Blue Peter – The Inside Story by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes

I’ve been digging through my collection of television books during the past few months (unearthing some which haven’t seen the light of day for a while) and I thought it might be a good idea to highlight a few which I’ve enjoyed revisiting.

Blue Peter – The Inside Story was published by Ringpress Books in 1989, running to 236 pages. Although very much the authorised story, it’s still packed with interesting detail. That 1989 was a very different time is confirmed by the revelation that when the original Petra died after just a few days, they calmly went out and bought a ringer (and no-one was any the wiser).

Later scandals which befell BP (Socks-gate, the phone -in) don’t seem any worse than this but I don’t recall the Petra revelation causing any sort of ripple in the press back in 1989.

Down the years some presenters were more of a handful then others. It’s easy to see that Biddy had her favourites and it’s also noticeable that some long-runners (like Peter Purves) were appreciated rather than loved.

The sticky relationship with John Noakes can’t be avoided and his exit from the programme (which was rather uncomfortable due to concerns he would use Shep for advertising purposes) isn’t swept under the carpet. The travails of Janet Ellis and Michael Sundin are also touched upon (it’s quite obvious there was little love for Sundin in the BP production office).

Second hand copies are plentiful and quite inexpensive, so there shouldn’t be too much trouble in picking up a copy. Blue Peter – The Inside Story is well worth a place on your bookshelf.

The Blue Peter Diaries by Richard Marson. Miwk Book Review

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Covering the period from 1997 to 2008, The Blue Peter Diaries offers a fascinating insight into the production processes of one of the BBC’s flagship programmes.  At different times amusing, raw and poignant, as the book wears on it becomes clear just how fiercely devoted Richard Marson was to the show.

The candid nature of the entries makes for compelling reading.  Which presenter could be something of a diva?  And which were the best and least prepared?  All will be revealed ….

When pouring through the diary entries, it becomes clear that there are several running themes.  Marson’s disdain for the pop world is one (visitors to the studio such as S Club 7, Steps, Westlife, Sugababes and Britney Spears all receive less than glowing write-ups) whilst you also get a real sense of the way he had to fight his corner against BBC executives keen to downsize or marginalise the programme (especially during his final years as editor).

That Richard Marson was a staunch gatekeeper, resolute in his determination that BP should never be compromised or have to play to the lowest common denominator, may be why he was eventually eased out of his dream job.  The various scandals that dogged his last year (the naming of the BP cat, the phone-in debacle) seem more like excuses than reasons.

But whilst there’s plenty of behind the scenes wrangling – not only from the execs but also from members of the production team less invested in the show than Marson himself (they tended not to last long) – it’s also interesting to have a ground-level view of the off-screen dynamics of the presenters.

Konnie Huq, Simon Thomas, Matt Baker and Liz Barker became something of a dream-team, easily able to stand alongside the classic line-ups of the past (such as Singleton, Noakes and Purves).  But when that team began to break up, their replacements (Zoe Salmon, Gethin Jones) sometimes struggled to connect with the senior presenters (Matt had little time for Gethin or Zoe, Liz wasn’t particularly enamoured of Zoe).  But none of the presenters suffer hatchet jobs in the text, and any occasional bad behaviour can often be explained away by having to work at such an intense level.

Having enjoyed his previous books (including a detailed history of Upstairs Downstairs and candid biographies of John Nathan-Turner and Verity Lambert) I’d always hoped that one day Richard Marson would write about his experiences on Blue Peter.  That he’d kept such a detailed diary was an unexpected bonus, since it gives us an immediate and visceral lowdown on proceedings (had the whole book been written today, decades or more later, then it obviously would have been very different).

Running to 448 pages, this is an absolutely essential read and comes highly recommended.  It can be ordered directly from Miwk here.

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