IT’S amazing to think Blue Peter first appeared on our screens 60 years ago – and Peter Purves can’t quite believe it himself.
One of the biggest names of the world’s longest-running children’s TV show, 79-year-old Peter was there for what many consider Blue Peter’s greatest days.
He joined in 1967 and was with it until 1978, although many fans also know him for multiple appearances as Steven Taylor in Doctor Who.
Purves, who starred in Blue Peter alongside some very famous dogs, is also known for presenting Crufts and is a big dog lover, but he is justly proud of his lengthy stint with Blue Peter.
“I never get tired of talking about Blue Peter, because it was such a big part of my life,” he says.
“I’m very proud to have been part of such an iconic show and proud that people are still talking about it.”
A theatrical celebration of the show featuring Peter has been going down a storm, but the absence of the late, great John Noakes does add a touch of sadness.
“Yes, that is very sad and he was instrumental in the team when I was there,” Peter says. “I guess we were probably cast for the chemistry we had together.
“I did the more straight stuff, and what John and I did developed as time went by. Johnny and I were very close and we carried on working together in pantomimes after we left the show.
“We were virtually a double act, and that was great fun. We became pretty telepathic, the way we worked together, so yes, it’s a great loss.”
As he points out, there was no chance of Peter, John and Valerie Singleton becoming complacent as Blue Peter became one of Britain’s biggest TV hits.
“You didn’t have the opportunity to become complacent, because it’s not like anything else,” he says.
“What you were doing was a different show every three days.
“There would be a short break in the summer, when you would go away and film for a month. It was consistent work and it was a very highly-produced show, done to a very tight script.
“I actually preferred it to the way they do things now. Today it is all single-camera shooting. We were in studios with five or six cameras.”
So, having loved his acting roles on Doctor Who, what did his Blue Peter run do for his acting?
“Killed it stone dead!” he laughs. “I suppose it added something to my acting skills, and I think I can still act. We’ll soon see, with this show!
“The show deals with us as people, everyone who’s been on Blue Peter, but we have to deal with it with good acting. We didn’t write the scripts. There are some great one-liners, it’s poignant, nostalgic, it’s lots of things that I hope will really appeal to people.”
Although there will be plenty of humour, Peter admits that making Blue Peter was very hard work – but he reckons there was nothing to match being part of it and describes it as “the best job in television”.
“I was there for 10 years and 127 days, and that is a long stint in anybody’s life,” he says.
Peter reckons the format they relied on then, to great success, might not work so well today, and the current Blue Peter looks very different.
On the other hand, he has seen some of his old shows in the BBC archives and was delighted to see how they stand up even in this modern age.
As he modestly points out, Blue Peter had some major advantages in its heyday.
“Don’t forget that in the time we were doing it, television was very limited,” he says. “There was no daytime TV, or very little. Children’s television had a slot from about 3.30 till about 20 to 6 and The Magic Roundabout.
“When I started there were only three channels. BBC2 had only been going for three years, and Channel 4 didn’t come until 1982, I think it was.
“If you didn’t see Blue Peter when it was on, you never saw it, because we didn’t have repeats. It was very limited and that is why it was compulsive viewing for kids.
“In the winter, we’d get eight-and-a-half million viewers, and in the summer five million. That is phenomenal.”
Personally, as he joined a year after I started school, and was with the show until the year after I started work, Peter Purves and his stories have in their own small way shaped my life.
It’s quite a thought, and the man himself admits that what he, Noakes and Singleton brought us each week really did make us the generation we were. Even affecting where we go on holiday!
“It was the first TV magazine for children and even the first travel show,” Peter points out. “Before the package tour industry took off, we were going abroad on expeditions. I’ve been told many times, ‘Oh, I have wanted to go to such-and-such a place ever since you went there!’
“We went to Mexico in 1970, and there was very little for tourists apart from Acapulco. Now, everyone goes to Cancun, which was a little fishing village when we went. We had the best of it, and people wanted to follow our tail.
“I’ve been very lucky, to be in two shows that people still talk about, Doctor Who being one of them, and my time in it has meant that in recent years I have been making new Doctor Who stories and been to America four times for conventions.
“And the interest in us older Blue Peter presenters is quite extraordinary. For this show I’d like to think there will be a couple of moments where the tears will well up, along with lots of humour.”
And tons of wonderful memories for several generations.
Part of the Edinburgh Fringe, you can see Once Seen on Blue Peter – Makes, Bakes and Outtakes at the Assembly Ballroom, August 4-26, 2.50pm.