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Blue Peter: 50th Anniversary Book

Posted By Steve Williams On Thursday, October 16, 2008 @ 9:49 pm In book reviews,upfront | Comments Disabled

Blue Peter: 50th Anniversary

Blue Peter: 50th Anniversary Book

Most people will probably only recognise Richard Marson’s name from the newspaper reports on his departure as Blue Peter editor. Yet Marson has been known in media circles for far longer than that as something of a TV expert, spending many years writing for Doctor Who Magazine in the 80s and penning the authoritative book on the history of Upstairs Downstairs.

Indeed, Marson’s knowledge and appreciation of classic TV ensured that Blue Peter flourished under his watch, being relevant and entertaining for today’s kids while constantly paying tribute to its past. There’s nobody better, then, to tell the full story of this venerable series on a momentous occasion.

It’s about time Blue Peter enjoyed this sort of treatment. Previously all we had to go on was Biddy Baxter’s Inside Story book, published for the 30th anniversary, but while it was an entertaining read, it played somewhat fast and loose with the facts, while “quotes” from presenters were more or less entirely recycled from past Blue Peter Books, mostly written by Biddy herself. Here Marson brings an objective eye to proceedings and speaks honestly about the programme’s development, but his obvious love for the series shines through so there’s no muck-raking here.

Marson spent many years as Blue Peter‘s de facto archivist, so there’s plenty of previously unseen and unheard information. It certainly looks beautiful, a proper gift book, with plenty of previously unpublished photographs. The history of the show is interspersed with full profiles of all the presenters and special sections on the pets, books and appeals. You can read it all the way through or just dive straight to the presenters you grew up with; the sort of varied structure that’s seen the show itself flourish for a half century.

What sets the book apart from the rest, however, is in its detail. On almost any page there’s some previously unknown fact or fascinating behind-the-scenes snippet. It was certainly news to me, for example, that Lesley Judd was almost dismissed in the mid-’70s thanks to tabloids sniffing around her messy divorce to Derek Fowlds, with Sally James standing by to replace her, or that, remarkably, Kevin Whateley was second choice for Peter Duncan’s job. It’s the little things that most amuse, though – Chris Wenner reveals that he was let go because Biddy Baxter thought he didn’t get enough votes in the Swap Shop awards (“She told me Blue Peter presenters should come first”).

Of course, Marson’s closeness to the programme in recent years means that the past decade gets perhaps a larger share of the book than many readers would expect, but in this writer’s opinion, the series was on fantastic form under the likes of Matt Baker and Simon Thomas, and it’s great to see it get the credit it deserves. This democratic approach is much more welcome than filling the entire book with John, Pete and Val and relegating everyone else – all of whom are surely fondly remembered by someone – to a mere footnote.

The book does end on something of a sour note with Marson, understandably, attempting to justify the phone-in scandal that cost him his job. Yet it couldn’t really be covered any other way, and the other “scandals” over the year – Bacon, Ellis and Sundin among them – are dealt with in a refreshingly frank manner.

Anyone who’s ever opened a Blue Peter book (never an annual, as Marson points out) on Christmas Day or collected something for an appeal will find something to enjoy here. It’s undoubtedly one of the most thoughtful and entertaining books on television history you’ll ever read. And don’t forget, if you can’t afford it, you could always ask at your local library… 

… or enter our competition to win a copy of Blue Peter: 50th Anniversary Book – The Story of Television’s Longest-running Children’s Programme by Richard Marson

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