Thursday, 4 December 2014

Magpie Annual 1970

Now that Magpie had successfully dipped a clawed foot into the domain of the annual, there was no stopping them and Christmas 1970 saw their 2nd book hit the festive shops.

Annual 2 continued with the tried-and-tested format and featured their three presenters, Susan Stranks, Pete Brady and Tony Barstable. The annual opened with an article about the making of Magpie and a reminder that it went out live every Tuesday and Thursday. Blue Peter fanatics like me will no doubt recall that BP went out on Monday and Thursday, so there was clearly competition for the Thursday evening audience (BP started at 5 to 5 if memory serves me correctly, as did Crackajack on Friday).

The introductory article also highlighted the role of the Magpie Producer, Sue Turner, like BP they obviously felt it was important and perhaps educational to let us see behind the scenes.

The 1970 annual featured lots of animals, historical costumes and features from the shows of that year. Sadly there was no Pete's Pick of the Hit Parade in their second annual, although Pete Brady does show readers how to make jazz instruments out of items of household junk. For a programme whose USP was being more hip than its rival, teaching teenagers how to create a skiffle band might have been better suited to the late 1950s than the era of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Having said that, a recent documentary about the making of Dark Side of the Moon did show the Pinks using some fairly antiquated items of studio equipment to make their amazing sound effects, so perhaps Magpie might have had some influence there after all.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Magpie - the competition

The children's television programme Magpie was first shown on ITV on 30 July 1968.

The programme was created by Lewis Rudd and Sue Turner for Thames Television as competition to Blue Peter but attempted to be more "hip" by focusing on popular culture.

It started off as a weekly show but became twice weekly in 1969. The show ran until 6 June 1980.

The first presenters were the former BBC Radio 1 disk jockey Pete Brady, with Susan Stranks and Tony Bastable. Brady left the show in 1969 to be replaced by Douglas Rae and Bastable left in 1972 when he was replaced by Marc Bolan lookalike Mick Robertson.

Jenny Hanley replaced Susan Stranks in 1974. This line-up remained until 1977, when Tommy Boyd replaced Douglas Rae.

True to its name, Magpie successfully pinched many of Blue Peter's tried and tested features such as charity appeals, makes, recipes, history stories told in period costume and lots of information on animals, vintage motor cars and all the other stuff that we kids of the 60s and 70s were apparently fascinated by.

1969 - new kids on the block
Unlike Blue Peter however, Magpie was unscripted and the presenters were free to improvise the presentation of the show. The show did not have pets but did have a rather striking mascot called Murgatroyd who was, of course, a magpie.

Amongst the other gems which Murgatroyd swooped down and borrowed from Blue Peter was that beloved Christmastime institution, the annual. The first Magpie annual was published in 1969 and apart from the masthead on the front cover it could easily have been mistaken for its longer-established rival.

Being the same dimensions and having a similar number of pages as the BP annual, the 1969 Magpie annual also followed the by-now familiar BP formula mixing activities featured in recent programmes with makes, comic strips, recipes, science items, games, pet advice, presenter profiles and even a competition at the end of the book which offered lucky winners the chance to visit the Magpie studio in London.

Georgie Best Superstar
There are however at least three features in the 1969 Magpie annual which would have helped it to justify its claim of being more 'hip' than Blue Peter. One is an article on cars by Tony Bastable which is written with a 'boys-toys' level of enthusiasm that the lads from Top Gear would have endorsed. Secondly an article about top football players of the era, including George Best, Geoff Hurst and Mike England - although in fairness Peter Purves did once show us how to make a Spurs rattle.

But the third article was Magpie's piece de resistance, a six page look at the pop music charts of 1969 titled Pete's Pick of the Pop Parade. With an introduction about Pete Brady's career on Radio Jamaica, London and even Luxemburg before joining Radio 1, his article provides up-to-the moment information and photos of Herman's Hermits, The Marmalade, Cilla Black, Lulu, The Casuals, The Tremeloes, The Love Affair and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch. Pete even provides a pop quiz at the end of his article which would have Never Mind The Buzzcocks contestants scratching their heads.

No one told me that George Best and
Herman's Hermits were in the Magpie annual! 
What a shame that at Christmas 1969 my parents probably had to stand in Woolies and decide between the trusted Blue Peter annual and the new kid on the block the Magpie annual. With the pennies tight and six kids for whom to buy pressies, it would have been an unthinkable extravagance to purchase both annuals and of course they were always going to come down on the side of BP. A great shame as retrospectively I think that Pete's Pick of the Pop Parade would have kept me occupied until at least the 1st January.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Blue Peter Special Assignment - Val branches out

In 1973 two paperback books were published by Pan Books by arrangement with the BBC which recorded the travels of Valerie singleton in her new role as Blue Peter's Roving Reporter.

Her first six assignments are covered in these first two books, another four books covering a further 10 assignments were to follow in the next two years.

The first six assignments were to the following six capital cities of Europe:

London, Amsterdam and Edinburgh

Rome, Paris and Vienna

In the introduction to these first two books, Valerie makes the link back to her visit to East Africa with Princess Anne just a couple of years earlier. Not quite as gripping a read as Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux or Michael Palin, even so Valerie Singleton was trailblazing as far as children's television was concerned and these books, actually written by Dorothy Smith and Edward Barnes captured her journeys with great interest and appeal.

The Blue Peter book of Limericks

1972 was a very good year for the Blue Peter publishing output with not just the annual, but also their first ever paperback book, The Blue Peter Book of Limericks.

The book was published by Pan Books Ltd in association with the British Broadcasting Corporation aka BBC. The book was edited by Biddy Baxter and Rosemary Gill with illustrations by  Peter Firmin and Edward Lear.

The Book of Limericks was an anthology of just some of the incredible 8,299 entries to the Blue Peter Limerick Competition. 

The introduction to the book provides a wonderful history of the limerick itself as well as tips on how to write a good one:

"A good limerick is not an easy thing to write. When you read them, you might think they're simple to invent, but they're not because there are rules you have to stick to. Limericks always have five lines and they're always nonsensical. The secret is to have a story in your limerick, to get a good couple of rhymes and always to have a funny last line".

The history of the limerick begins predictably in Ireland as far back as 800 AD when Irish writers first started writing in this rather peculiar way. The genre may have got the name limerick after the landlord of a tavern in Limerick City, John 'The Gay' O'Tuomy, became famous for writing such verses for his friends.

In 1820 a set of limericks was published in England called Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Young Ladies, followed by a sequel, The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women.

A larger book of limericks was published in 1846 called A Book of Nonsense authored and illustrated by Edward Lear. Some of his illustrations and verses were published in the Blue Peter book, hence he is credited in this book even though he had been deceased for a more than a century.

Given the number of entries to choose from, the standard of the limericks in the book was high and included:

There was a young man named Pete,
Whose hair hung down to his feet
Said Val to John
"It's getting too long
We can't let him out on the street"

Karen Fisher aged 10

There once was a tortoise called Speedy
whose eye was ever so beady
His mate was called Kate
Green lettuce they ate
And lived in a run that was weedy.

Christopher R Randell aged 7

There was a headmaster called Skinner
At games he was always a winner
He won games of chess
And to Loch Ness
Then had the monster for dinner.

Fergus Cross
Aged 9

You get the gist no doubt? Anyway, at just 20 pence, The Blue Peter book of Limericks was a bargain. My copy cost me far more than that on E-Bay.

Incidentally, it seems that between 1972 and 1973 there were five print runs of this book and during this period the front cover changed. So if like me you are an avid collector of all things Blue Peter, for a complete collection it might be wroth looking out for both versions.

Ah! Damn you Blue Peter!

There was an old geezer called Pete
Who thought it would be quite a feat
To track down online
A BP library so fine
But the reprints had him totally beat!


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Blue Peter book number 10

The tenth Blue Peter book was published in 1973 with this rather fantastic cover featuring a never ending image of the full complement of four Blue Peter presenters - John, Valerie, Peter and Lesley.

The Blue Peter book shelf had expanded that year, not just with this tenth Annual, but a book of Limericks had also been published and a set of books covering Valerie's Special Assignments. 1973 was also the year that readers of both TV Critic's Circle and The Sun newspaper no less had voted Blue Peter the Top Children's Programme. 1973 also saw the one thousandth programme on February 15th.

But 1973 was also the beginning of the end for Valerie Singleton's tenure as a presenter because she had now gone part time, taking on a roving reporter role which she would continue to have until her final departure in 1975.     

Proof that the decadence started under Biddy's rule

Valerie does however feature in a number of these 'special assignment' features throughout the 10th annual, visiting Paris, Rome, Vienna and Amsterdam in one article, Hadrian's Wall in another and the Cornish tin mines in a third (granted the last two weren't quite as exciting as the other four). Though Biddy and Edward seemed to draw the line at letting her join the others on the annual Blue Peter expedition which saw John, Peter and Leslie chilling out in Tonga. The Blue Peter budget clearly didn't stretch that far. 

With Valerie's new role taking her away from the studio and the bread-and-butter girl-power features, recipes and makes she had pioneered since 1962, Lesley Judd was coming into her own and attempting to win over both the 1960s audience who had come to think that the Val, Pete and John line-up (just like in the picture on the front cover of the 10th annual) would simply last forever, but also the new seventies generation of junior glam rockers. 

Lesley's makes included a glamorous looking swing-hammock for Cindy doll and she did not miss an opportunity to boogie-on-down with the young people whenever the opportunity arose, whether it was keeping up with the fast and complicated movements of Korea's Little Angels or stomping bare foot with the Tongans. Even in her stint training to be a nurse at St Bartholomew's Hospital she remarked how the comradeship of the nurses' rest room reminded her of the big dancers' dressing-room when she was with the Young Generation (don't you just hate a name-dropper?)

But Lesley was definitely bringing a new dynamic into Blue Peter as well as a spot of rhythm and not to be outdone, ITV rivals Magpie would be forced to respond by introducing Jenny Hanley the following year.

Phraw! Jenny Hanley!

Oh yes and a bloke who looked like Brian May.

The tenth Blue Peter was filled with all the usual favourites, Michael Bond's Paddington Bear was still confounding Mrs Bird the housekeeper, Bleep and Booster were still outsmarting unfriendly aliens and Tim's Bengo continued to annoy the local bulldog. Just like Eddystone Lighthouse (originally built by Henry Winstanley who was washed into the sea along with the first lighthouse and his workmen whilst supervising repairs according to Val) the good ship Blue Peter was a beacon of bright light in the otherwise dark and stormy ocean of the early 1970s.

Blue Peter: Opening the time capsules Part 4

Blue Peter: Opening the time capsules Part 3