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Blue Peter Memories

My sister and I were avid Blue Peter fans in our childhoods and everything stopped on a Monday and a Thursday evening for half an hour as we sat glued to the television. Blue Peter was first broadcast on the 16th October 1958 but it would be the late 1960s before we started to tune in. At that time the presenters were Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves and John Noakes and even though we watched various other excellent presenters over the years these three were always our favourites. To date there have been 35 presenters and, due to it's continuing popularity, Blue Peter is still broadcast every week. I don't suppose there are many, if any, other children's programmes that have had such a long run. A mix of guests in the studio, outside broadcasts, daredevil stunts and things to make filled each programme - as I'm sure you will remember if you were also a fan.

Apart from the presenters the other stars of the show were the pets and the words 'Get down Shep' will be instantly remembered by viewers of my generation. Shep was John Noakes's border collie dog, a lively little fellow, who liked to be involved in anything John did - hence the catchphrase. Then of course, there was Petra, a mixed breed, who we always thought of as Peter's dog and a Siamese cat called Jason who we thought of as belonging to Val. I also remember the programme's tortoise, Freda, who used to be featured every year when she came out of hibernation. I assume she appeared in many other episodes but bringing her out of hibernation by, amongst other things, wiping her eyes with damp cotton wool and then repainting her shell are the only bits I remember. There have been many pets throughout Blue Peter's run and I'm pleased to know that Blue Peter pets still feature regularly in the programmes today.

I think our favourite part was the 'makes'. One of the presenters would make an item out of bits and pieces you might have about the house – when I think about it now I suppose it was a form of recycling. We used to get so excited when one of the presenters previewed at the end of one programme something they were going to show us how to make in the next episode. However, our enthusiasm was dampened when we found the list of things we needed. On one occasion I remember Val was going to make a piece of furniture, a chest of drawers I think, for a doll's house. The main components needed were a number of small matchboxes, about six I think, some brass paper fasteners and sticky back plastic. Despite searching through cupboards and drawers I found one solitary matchbox, no fasteners and as for sticky back plastic - that was unheard of in our house! Come to think of it, to this day, I don't think I've ever seen sticky back plastic – can you still buy it I wonder?

As we lived in a rural area you couldn't just pop out to the shops for these essentials and, of course, we always wanted to make the items immediately, not in a couple of weeks time. Another favourite item to use in the 'makes' was an empty washing-up liquid bottle. This was in the days when almost all washing-up liquid bottles were tubular and made of opaque white plastic. When an empty washing-up liquid bottle was called for - ours, invariably, would be almost full! With the benefit of age I ask myself now – why didn't we stockpile the empty ones? The advent crown made every November from tinsel, wire coat hangers and candles is another 'make' that sticks in my mind – although I haven't made one.....yet!

Another feature I remember being very enthusiastic about was the annual appeal. Each year viewers were, and still are, asked to send in items to raise money for good causes, some based in the United Kingdom and some abroad. The items ranged from silver paper including milk bottle tops to buy Guide Dogs for the Blind, paperback books to buy lifeboats and aluminium cans to buy life support machines. I had a vague recollection of collecting plugs one year and cutlery another, but thought I must be wrong as my Mum had no recollection of either of these appeals. Then I remembered that the Blue Peter annual used to mention the appeal so off I went to the annuals section, downstairs in Rose's Books, and had a look through a few. To my surprise (and relief that my memory wasn't playing tricks) I found that in the seventh book (1971), along with toy cars, viewers could send in old electric light plugs (required for the brass inside) to raise money for old people'sbuses. Plus in the eighth book (1972) spoons and forks were collected to buy caravans to enable disadvantaged children to have a holiday. Once the appeal had been launched each week we were updated on the appeal's progress. A gauge, usually in a shape relevant to the appeal, would be updated to reflect the parcels received that week. During the years that we watched I don't remember a single year when they didn't reach their target and most years they far exceeded it.

Although Blue Peter was first broadcast in 1958, the Blue Peter annual was not published until late 1964 for the year 1965. The first one was, not surprisingly, called Blue Peter Annual No. 1 and a copy in very good condition can now fetch well in excess of £100. Even though the Blue Peter annual is still published today there were a few years in the late eighties and nineties for which an annual wasn't produced, namely 1987, 1991 and 1994 to 1998.

Either my sister or I had the seventh Blue Peter annual for Christmas one year and I remember vividly there was a feature on decorating a cake to look like a straw boater.

Marzipan, a fork and oodles of butter icing were the basic necessities and a cake (obviously) - I think it was the butter icing that I drooled over. I studied the pictures at length and longed to have a go at creating this masterpiece but never got round to it.....until now that is!

So in the best Blue Peter tradition - here's one I made earlier!

Contributed by Lorna.

(Published 15th Sep 2014)

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