Belfast Telegraph

Sixty years on, why iconic Blue Peter is still a huge hit with our children today

After notching up 37 presenters who included Northern Ireland stars Caron Keating and Zoe Salmon, 25 pets and one million badges, Blue Peter is officially the longest running children's TV show in the world. To mark the national institution turning 60 this month, Georgia Humphreys chats to current hosts of the popular programme Radzi Chinyanganya and Lindsey Russell

When Blue Peter first aired for 15 minutes in 1958, no one could have predicted it would still be going 60 years later.

But it is, making it the world's longest running children's show.

To celebrate, there will be a one-hour special on CBBC on October 16.

Starring some of our favourite Blue Peter presenters, it will also feature 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.

In the meantime, here's a look at how Blue Peter has transcended the decades, with the help of current presenting duo Radzi Chinyanganya and Lindsey Russell.

The famous faces

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Big roles: current Blue Peter presenters Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya
 

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.

"To have all these people in a room is not something that's ever happened before or might never happen again," says Russell, who was born in Belgium and raised in Oxford.

She joined the show after winning a nationwide competition in 2013.

"It really is truly special," she says.

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

For both Russell (27) and Chinyanganya (31), who also started five years ago, how special the show is never escapes them.

"It's surreal to be a part of an institution," says Wolverhampton-born Chinyanganya.

"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

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Great times: Caron Keating with Mark Curry and Yvette Fielding on Blue Peter
 

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

In case you're 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.

"Our audience today is the best audience Blue Peter has ever had," Russell gushes.

"They're so proactive, they're all earning their diamond badges, which are around just for the 60th."

She adds: "I've met kids whose T-shirts are nearly falling down because they're weighed down with that many Blue Peter badges.

"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

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Zoe Salmon on the programme
 

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 in today's money. It just shows they love to feel part of something.

When Chinyanganya 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," Russell 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 pair do, understandably, have nerves ahead of the live birthday bash.

"The pressure is definitely on," admits Russell.

"From a presenting point of view - and number 36 point of view - there's all the presenters before me watching."

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.

Russell'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.

"Seeing that process and being a part of that process, I was really proud, and just seeing how she was going to, quite literally, change his life," she recalls fondly.

"That's what Blue Peter does, that's what the brand is all about, that's what the badge is all about.

"That was a huge moment."

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.

Then there are the challenges the presenters take on - for the 60th, Russell has learned to fly a hot air balloon solo.

For Chinyanganya, 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 celebrates its 60th anniversary with a live one-hour special on CBBC on Tuesday October 16 at 5pm, then continues every Thursday on CBBC

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