Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Third Book of Blue Peter

The third book of Blue Peter came out in 1966, just in time for the Christmas market and was once again published by the BBC themselves.

The first notable difference about the third book was the addition of a third presenter on the front and back covers, as a young looking John Noakes joined the team.

By Christmas 1966 Noakes had actually been a Blue Peter presenter for 12 months, having joined the programme on 30 December 1965, though the third book doesn't necessarily reflect the 'action man' reputation he subsequently developed during the late sixties and the seventies, with Chris Trace still appearing to dominate the boy-orientated stories such as making a packaway farm (page 14), operating a tractor of Africa (page 16), visiting the London fire brigade (page 31), being transformed into a Chinese Mandarin (page 50) and working with the transport police dog section (page 72) and generally comes across as 'the main man' of Blue Peter.

The prominent articles about John include a demonstration of magic tricks (page 38) and his visit to the Royal Mint (page 18), although the photographs in both of these articles do seem to indicate some of his hallmark 'have a go at anything and always with great gusto and humour' attitude applied even to the cleaning of thousands of pre-decimalisation one penny coins. 

In 1966 Valerie is clearly reinforcing her, by-then, well established role as foremost female icon and role model of British children's television. Whether it be caring for Jason's kittens (though remember that Jason was a male cat so his personal role in either producing or nurturing Matthew and Olwen would have been limited compared to his Blue Peter counterpart Petra with her litter of puppies), cleverly making things out of old cardboard boxes and plastic bottles, assisting John with his magic tricks (page 39), feeding Joey the parrot (page 48) or demonstrating a recipe for sugar snowmen (page 70), Valerie singularly maintains a strong girl-oriented perspective (in the context of its time) on what might have otherwise evolved into a slightly macho boys-own style action programme.

Consumate pro Singleton helps novice Noakes with his knot work

What is absent from the Blue Peter book of 1966 is any reference to the contemporary issues of the day. For instance, there is no way on earth that the Blue Peter annual of 2012 (if only there was one) would avoid featuring the London Olympic and Paralymic Games, yet the third Blue Peter book contains no reference to England winning the World Cup at Wembley or any other topical events of the year which, retrospectively, would have added an interesting historical angle. Did this reflect a prevailing attitude from the editorial team and BBC aspirations generally, that children's television wasn't a place for 'news' or that children and teenagers shouldn't do 'issues'?

The prevailing sub-themes of the third Blue Peter book therefore continued to concentrate on pets, makes & recipes, hobbies & puzzles, children's stories, charity & public services and heroes of history.

The strong focus on children's literature and cartoon based story telling continues in the 1966 Blue Peter book with features from regular contributors such as William Timyn, aka Tim, with his adventures of Bleep and Booster the space boys and Bengo the lovable though naughty boxer pup who remains as endearing for me today as he did when I was five years old in 1966. Indeed my personal memory of being transfixed to the adventures of Bengo on Boxing day 1966 far outweigh my actual recollection of Geoff Hurst scoring his winner in the dieing seconds at Wembley that same year - so perhaps Blue Peter were reflecting something of the interest factors of mid-60's childhood after all. 

Forget Geoff Hurst and The Beatles, Christopher Trace had his finger on the pulse of what 5 year old boys like me were really into back in 1966

The third Blue Peter book also introduces Paddington Bear as a new member of the Blue Peter family. Author Michael Bond was working in the Blue Peter studio as a BBC cameraman when he first started writing what subsequently became a long series of Paddington stories especially for the programme and the annuals.

The third book of Blue Peter remains somewhat of a rarity amongst collectors compared with books from the later decades, though having said this they are reasonably common on e:bay for people willing to fork out between £10 and £20 - not a huge amount if you are trying to complete a collection. Most second hand copies have seen better days, which in fairness reflects the fact they have been enjoyed by children over two or three generations, so if you are purchasing one its worth checking out the condition and making sure it has a spine before committing your pennies! Don't panic, a reasonable one will come along soon.

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