence in 1994. Once again, these animations preceded any film, studio or episode footage. Occasionally, from the 1994 series onwards, the 3D animation of the Blue Peter ship would be followed by a preview of certain items on the day's programme with a "coming up" caption and a presenter commentary. Again, the theme music would either play in full or fade out at an appropriate time.
1997–1999: From 1997, a more generic title sequence was used with the 1994 ship and title animation remaining, but was followed by clips of different action shots from a variety of the past years' filming assignments intermixed with specially filmed "posing" footage of the presenters. The traditional format of episode-specific film or studio setting scenes were still used, occasionally on their own, or mixed into the generic footage to varying degrees depending on the day's edition. The theme music tended to play out in full, and on days when a totally generic version of the titles were used, the opening was often followed by a "coming up" sequence narrated by the presenters.
1999–2004: By 1999, a new "bubble ship" symbol and titles sequence had been developed to be used alongside the traditional ship emblem. These bubble ships were seen floating around the presenters who were displayed in specially posed shots, and appeared to be floating above a graphical ocean on their own blue coloured ships, and in 2003 when the presenters shots were updated, they appeared to be waving, smiling and blowing the bubble ships. This footage was also mixed in with episode-specific film, introductory studio setting or more predominantly from the 2003 series onwards a preview of many items on the day's programme with a return to a "coming up" caption and presenter commentary.
2004–2006: In 2004, a similar approach was adopted with each presenter posing with "ship's rigging" in their hands, appearing as though they were hoisting the sails of the Blue Peter ship. This sequence, designed by BBC Broadcast (now Red Bee Media) saw a return to the sole use of the original Blue Peter ship logo and also featured the Blue Peter pets in their own poses. Predominantly these titles would precede a "coming up" sequence or occasionally clips of the edition's filming assignment. The original version used from 2004–2005 opened with the ship logo and featured silhouettes of unidentified children also hoisting sails along with the presenters. This was discarded in 2005 for the last year of the sequence's run and opened with the ship and Blue Peter name for the first time in six years – allowing more flexibility for when the titles would merge into that day's edition without being completed in full, as in the 1950–1990s era – before flowing into the rest of the titles (minus children) as before.
2006–2008: From September 2006 a new title sequence was introduced, opening with the traditional Blue Peter ship logo, followed by the presenters surrounded by "fact file boxes" displaying statistics and information about them and also pictures of the pets and snippets of previous assignment films. This also marked the end of the traditional format of the presenter credits being credited in order of seniority (although this is likely to be down to the stylistic dictation of the titles in their "girl boy girl boy" arrangement – the only irregularity being Gethin Jones appearing before Zöe Salmon who debuted on the show five months before him). As in previous years, this new graphical sequence precedes a "coming up" sequence or, alternatively, footage of that edition's filming assignment. From September 2007 the posed portion of the same opening titles followed a "coming up" clip of that day's programme and used a new theme tune to accompany it.
Following Konnie Huq's departure in January 2008, the order of the opening sequence was rejigged slightly, with a filmed aerial pan of a cliff-face taken from a helicopter, featuring a lighthouse and large-scale impression of the Blue Peter ship on a grass lawn adjacent to it. The "chopper" sound of the helicopter's propellers imitates the traditional drum roll of the Blue Peter theme tune. The sequence then merges into a summary of what's coming up on the programme, with a quick cut at the end to the remaining three presenter poses, now having reverted to appearance order, i.e., Zöe > Gethin > Andy, before ending with the 2006–2008 logo board, minus Konnie's silhouette.
2008–2009: This era of Blue Peter titles see a return to the original format without posing presenters. Instead, a fast moving graphical approach is taken where the main colour is light blue. The logo board with the new look word logo appears at the end and graphically 'flows' away to reveal the day's programme. 2008 sees a new word mark for the first time since 1999 and some of the detail has been altered on the ship logo – for example, a return to the original flag design. Small changes have also featured in the studio where the mezzanine wall is now red, the big screen has a new frame and the seating has been re-jigged slightly.
2009–2011: In the same style to the 2008 titles; however, the presenters' pictures and first names were now featured in the titles, following the 'coming up' section.
2011–2013: The new Blue Peter titles were created by Mighty Giant. The titles were meant to capture the essence of the show in 20 short seconds. The sequence Mighty Giant created had the presenters playing and throwing an object that changes throughout. As it transforms it captures another element of Blue Peter. These objects include for Helen, the Blue Peter adventure box, Technology screen and a ball. Barney's elements of Blue Peter in the titles include a globe, a piece of gaming technology and a keyboard. Mighty Giant shot the presenters against a green screen and then combined them with 3d objects back at its Northern Quarter base to create the desired effect. The logo also had a make over with the ship being put into a blue circle and the original designed ship in white inside the circle. The writing is the same as the 2008 logo.
2013–2015: In 2013, the sequence had been replaced by a series of clips of previous programme activities.
2015–present: In 2015, the sequence has a colourful graphics with rainbow lines, as well as the letters of the logo and the Blue Peter ship logo were floating around in the titles. This sequence is designed by Liquid. It look similar to the 1999-2004 and 2004-2006 ones.
General notes: The opening titles of every programme featured the list of the presenters in order of their first appearance on Blue Peter, regardless of whether they actually appear in the edition in question (after 1995 and the introduction of the fourth presenter it was unusual to have all four presenters in the studio at the same time, save for special programmes). The only time this rule was not adopted is when the programme is a special pre-recorded assignment – for example a visit to a foreign country by two of the presenters, in which case the usual practice is just to credit the presenters appearing. Until 2004, the presenters were always credited by their full names. From September 2004, the opening titles only featured their first names, perhaps in a move to make the presenters appear more accessible to the audience. From September 2008, the titles went back to traditional style, not including presenters or their names. This however was changed again in 2009, when pictures of the presenters popped out from nowhere with their name by the side of them.
For the new Technology themed titles for September 2011, the presenters Helen and Barney appeared with specially shot sequences. The names however did not make a return. For the first time the presenters were interacting with different objects in the titles.
1958–1992: The Blue Peter closing credits were put on screen over the final moments of the programme to the sound of the closing theme tune. Alternatively, once the programme had officially ended (i.e., the presenters had said their 'goodbyes') the camera would focus on shots of the pets or aspects of the studio as a calmer backdrop against which to flash up the credits. The sequence would always end with the Blue Peter ship filling the screen (originally a rather crude flat image, latterly a more graphically interesting incarnation) and BBC copyright blurb. Before 1989 the "Editor" credit (for almost all this period it was Biddy Baxter) would also flash up over the final moments of the programme, but since Lewis Bronze's promotion the editor credit was saved for the final ship frame.
1992–2003: Once again during this period the credits maintained the practice of appearing during the final seconds of the programme's presentation or once the script had finished. The major difference was that the text scrolled along the bottom third of the screen from right to left, usually overlaid on a graphical bar in the style of the opening titles. The exception to this rule was when the programme was on permanent Outside Broadcast for the whole show. During these occasions the same "theme" of credits would be used – i.e. same graphics and background etc. but the typeface would almost always change to a completely different font and colour, regardless of the regular typeface used at the time. Also, the credits would flash up on screen one by one, as opposed to scrolling. It is unknown why these anomalies occurred, but it is likely to be related to the reduced technical abilities whilst transmitting a live O.B. The final frame of the credits was always the Blue Peter ship as displayed in the opening titles of the time and the editor's credit, along with BBC branding.
2004–2007: This period saw a sequence which showed flashed up credits along the bottom third of the screen, whilst a photo of a recent Blue Peter badge winner, with or without the project that won them their badge, was shown above. One of the presenters' voices was also heard introducing the winner and explaining what they did to win their badge. Occasionally on certain programmes, for example the launch of an appeal, special guests in the studio or when out on location, the credits ran as pre-2004 over the closing moments of the programme with the music fading in. Again, the credits end with the Blue Peter ship, editor and BBC credit.
2004, 2007–2008: Early in 2004, the producers experimented with flashing up the credits over a background of "on the next Blue Peter" type footage. This was discarded later in 2004 when the new arrangement of signature tune and titles were introduced and a revised format was adopted that remained in use until 2007. September 2007 saw a return to the "coming up next time" sequence of footage, with credits text overlaid on a graphical bar at the bottom section of the screen. The same ship and editor credit is used as the final frame.
2008–present: There are no closing crew credits; instead, the programme ends with a five-second caption of Blue Peter and the CBBC logo.
General notes: The exceptions to the above were during the Christmas programme, when the credits still scrolled from right to left, often with Christmassy themed drawings separating each crew member. Until 2006, and again from 2010, the Christmas programme ends on a view of the children carol singers in the studio in the background, the Nativity scene in the foreground, studio lights dimmed, a star of Bethlehem glowing on the cyclorama and a sparkling silver Blue Peter ship overlaid on the screen (although the sparkling ship did not appear in the Christmas 2012 and 2013 editions).
When a "make" was featured in the programme, the creator of the item (invariably the retired Margaret Parnell or Gillian Shearing) was credited first (until credits were discontinued in 2008). An example of this would be "Dolls House make by Margaret Parnell".
In October 1998, Richard Bacon became the first presenter to have his contract terminated mid-run, after he admitted to taking cocaine and punching a wall, following reports in a tabloid newspaper. Lorraine Heggessey, then the Head of BBC Children's programmes, apologised on air.
However, before Bacon, four past presenters left the programme after not getting their contracts renewed, each for differing reasons; these were Leila Williams in 1962, Christopher Wenner in 1980, Michael Sundin in 1985 and Romana D'Annunzio in 1998.
Fake phone competition winner
It was revealed by the BBC that a phone-in competition supporting the UNICEF "Shoe Biz Appeal", held on 27 November 2006, was rigged. The person who appeared to be calling in the competition was actually a Blue Peter Team Player who was visiting that day. The visitor pretended to be a caller from an outside line who had won the phone-in and the chance to select a prize. The competition was rigged due to a technical error with receiving the calls.
Former editor Biddy Baxter, described as still being influential with the programme today, described the problem as an issue with a member of the production team on the studio floor and the Editor being oblivious to the situation in the studio gallery. She also went on to say that the programme would not feature premium rate telephone competitions in the future.
It was announced on 16 May 2007 that Blue Peter's editor and unofficial historian, Richard Marson, stood down from his job, although any link to the controversy of March 2007 remains in doubt.
In July 2007, Blue Peter was given a £50,000 fine, by the Office of Communications (OFCOM) as a result of rigging the competition.
In August 2007 while the programme was off air for its annual Summer Expedition, long-time presenter Konnie Huq was involved in a press conference to promote the health benefits of cycling along with Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. The Conservative Party accused the BBC of political bias as a result of one of its employees appearing at what was construed as a pro-Labour Party event. The BBC claimed to have turned down the offer for Huq to appear, but this was unknown to both her and her agent.
On 24 November 1988, Frank Ruse, a left-wing Labour councillor for Liverpool City Council, accompanied Liverpool's Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra to London for an appearance on Blue Peter. He was given a Blue Peter badge and wore it proudly to his council meetings. However, he received a BBC headed letter requesting the return of the badge. The letter (which was later discovered to be a forgery) stated that Blue Peter had been approached by Neil Kinnock's office (Labour leader at the time) who were alarmed that a councillor with hard-left views had been given a Blue Peter badge. On receiving the Blue Peter badge from Frank Ruse, the BBC wrote back to him stating that they had sent no such letter (therefore proving it was a hoax) and an angry Ruse started a local and national enquiry to find out who sent the hoax letter.
Blue Peter hit the headlines again with new breaches of trust in September 2007; an online vote on the BBC's Blue Peter official website took place to choose the name of the new Blue Peter kitten in January – the reported story was that instead of calling the cat Cookie, the name chosen by a majority of votes, the staff overruled the decision and called the kitten Socks due to problems with the voting system, and a large surge in the former name. As a result of bad media coverage the original cat, Socks was joined by another kitten named Cookie to reflect the decision of those who participated in the online vote. The BBC broadcast an apology on 25 September 2007 at the start of the new series.
Tributes, honours and awards
In 1992 Blue Peter won the BAFTA for Best Children's Programme (Factual): Lewis Bronze.
In 2008 Blue Peter was nominated for the BAFTA Children's Kids Vote Award.
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