Take a few yards of plastic sheeting and a roll of duct tape. Add half an empty washing-up liquid bottle, a wire coat hanger and 2 cardboard toilet rolls and you’d have a project to make Blue Peter presenters proud. Or envious. Blue Peter, a 40 year old institution in children’s television which, for most of us over the age of 25, brought us such treasured memories as:
– Goldie, the inventively named Golden Retriever. ‘Owned’ by 80s presenter Simon Groom who managed to wangle regular visits back home by subjecting viewers to coverage of life down on his parents Derbyshire farm. Goldie’s litter of pups supposedly ended up “being trained as guide dogs”, though the show had a history of lying about its studio pets — beginning with border collie pup Petra whose premature death after two shows was expertly covered up by Valerie Singleton and a Petra look-alike.
– Weeks of build-up to Shrove Tuesday as if some Holy event but really just a chance to do some showing off in the ‘kitchen’ (a Baby Belling and a countertop), masking the disaster in the pan by pulling out ‘some I prepared earlier’. No, no you didn’t. Culminated in the staging of a race requiring BP presenters to run across the studio while flipping pancakes in the pan. An act which inspired one lunatic chef to flip his way through the entire 26.2 mile London Marathon. Running with an egg and spoon not good enough for him I suppose.
– The Blue Peter badge, which the above chef’s efforts probably still didn’t merit. Extraordinarily cheap looking but supposedly highly coveted by children around the country. In reality about as cool as getting your Girl Guide community service badge but guaranteed to get you beaten up. Can’t even give them away on Ebay.
– The Blue Peter Bring and Buy. The English village approach to communism. Goods are circulated throughout the village by means of the Bring and Buy, whereby villagers exchange junk items displayed on trestle tables set up in the hall. Items generally cost less than 10p and could be counted on to include an incomplete jigsaw and something crocheted to fit over your toilet roll. A habit encouraged by Blue Peter as a way for children to raise money for the ‘Blue Peter Appeal’, a tiresome affair which also called upon the nation’s goody-goodies to send in milk bottle tops, old keys (?), old socks and all the change we could nick from our mum’s purses.
– The Time Capsule. Oh how the words sounded so space-age back then. The first, buried in 1971 was excavated in 2000, along with 1984’s version which contained some of Goldie’s hairs and her collar — yet more evidence of pet abuse — and a 7 inch copy of the Mike ‘tubular bells’ Oldfield title music. Not exactly a comprehensive record of the times, more like a ransom threat — “do as we say or the dog gets it and Oldfield goes on the player.
– The Blue Peter Garden. Second in tedium only to the showing of endless clips of the Blue Peter summer expedition, the gardening segment was led by Percy Thrower, a humorless old grump who proved that gardening was even more boring than we had imagined. Became synonymous with vandalism when a sombre-faced team delivered the dreadful news that the Garden had been vandalised. By vandals. By the time we were led on a tour of the devastation — lettuces strewn across pathways, a bench on its side — most of us had tears streaming down our faces and begged them to stop, we were laughing so hard.
But back to plastic sheeting and duct tape. After a brief early reference to Blue Peter, this piece was intended to express my views on the US Government’s approach to Iraq and how it surely suits them to have us all running to Walmart to fight over the last roll of duct tape and buying up gallons of bottled water. After all, if we’re worrying about that, we’ve less time to consider our increasingly unilateral march to war. But I too got distracted, drawn far from my original purpose. Perhaps plastic sheeting and duct tape aren’t the measures of self-protection we were led to believe, but instead the Government’s new weapons of Mass Distraction.