When I was six or seven I wrote a poem about a deer and sent it to Blue Peter. It was terrible, of course, just a load of sentences featuring a lot of clanking doggerel, but as I say I was six or seven and I was no Carol Ann Duffy.
Besides, I’d never seen a deer in real life as I was growing up in a heavily industrialised area of the country. Which makes me wonder why I didn’t write a poem about the steelworks’ blast furnace I could see from my bedroom window. But I wasn’t Ted Hughes, either…
Anyway, I wanted to be a poet and my mum and dad were kind enough not to tell me that (a) I would never make a living from poetry and (b) the chances are that I’d be flipping awful at it and people would run away from me and possibly call the police if I ever told them that I wrote poetry.
But I won a Blue Peter badge! It arrived in a brown envelope accompanied by a lovely letter that came all the way from London. Great big London! And from the telly, too! I was thrilled beyond words. A Blue Peter badge. Can you imagine?
Growing up in the 1960s, Blue Peter was simply the world and I looked at my Blue Peter badge the way I look at Tiffany Diamonds by the Yard now.
Thinking about it closely all these years later, that Blue Peter badge was probably the very first affirmation of what would be my career and life choice, to be a writer. My six-year-old self loved stories and made “magazines” with “free gifts” from bits of paper and I’d write all of the content myself. My mum and sister had the good grace to look impressed whenever I “sold” them the latest edition.
John Noakes, Valerie Singleton, and Peter Purves on the set of Blue Peter in November 1968 (Getty)
I knew I wanted to be some kind of a writer, even at that age, hence the poet dream. And total strangers down in Big London, on my favourite show, rewarded me for my writing. And I’m writing about it now, in Britain’s top magazine, decades later. Ah, the circle of life.
Blue Peter is 60 years old and BBC4 marks the birthday with a night of repeats. I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch, as Blue Peter meant so much and I think I might get a bit weepy. Too many memories. We viewed as a family, and I would hover round my mum, begging her to finish the washing-up liquid so I could use the empty bottle to build whatever it was Val Singleton had made that week.
We loved the fearless John Noakes and at school we threw ourselves into the annual Blue Peter Appeal, collecting milk-bottle tops and used stamps. And when Val, or Peter Purves or John lit the first candle on what now looks like an almighty fire hazard, the Blue Peter Advent Crown, we knew Christmas wasn’t very far away.
The Blue Peter of my childhood was routinely denounced as “middle class” (this is always used as an insult in the way “working class” never is) and “cosy”. But who wouldn’t want their child to watch something that never induced anxiety and was a beacon of kindness?
Blue Peter is still going, of course, but I bet it doesn’t resonate so deeply and so widely with kids now as it did when I was growing up. Which is a shame.