Richard Marson continues to display his impeccable credentials as the man who knows more about Blue Peter than anyone with this absorbing new book, focusing on show producer Biddy Baxter (1933- ).
Blue Peter had its first broadcast in October 1958 and is now the longest-running children’s programme in the world. Essential viewing for generations, it now screens on CBBC but in its heyday, it was known to all by its logo, pets, time capsules and daredevil antics.
My era of presenters were Lesley, Peter (P) and John through to Mark, Caron and Peter (D); thirteen in all, and behind their work was the formidable figure of Biddy, a producer who we knew despite her behind the scenes role.
Marson’s book has the cachet of being an insider view (he was one of Baxter’s successors as editor on the show, from 2003-7 and a friend), and puts many rumours to rest about what went on behind the smiles, badges, and “one I made earlier”.
Loved ot loathed (Marson refers to Baxter as “Miss Marple on acid” but displays a firm respect for her place in television history), there was no middle ground where she was concerned.
She could be kind or harsh to her artists, but the programne and its continuity meant more than any individual before the camera. Ironically, her departure from the programme in 1988 was the result of a disagreement with another woman at the BBC, executive Anna Home.
Two issues are discussed at length in this book: John Noakes and Shep after his departure from the programne in 1978; and the short tenure of the late gay presenter Michael Sundin in 1984-5.
Both have been blighted by misconceptions in the media (although it is to no-one’s credit that BBC folk referred to Sundin as a “mincing little queen,” overlooking his athleticism and physical ability). The record is somewhat set right here.
In expecting her presenters to be superhuman machines, Baxter was perhaps too exacting and too much of a perfectionist. But she certainly built an institution of memorable moments that endure today – for me, seeing Tina Heath’s pregnancy being discussed was interesting.
A fascinating and indispensable book for Blue Peter viewers, archive TV nerds, and followers of BBC politics. Biddy Baxter has been done justice – a remarkable woman you might not necessarily want as your boss!
Image credit: Stuart Manning