Even all these years later, Mondays and Thursdays feel better than any other days. Those were the days that we rushed home from school, or shopping, or the mobile library, because Blue Peter was on BBC TV.
The first broadcast was in 1958, long before we had a TV, and at that time was only once a month. By the time we had a TV and I was allowed to watch in 1964 it was twice-weekly, and in 1965 a woman named Biddy Baxter became editor of the programme.
Under her strict guidance, Blue Peter grew into the most-watched children’s programme in the UK. Children were encouraged to write in with suggestions for topics and themes, and Baxter was always very keen to show children lives which were different from theirs.
Blue Peter presenters (usually three of them) had pets, who were regularly in the studio. We all watched as the Blue Peter tortoise was put in his box for winter, and hoped that Shep the dog would behave as his owner, John Noakes (my favourite presenter) hoped. This was all on live TV and things often went wrong.
We never knew what would happen next.
Every summer, the presenters visited an exotic country, and in the autumn programmes featured clips about the marvellous things they had seen and done.
This led up to the Christmas appeal, where the children of Britain were asked to collect something different ever year – milk bottle tops, stamps, paper – never money – for the Blue Peter Christmas Appeal, which was for a different good cause every year. The Royal Mail stepped up to the plate and transported all the Blue Peter Appeal parcels for free, and on the last programme before Christmas we all sat in front of our TVs hoping we had reached the target… Yes! We always not only reached our target, but had raised far more than planned – to train guide dogs for the blind, feed starving children in Biafra, or provide lifeboats for the dangerous coastal waters around our Island.
We were encouraged to do craftwork from things we could find around the house – usually washing up bottles and sticky tape – and every year the horrific Advent Crown was made of coathangars and tinsel.
One year it caught fire on live TV.
Guests on the programme as well as children who had done something special or memorable, or won a competition, were the lucky recipients of the Blue Peter Badge. And yes, one of my life’s failures is that I never got one.
Blue Peter was marvellous because it treated us children as if we were sensible persons. Nobody spoke down to us there, and the programme didn’t shy away from difficult subjects, including in 1976, an interview with Otto Frank about his daughter Anne.
My children watched Blue Peter too, in the 80s, very bad reception via a large antenna and BFBS TV here in Germany.
Now it’s (unfortunately) only available online in the UK, but it’s still doing what it always did: telling the truth to interested children.
The Cabin Fever part