People are dropping like flies now: the baby-boomer generation is being mown down like an army at Passchendaele, and barely a day passes without further news of a hero or heroine being taken from us. Today saw the death of one of my childhood icons, John Noakes. Like the rest of my generation I grew up with Blue Peter, specifically the Blue Peter of Val, John and Peter Purves (aka Peter Perfect) who to me were the definitive BP team. I liked Val; she was pleasant and sensible, and Peter was OK but I never really felt close to him. But John! John was unique. In these days of wacky TV personalities it’s hard to appreciate the impact of an eccentric personality on a child in the late ‘sixties, but John broke the mould. He was not only physically daring, he was accident-prone and clumsy, tripped over his words and laughed at himself. In an age of staid, respectable, word-perfect presenters, Noakes was a breath of fresh air.
I was upset, though, when I found out later about some of the programme’s secrets. For some bizarre reason the presenters never had an autocue: they had to learn the script by heart which, for a live programme which went out twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays as God intended) must have been an added strain. But Noakes later complained that he had felt underpaid and undervalued by the BBC – and when I heard that, I felt almost betrayed. I had felt so sure that what we saw was what we got – a happy family all working together. It made me sad.
So RIP John Noakes. Those of us who came home from school to watch you in black and white will not forget.
John and Shep reunited.