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.