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Why Blue Peter is still popular after 60 years

By Pete Madeley | Best of | Published:

After notching up 37 presenters, 25 pets and one million badges, Blue Peter is officially the longest running children’s TV show in the world.

Celebrations for Blue Peter

To mark the national institution turning 60 this month – it first aired for 15 minutes in 1958 – we spoke to Radzi Chinyanganya, who went to school in Shropshire, and his co-presenter Lindsey Russell.

Radzi, whose mother Barbara McGarrity is a Wolverhampton city councillor, says he is humbled to be associated with the BBC series.

Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya

Lindsey took up her role after winning an on-air audition that involved a public vote.

Ahead of a one-hour special on CBBC, the presenting duo look at how Blue Peter has transcended the decades.

The famous faces:

There have been a whopping 37 Blue Peter presenters over the years, with John Noakes, who presented the series for 12 and a half years, the longest serving.

In the anniversary special, we will get to see the return of Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves, Anthea Turner, Tim Vincent and Konnie Huq – the longest-serving female presenter.

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“To have all these people in a room is not something that’s ever happened before or might never happen again,” says Lindsey.

“It really is truly special.

“And also it’s really great to all be together and to remember John Noakes, who we sadly lost last year.”

For both Lindsey, 27, and Radzi, 31, who also started five years ago, how special the show is never escapes them.

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“It’s surreal to be a part of an institution,” says Radzi.

“In Britain there aren’t that many institutions that you can say to a grandmother, a mother and a kid ‘do you know about something?’ and they all know it.”

The sought-after badges:

There are eight types of badges – blue, silver, green, sport, purple, orange, gold and diamond.

Just in case you are not in the know, viewers earn a blue badge by sending in an interesting letter, poem, picture or story – Blue Peter reads and responds to every single letter it receives, by the way – or they have to appear on the programme.

It’s estimated the show has awarded more than one million badges in 55 years.

“I’ve met kids whose T-shirts are nearly falling down because they’re weighed down with that many Blue Peter badges,” Lindsey says.

“It’s so nice to think about what actually goes into that because it’s not just ‘send in a form, you’ve got one’.”

It’s hugely inspiring for kids:

The Blue Peter Appeal started in 1962, when viewers were asked to collect postage stamps to raise money for homes for homeless people.

It’s estimated that, across the 49 appeals since, children have raised the equivalent of more than £100 million. It just shows they love to feel part of something.

When Radzi gets approached by fans, he realises the amazing impact he is having with his job.

He says: “I do something called the happy dance [on the show] and when kids do the happy dance, I always think, ‘Yes’.”

Asked about being a role model, he adds: “There’s an obligation I feel I have to any child that meets me or sees me on the TV screen to conduct myself in a certain way and hopefully the way that I’d do that would be something that bears fruit.

“Even if it’s the fact that I get my hair wet because I’ve got afro hair and not many black people like to get their hair wet – I’m trying to send a subliminal message that actually, it’s all right for you to swim.”

It’s always filmed live:

Filming Blue Peter is no mean feat, especially as the presenters don’t have an autocue.

“I remember the boss said to me, the idea for that is so everything you’re saying sounds genuine and nothing sounds too planned or too forced. It’s meant to sound like we are talking to the kids in their living room,” Lindsey says.

“We want them to feel like we are the only person they’re chatting to and I think an autocue would take away from that. Also it’s great for me and Radz because it means we get the script and we can really make it our own.”

The Blue Peter pets:

Nine dogs, nine cats, five tortoises and two parrots have been a part of the show over the decades.

George the tortoise, who died in 2004, takes the crown as the longest-serving pet.

Lindsey’s most emotional moment from the programme actually involves a Blue Peter pet – a guide dog that was trained up from birth and given to a young man called Callum on his 18th birthday.

The shows are constantly exciting:

A big part of Blue Peter? The presenters getting properly stuck in.

That, of course, includes the ‘makes’, the most popular being Tracy Island, which led to 100,000 requests from viewers for the factsheet in 1993. Anthea Turner still has the one she made on the show.

For Radzi, the most memorable moment over the last five years was walking between the cities of Selma and Montgomery in the US.

“It was the march that Martin Luther King went on, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that,” he says.

“I got to meet people that aren’t famous, they’re not rich, most of them are not occupationally successful, but to this day, they are the most empowering, courageous and inspiring people I’ve ever had the privilege of speaking to.”

Well, there’s only one thing left to say – bring on the next 60 years of Blue Peter.

Blue Peter’s 60th anniversary special airs tomorrow, and features music from the likes of The Vamps and Sophie Ellis-Bextor – all accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra – while the Diamond Time Capsule will be sealed in the National Archives.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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