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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Never a dull moment...

From its black and white beginnings to its colourful scandals, Blue Peter has never been less than gripping for children and adults.

It may seem strange that a children’s programme should have provoked so many lurid headlines. But a bit of juicy gossip is bound to crop up in anyone’s life by the time they reach 50.

And interest in Blue Peter’s naughtiness is multiplied by the programme’s wholesome – even prurient – image.

In 1998 presenter Richard Bacon was sacked when a Sunday newspaper revealed that he had taken cocaine.

In the past couple of years a string of scandals has come to light. Several competitions have been rigged. These included an online vote to choose the name of the new Blue Peter kitten. Viewers voted Cookie. Production staff chose Socks.

A baffling thing to do, smacking of the arrogant “Auntie knows best” mindset which its critics say has always run through Blue Peter.

But millions who grew up with it will defend Blue Peter all the way as well-intentioned, informative fun.

The programme debuted on October 16, 1958. Its first presenters were Christopher Trace, an actor, and Leila Williams, who was Miss Great Britain.

The world has changed more than Blue Peter during the past half century. Much of the early formula survives. The pets, the appeals, the summer trips, the avoidance of brand names (“sticky-backed plastic”), the unscripted moments of madness.

Many of these are embedded in the national consciousness: Lulu the elephant defecating on the studio floor, standing on John Noakes’s foot and dragging her keeper along behind her.

The Girl Guides’ campfire that got out of hand. Simon Groom referring to an item on door-knockers with the immortal words: “What a beautiful pair of knockers.”

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, Blue Peter was placed sixth.

It’s not only viewers who have been captivated. Former presenter Tim Vincent says: “I don’t think the sheer joy of being told you’re going to be the next presenter of Blue Peter will ever be replaced. I still remember walking across the pedestrian crossing at the BBC and being on such a high, as it was such a great thing to aim for.”

n Tonight BBC Two presents Blue Peter at 50; a documentary celebrating the show’s half-century.

World Cup-winning rugby star Johnny Wilkinson, ice skaters Torvill and Dean and Oscar-winning filmmaker Nick Park reveal what Blue Peter meant to them.

And the attractions of owning a coveted Blue Peter badge don’t begin and end with childhood. Formula One star Lewis Hamilton, who featured on the show as a child, explains why he’s now working towards winning the highly prized gold version.

Former presenters reminisce about their time on the show and the series’ longest-serving member of staff, daredevil director and cameraman Alex Leger talks about a multitude of action films and some near-death experiences.

Blue Peter at 50 is on BBC Two at 9.45pm.

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