The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Blue Peter’s Big Birthday

Blue Peter's 60th birthday was on 16th October 2018. Blue Peter Editor, Ewan Vinnicombe, examines the programme's enduring popularity in this updated version of his article for the Children's Media Yearbook 2018 

In 1958, a programme that has entertained and educated a nation and captured the hearts of millions first aired on the BBC. On Tuesday 16 October 2018, that programme, Blue Peter, celebrated its 60th birthday. Blue Peter holds the Guinness World Record for the longest running children’s TV programme and its mission is to inspire viewers towards voyages of adventure. I’m lucky enough to be the editor of Blue Peter – there have been only seven in its history including the legendary Biddy Baxter and Lewis Bronze, both of whom shaped my childhood as I watched Blue Peter live after school. The other day it suddenly dawned on me that I started with the BBC 20 years ago. It was Blue Peter’s 40th birthday year and I was working on a behind-the-scenes highlights programme, Re-Peter. In 2008, I was the live studio producer for the 50th and now I’m editor on the 60th – I seem to enjoy a birthday!

I love Blue Peter to its core. It’s a beast of a production to head up, demanding of your creativity, time and headspace (quite rightly so, the audience should expect and get the best), but when the content sparks the imagination of the audience and makes them join the best and biggest “badge” club in the UK, it makes it all worthwhile.

Planning Blue Peter’s Big Birthday with the balance of past, present and future is quite an art. The famous galleon logo, created by artist Tony Hart, evokes special memories for many people who grew up watching the programme. There’s the classic “here’s one I made earlier”, all the beloved presenters and pets, the Blue Peter Garden, the infamous Tracy Island craft creation, Lulu the elephant, bring and buy sales for their many successful appeals and, of course, the iconic Blue Peter badge. But which of those do we feature? In the end we decided on them all, with every month a focus on a particular treat for our audience.

It started on our 59th birthday with Mary Berry launching our Gold badge walk in the Blue Peter garden at MediaCity, then the following week Dame Jacqueline Wilson becoming the first ever guest editor, a great start for October. With a nod to the Blue Peter appeals of old, Children in Need hosted a Strictly special with past presenters and then Radzi joined the RAF Falcons for an epic free fall challenge, following in the footsteps of his BP heroes John Noakes, Janet Ellis and Simon Thomas. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made a royal visit to our studio in December for our Christmas special and we started the new year being named the “greatest children’s TV show ever” by the Radio Times.

 

 

On Thursday 1 February, we celebrated our 5000th programme by launching our Diamond badge, designed by international fashion designer Henry Holland. Children already need to have at least one Blue Peter badge and are asked to complete a series of tasks to earn the Diamond badge. Tens of thousands have already applied and the badge will only be available within our 60th year – our audience love a deadline!

In March, our annual Book Awards handed the Best Story crown to author extraordinaire, Cressida Cowell, who made it over the Pennines (through the Beast from the East) to our studio within minutes of going live – Cressida showed a lot of BP spirit that day! And we got our trainers on for our “Mega-Mile-A-Thon” for Sport Relief with over 80 million steps pledged, showing that taking part in something big and thinking of others is still so important for Blue Peter viewers.

The star of the show in April was our Big Birthday Balloon created especially for our 60th year. We took a chance and decided to inflate this hot air balloon on a very cold, blustery day on the piazza outside our studios at MediaCityUK, and the gamble paid off. Our competition winner who designed it loved seeing her creation come to life and it will feature in our 60th birthday show in a very special challenge – you can’t have a birthday party without a balloon, can you?

In May, another once in a lifetime Blue Peter experience for Lindsey Russell was put in her diary – to fly with the Red Arrows and help launch another fantastic competition for the audience to design a Red Arrows helmet commemorating RAF100, with winners taking part in a flypast over Buckingham Palace.

Our plans for June were based around our Green badge and its 30th year. Sadly, the many environmental issues raised three decades ago are still a work in progress for today’s society, but what has definitely increased is the appetite our audience has to help the environment – the Green badge is the most popular after the classic Blue. A few years ago we decided to make the Blue Peter badges more eco-friendly by making them from recycled yoghurt pots in a factory in Cornwall. This year, to mark the 30th anniversary, we’re making a badge out of trees!

Over the summer months, we had our legendary (dug up 33 years too early…) Millennium Time Capsule on tour across the UK before we sent it, together with a brand new for 2018 Diamond Time Capsule, into the National Archives to be safely stored away until the 80th birthday in 2038. We embraced the summer sun with the return of our Sport badge, which current presenter Radzi designed, and for which our audience have to take up a new sport for at least an hour. So far, in its history, over 60,000 hours of activity have happened thanks to this badge.

Participation is key for Blue Peter and we still give exceptional opportunities for our audience to take part in competitions.  Tens of thousands applied for the chance to meet Steven Spielberg, go behind the scenes at MI5, create their own animated character with Aardman’s Oscar-winning Nick Park, and design one of the best sporting mascots there has ever been, for London 2017 – Hero the Hedgehog. It would be amazing if we could trace back all the Blue Peter competition winners to see what happened after the win and what it might have inspired them to do. In 1984, a six-and-a-half-year-old boy won a competition badge by entering the Liverpool Garden Festival competition and was a top runner-up… I might not be a brilliant gardener, but maybe it did encourage my love of TV…? Yes, that boy was me.

Blue Peter was the first CBBC programme to have its own website and today we still have a very successful digital offering with our popular online fan club, engaging “makes and bakes”, exclusive clips from famous celebrities, and entertaining quiz pages. Blue Peter is at the heart of CBBC Buzz (the new app from CBBC) and #bluepeter is always making its mark on every social platform. Being close to the BBC’s research and development teams at MediaCityUK, Blue Peter will always be at the forefront of technical innovation and digital transformation for BBC Children’s with exciting ideas for the future, so it plays its part in the ambitious BBC Children’s “Kids2020” strategy. Blue Peter is in great health for a 60-year-old and has a bright future ahead.

As we reach the birthday we should remember its original creator, John Hunter Blair, and thank the people who shaped it - Editor, Biddy Baxter, working with Edward Barnes and Rosemary Gill, who introduced many of the core elements still seen in the show today. The subsequent editors, Lewis Bronze, Oliver Macfarlane, Steve Hocking, Richard Marson and Tim Levell, and the many people in successive production teams also deserve thanks.  Most importantly, we should thank its audience, including every lucky badge-holder in the UK.

The Big Birthday was a special memory for all of us.

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