Blue Peter is Who I Am
Blue Peter is moving to the CBBC channel. It will no longer be on BBC1. Adults secretly still watching will have to tune in to a children’s channel. Well, we did it anyway for The Sarah Jane Adventures and will do so for Wizards vs Aliens, right?
Anyone who knew me as a child knows that one of my major special interests (a feature of autistic spectrum conditions) was Blue Peter. Everywhere we went, I would look in charity shops and car boot sales to increase my collection of Blue Peter Books (what they call their annuals) and associated memorabilia. I watched the programme obsessively, had a Blue Peter diary made by Letts and regularly wrote to Jim’ll Fix It to ask if I could be a presenter for the day. OK, being wobbly wouldn’t have helped me get through the famous audition process, which involves (or did) interviewing somebody while bouncing on a trampoline, but it was my dream for a long time. I even went to a CBBC open audition when I was 19. Not for BP, for the “broom cupboard”, but I was dreadful.
I didn’t have many friends when I was young. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that I have Asperger Syndrome. I was lonely and miserable and having a difficult time at both home – my father was an abusive alcoholic – and at school, where I was bullied. I wrote letters to my favourite programme, Blue Peter. It didn’t hurt that it also had links to my other favourite, Doctor Who, and still does.The first Blue Peter badge I won was the Green badge, for writing about the environment. I was a keen environmentalist as a child, having the Blue Peter Green Book, and I collected large numbers of aluminium cans to be recycled for charity.
Then I won the Blue badge. I sent in pictures, stories, ideas for “makes”. I wrote near-constantly to the BP office. I was miserable. They responded. Not just with form letters, but with help and advice. They made me feel appreciated, like somebody was listening. They knew I collected memorabilia, so sent me signed photos of new presenters and pets, old promo cards for previous presenters, any booklets they had lying around. It was amazing.
I won the Silver badge because I ran a Blue Peter Bring & Buy Sale with my mum, and covered every surface with the stickers they sent. My sister won a badge herself, but mostly the family used mine to get the two of us and other children into visitor attractions for free. That element of the badge has always been open to abuse, especially once grown-up winners were able to sell their badges on Ebay, and these days children have a photocard to present as well as the badge. We went to the Yorvik Viking Centre what felt like a million times. Beamish. Loads of places. The BP office sent a booklet with all the places we could go, in the days before many museums had free entry.
When I was perhaps a bit too old to watch the programme, at 14, I won the Competition badge, which was then as it appears above and not the new orange design. I was a runner-up in a design competition. I had been away on a German exchange with school and had a rotten time, but came back to find the badge and our family’s first computer. The latter changed my life, the former was the last link to my childhood. I couldn’t win any more badges. In those days, there was no purple badge for reviewing the programme, and I had missed out on any of the special “birthday” badges for programme anniversaries. I stopped sending letters some time after that. I was too scared to take their advice of phoning ChildLine, but I knew they wouldn’t keep sending a teenager stickers and long letters. A few years later, my father threw much of my memorabilia into the fire, including two of the badges, and later still the remaining badges were stolen off a jacket at a gig. I still have the books.
What about the Gold badge? Well, it remains my goal… When I was regularly writing to the programme, the only people who appeared to get one were departing presenters, Olympic athletes and people who had done amazing things like save lives. I knew I hadn’t done anything as good as that, I wasn’t exceptional. I wasn’t a hero. But these days, Gary Barlow has one, David Tennant has one…maybe I CAN do enough to get one. It would mean more to me than any other honour. I don’t want to be an OBE or Dame; I don’t need a medal or any other award, whatever I do. I just want a Gold Blue Peter badge.
Thank you to the BP office from 1987-1995 for being so kind to a lonely, autistic kid. I will never forget you.