It may be the longest running kids’ TV show ever, and a national treasure – but was Blue Peter ever really that big a deal for most kids?
Children’s BBC show Blue Peter is the best kids’ TV programme of all time. This, at least, is the opinion of a panel of experts at the Radio Times – among them David Walliams, Noel Edmonds, Philip Schofield, Michaela Strachan, Timmy Mallet and the Chuckle Brothers – who ranked the long-running series at number one, above the likes of Grange Hill, Tiswas and The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.
All choices which, of course, children of 2018 would no doubt concur with. Yes, that’s sarcasm.
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As I don’t wish to assume familiarity on the part of all readers, how best to describe Blue Peter? First, however the title may sound, it’s not some sort of euphemism for cold genitalia (to the best of this writer’s knowledge, anyway).
Essentially it’s a general interest lifestyle show, in which a number of warm, friendly presenters do their best to persuade young viewers to spend their free time in a more productive and interesting manner than just sitting around watching TV.
In so doing, it became the most watched Children’s BBC programme, attracting more than 8million viewers an episode at its height. Decide for yourself whether that means it’s been successful in its aim.
It’s not hard to see why RT’s panel, the bulk of whom were at their busiest in the 1980s, would pick Blue Peter for this honour. Launched in 1958 and poised to celebrate its 60th anniversary this October, it’s officially the longest-running children’s television programme ever. As such, it’s more than a show; it’s a national institution. Subsequently, there are many with a vested interest in keeping it on top, if only for reasons of nostalgic pride.
Of course, the reality is, just because something’s been around for a long time, that doesn’t mean the kids of today are obliged to care. We already learned this the hard way in 2006, when Top of the Pops – surely an even greater British TV institution than Blue Peter – was axed after 42 years on the air, once it became clear the audience just wasn’t there anymore.
And, sad but true, the tide seems to be turning that way for Blue Peter. Last July, reports surfaced that the show could be in jeopardy after an episode repeat on digital TV garnered no views whatsoever. The BBC promptly denied these claims (which, it should be noted, originated with the Daily Mail; judge that as you will), and one does have to wonder if this new poll is intended as a booster for the struggling brand.
But if Top of the Pops couldn’t survive in the face of multiple 24 hour music channels, how can Blue Peter hope to remain relevant in this age of round-the-clock children’s TV, Youtube and iPads? And honestly, if this quaint old CBBC relic does indeed reach the end of its voyage, is it that great a loss?
Speaking for myself, having been born into the 1980s, I was always well aware that Blue Peter was considered a big deal, as my parents and elder siblings assured me of this. I’m sure we had one or two Blue Peter badges floating around the house; plus Rik Mayall wore one in The Young Ones, so of course, it had to be cool.
Even so, while I appreciate John Noakes slipping in an elephant turd, or cleaning pigeon shit off Nelson’s Column years earlier, I can’t honestly say Blue Peter was ever something I cared that much about. Pin it on short attention spans and the Americanisation of our culture if you will, but my TV pick of the week was always the latest episode of Thundercats.
Sure, Blue Peter remained high in the consciousness in the 80s and 90s, and many presenters of that era went on to successful TV careers; but when you consider this included the likes of Yvette Fielding and John Leslie, can we really be blamed for not thinking too highly of it all?
I’ll say this much of Blue Peter, though: at least it gave us Peter Duncan. Now that was a TV star for children of the 1980s to look up to. For starters, he’d been in Flash Gordon, enjoying a brief but thunderous moment as a tree man who’s bitten by a woodbeast, cries “spare me the madness!” and willingly dies at Timothy Dalton’s sword.
This paved the way to Duncan being established as a pinnacle of masculinity in my young eyes, a point that was really hammered home not so much in his Blue Peter segments, but his solo series Duncan Dares, in which he went up and down the land performing all manner of daredevil feats.
One Duncan Dares moment burned forever into my consciousness is Peter Duncan lying on a bed of nails whilst clutching a python, with a tarantula crawling up his bare chest. This, as I recall, was a dare suggested by a viewer; and damn, I would so love to know what became of that child.
Now, I confess, I know nothing of Blue Peter today; my children have never had the slightest interest in watching it, nor have I had any inclination to force it upon them. And until I hear that current hosts Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya have performed deeds worthy of Duncan, I’ll be in no rush to persuade my children on the matter.
Picture Credit: BBC.
Blue Peter is on CBBC.