Blue Peter

Friday, January 7, 2000 by

“Hello there!…”

It was the moment anyone with more than a passing interest in children’s TV history was anticipating. The excavation and opening of the Blue Peter Capsule for the year 2000 was always going to be worth catching, if only for the chance to see more clips of archive BP. But hopefully this was to be something more: a real exciting occasion, one which was to see something most of us had only read in Blue Peter Book 9 and shared jokes, reminiscences and references about ever since, actually happen.

The event itself was always going to be special, so it was more the format of the show which was the issue; could the contemporary BP team evoke enough ceremony and provide sense of significance for proceedings?

Well, they seemed to do pretty well. There was an enjoyable pre-recorded insert on what “life” was like in June 1971, the time when the original portentous capsule was buried, including Simon Thomas and Katy Hill uncomfortably sporting fashions of the time. Katy cheekily squeezed into tight hot pants which Simon could be seen openly ogling and there was a brave but brief social history overview (“These compilation LPs, or ‘long players’… “) which served to highlight if nothing else the technological purity and paucity of the times. It was wonderful to see a short clip of programme continuity from the 1970s: a Jackanory caption “slide” (the three trees, remember?) and the old BBC on-screen clock-face.

We then joined Konnie Huq with John Noakes, Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton shivering in the BP garden. This is where the momentum and tone of the programme began to go awry, as Pete and Val’s amiable chatting was disrupted by John Noakes’ irascible temperament. What was up with him? He seemed alternately bored, dismissive, rude and confused, sporting his BPbadge upside down and unnecessarily snapping “who are you?” at Mabel, one of the BP dogs, as if trying to patronisingly put-down the whole current BP set-up. His contributions were awkward and tantamount to sabotage, describing BP‘s mock up 1971 set as “a nuthouse” and later making some out of place innuendo of the “unscrew your nuts” variety. Frankly, his behaviour was appalling and undermined the entire proceedings.

Thankfully we moved on to the locating and excavating of the 1984 box, and again this was all pre-recorded – just as well given that the efforts to dig it up appeared to take several hours. When it was exposed it did seem a little too conveniently placed in the ground as the camera could see its lid, and Matt Baker seemed to be getting slightly hysterical (“We’re standing on the edge of history!”) But there was far better inter-play between presenters past and present when Matt joined Simon Groom and Janet Ellis to open it (Peter Duncan, we were told, was on a round the world trip) and there was enough excitement conveyed on screen to make it a really intriguing and engaging event.

If anything it was this capsule that was more interesting for me, given that for one thing I had no recollection at all what was in it (having never been mentioned in a BP Book its contents really were a mystery). There was palpable surprise from Simon and Janet too on emptying its contents, including Goldie’s collar and a 7″ of the excellent Mike Oldfield BP theme. But the fact all of the objects were caked in mud and saturated in grimy water took the shine off things. Simon and Janet were enjoying the proceedings immensely, cracking jokes and ad-libbing as if they’d never been away (indeed, Janet did not look one day older than when she left), and this whole segment really worked very well indeed.

We were then reminded of the new capsule for the year 2050 and by now I was beginning to feel strangely moved. I counted up and realising I’d be 73 when this was due to be dug up, quaked and hoped I’d still be around to witness that ceremony. My thoughts on how “fast” society moves nowadays and how ordinary objects are rendered redundant and out of date even quicker were interrupted by the final act: the opening of the 1971 capsule.

We didn’t even see any footage of this being dug up; instead we saw both the current team and the John/Pete/Val team picking through the salvage afterwards. Patently there was disappointment at how poorly the capsule items had survived, with Val seeming particularly downhearted at the scale of the devastation. Fittingly, it was left to the older trio to wrap up the programme, Pete and Val at least proving to be graceful and suitably poignant as befitted the occasion.

Overall – well, thankfully, a very BP programme, with that nuts-and-bolts, a bit off-the-rails-but-stout-in-the-face-of-adversity spirit on which the series thrives to carry the day.

So – jolly good, as Val said. See you next time!


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