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Fifty facts about Blue Peter at 50

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Watch some of the most memorable highlights from the past 50 years

As Blue Peter celebrates 50 years on air, we look back at some of the show's highlights and institutions.

IN THE BEGINNING

• Blue Peter, the longest-running children's programme in the world, was first broadcast - for 15 minutes - on 16 October 1958. It was originally supposed to fill a six-week gap in scheduling.

• The show is named after the blue-and-white flag flown on a ship's yard arm to show it is ready to go to sea - suggesting a voyage of discovery for viewers.

ADVENT CROWN COMPONENTS
Presenter John Noakes with the Christmas advent crown
Fireproof tinsel and ribbon
Coloured glass balls
Thin wire
Plasticine
Two tin lids
Wire coat hangers
Four candles (not fork handles)

• Although Blue Peter was the brainchild of producer John Hunter Blair in 1958, it was only following the 1962 arrival of Biddy Baxter - together with new director Edward Barnes - that things like appeals, foreign trips, competition, pets and sticky-backed plastic began to appear.

• Housewife Margaret Parnell sent in the first idea for the "here's one I made earlier" section in 1963 - and ultimately spent nearly 40 years devising more than 700 "makes".

• The Thunderbirds Tracy Island model remains the show's most popular make with more than 100,000 viewers requesting a factsheet. Presenter Anthea Turner still owns the original she crafted on the show in 1993. Another favourite was the Christmas advent crown made from coat hangers and fireproof tinsel.

• On 30 July 1968, ITV launched Magpie - a rival show made by Thames Television which launched on the new licensee's first day of broadcast. The programme, which had a mascot called Murgatroyd the magpie, aimed to be hipper than its BBC counterpart. Blue Peter eventually saw it off in 1980.

Caron Keating, Janet Ellis and Mark Curry in 1987
Blue Peter has won 40 awards in its 50-year history

• There have been only six editors in the show's 50-year history. The first was Ms Baxter who stepped up from producer into the newly-created role in 1965. She was followed by Lewis Bronze, Oliver Macfarlane, Steve Hocking, Richard Marson and current editor Tim Levell.

• The programme blazed a trail for many subsequent BBC shows by breaking out of the studio and making full use of BBC Television Centre as a location. Initially, this prompted a memo from BBC management warning that "Television Centre is not a place of entertainment".

• Blue Peter has won 40 awards, including a special award at the TV Baftas in 1998 for "outstanding contribution to children's television".

PRESENTERS

• According to Biddy Baxter, Blue Peter creator John Hunter Blair had two passions - 00 gauge railways and attractive women. The first presenters of the show were 00 gauge railway enthusiast Christopher Trace and 21-year-old Leila Williams, crowned Miss Great Britain the previous year.

Presenter Peter Duncan
Daredevil Peter Duncan was a favourite with viewers

• Yorkshireman John Noakes presented the programme for 12 and a half years between 1965 and 1978. He left at the age of 45, making him the longest-serving of the 34 Blue Peter presenters.

• Anita West had the briefest stint, spending four months on the show - from 7 May to 3 September 1962 - before returning to her acting career.

• Yvette Fielding, who was 18 when she joined the show in 1987, was its youngest-ever presenter.

• The classic line-up of John Noakes, Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves presented the show for five years from 1967 to 1972.

• Peter Duncan, who wore trademark green-and-white checked outfits, is the only presenter to have had two stints on Blue Peter - between 1980 and 1984, and 1985 and 1986. He was awarded a gold Blue Peter badge in February 2007 in recognition of his work as Chief Scout.

Caron Keating and Yvette Fielding
Caron Keating presented between November 1986 and January 1990

• Like John Noakes, whose "long fall" earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest freefall parachute jump by a civilian, Peter Duncan became associated with daredevil stunts. He went on to host Duncan Dares after quitting Blue Peter.

• In January 1990, Diane-Louise Jordan became Blue Peter's first black presenter. Louise-Jordan, who stayed in the show for six years, now hosts Songs of Praise.

• Presenters who became more well-known after leaving the show include John Leslie, who had a relationship with Catherine Zeta Jones while he was in Blue Peter, Sarah Greene and the late Caron Keating.

BLUE PETER ON iPLAYER

• Greene, who fronted the show from 1980 to 1983, met her future husband, former TV presenter Mike Smith, while she was being filmed learning to dive at the wreck of sunken ship the Mary Rose.

• Keating, who hosted the show from 1986 to 1990, died tragically at the age of 41. The daughter of TV presenter Gloria Hunniford, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and died at her mother's home in April 2004.

IN ANOTHER LIFE

• Prior to working on Blue Peter, Peter Duncan appeared nude in the British film The Lifetaker. He also briefly starred in the cult film, Flash Gordon, in which he was killed by a tree monster.

Maureen O Brien as Vicki , William Hartnell as Doctor Who and Peter Purves as Steven Taylor in 1965
Peter Purves (right) previously starred as Doctor Who's assistant

• Singer James Blunt - then James Blount - appeared on the show as a child, as did Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and presenter Konnie Huq.

• Household names who applied to become Blue Peter presenters before they found fame include Gail Porter, Morse star Kevin Whately, The Bill's Todd Carty and Tiswas presenter Sally James.

• Peter Purves, who appeared between 1967 and 1978, previously starred as the doctor's assistant in early episodes of hit BBC show Doctor Who.

GAFFES AND SCANDALS

• Host John Noakes was famously asked to drop his trousers after a bruising adventure on a bobsleigh. At which point, he realised he was wearing his wife's underwear which he had put on by accident in the dark.

Tennis fan Oliver Hewitt with Richard Bacon and Tim Henman
Richard Bacon, pictured with Tim Henman and a fan, was sacked in 1998

• Simon Groom, who appeared on the show for eight years from 1978 to 1986, along with his dog Goldie, once said on the show: "What a beautiful pair of knockers." He was commenting on replacements for the historical door knocker at Durham Cathedral.

• In 1987, it was revealed that Janet Ellis was an unmarried mother. The presenter - who left the show following the birth of her second child, Jack - already had a daughter, the future pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

• Richard Bacon became the first Blue Peter presenter to be sacked, in October 1998, after he admitted taking cocaine, following reports in a tabloid newspaper. Lorraine Heggessey, then head of BBC Children's programmes, apologised on air.

• In 2007, presenters were forced to apologise after faking the results of a phone-in competition. A technical problem led to a visiting child posing as a competition winner. "We let you down," Konnie Huq told viewers.

APPEALS

• In the programme's early years, Christopher Trace presented Christmas toy reviews. The first appeal began with the idea of giving, rather than receiving toys - with the audience asked to send in toys for members of the audience who would not be receiving any.

Peter Purves , Valerie Singleton, Lesley Judd and John Noakes with the totaliser for the Treasure Hunt Appeal
Totalisers, to tot up donations, are a mainstay of Blue Peter appeals

• It is estimated that, across 46 Blue Peter appeals, the equivalent of more than 100m in today's money has been raised, while 14 Bring and Buy Sale initiatives have netted the equivalent of about 57m.

• Blue Peter appeals have raised money to help buy: 8,350 lavatories, 57 lorries, 32 ponies, 25 lifeboats - some of which can still be found at seven lifeboat stations around the UK - 12 Romanian houses, eight flats for homeless people, six bungalows, three caravans, three schools, two guide dogs and two day centres.

THE BLUE PETER GARDEN

• Following the launch of the garden at BBC Television Centre in 1974, gardener Percy Thrower became a household name alongside the show's presenters. He retired in 1988, and was followed by Chris Crowder, Clare Bradley and Chris Collins.

Percy Thrower with Sarah Greene in 1980
Blue Peter gardener Percy Thrower became a household name

• In November 1983, the garden was devastated by vandals, leaving Thrower in tears.

• In 2000, footballer Les Ferdinand, who was brought up close to Television Centre, told reporters he had been involved in the raid on the Blue Peter garden. But last year, he told the Guardian newspaper that, under pressure from journalists, he had made the story up as a joke.

• George the tortoise, Blue Peter's longest-surviving pet who died at the age of 81, is the only animal to have been buried in the Blue Peter garden.

• Three time capsules have been buried around BBC Television Centre. The first, buried in 1971, had to be moved because of building development. A second was buried in 1984, and another in 2000 - scheduled to be opened in 2029.

• Another millennium time capsule was hidden under the building that is now the O2 arena in south-east London, as part of the build up to 2000, and will be opened in 2050.

BADGES

• Introduced in 1963, the Blue Peter badge was Biddy Baxter's idea. She wanted to generate fresh ideas for the programme and offered the badges as an incentive to eager young viewers to write in.

Lesley Judd gives a Blue Peter badge to a viewer
Lesley Judd, brought into the show in 1972, gives a badge to a viewer

• The badge allows free admission into 200 venues around the UK. However, in 2006, the scheme was briefly suspended when the badges were found to have been auctioned on the eBay website.

• There are six types of badges now in existence - blue, green, purple, orange, silver and gold.

• The Gold Blue Peter Badge is the show's highest honour and is awarded to those who have displayed, among other things, exceptional courage, or have represented their country in an international event.

• Famous gold badge winners include the Queen - who visited the studio in 2001 - author JK Rowling and footballer David Beckham.

• Olympic bronze medallist Bryony Stokes wore her Blue Peter badge as she windsurfed to victory at the Beijing Olympics 2008.

ANIMALS

• Among the Blue Peter pets there have been eight dogs, five tortoises, nine cats and two parrots.

Presenters Michael Sundin and Simon Groom with the Blue Peter tortoise George in 1985
Presenters Michael Sundin and Simon Groom with tortoise George in 1985

• Fred the tortoise, who first appeared on 21 October 1963, had to be renamed Freda, after it was discovered, four years later, that he was actually a girl.

• Bonnie, a much-loved golden retriever, was given a Gold Blue Peter badge on her retirement in 1991.

• John Noakes' catchphrase, "get down Shep", used to control his canine companion, was incorporated into a pop song of the same name by The Barron Knights in 1978, reaching number 44 in the charts.

• And finally, in 1969, Lulu the elephant famously defecated, urinated and dragged her keeper through the mess in the studio. During the chaotic scenes, the keeper could be heard shouting for someone to fetch "me stick".

John Noakes, Lulu the elephant, Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton
Lulu the elephant is one of Blue Peter's most fondly-remembered guests

As Peter Purves explains: "During rehearsals, anytime he wanted the elephant to do anything, he had a chain around its neck and he'd pull it, the elephant wouldn't go and he'd bonk it on the head with a stick and Biddy thought it looked cruel.

"She said, 'Would you please do it without a stick,' - so he did. The elephant went wherever it liked - end of story."


SEE ALSO
Second Blue Peter newcomer named
05 Sep 08 |  Entertainment
Blue Peter adds Skelton to team
28 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
Blue Peter's Zoe Salmon to quit
20 May 08 |  Entertainment
Gethin Jones to quit Blue Peter
08 Apr 08 |  Entertainment
Queen tours UK broadcasters
28 Nov 01 |  Entertainment

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