Saturday, October 11, 2008

Here's one I got earlier ...

Like most people I have dreams, ambitions, desires. Of those that I can publicly admit to there are a few that have always remained tantalisingly out of reach ... like the keys always are in any drama where the good guy/gal is locked up and needs to escape in order to save the day. Among those that remain unfulfilled I can include things like:

(1) recording an album of my songs;
(2) writing an episode of Doctor Who;
(3) earning a living as a writer/artist;
(4) learning to play the piano (I only ever got as high as Grade 1);
(5) inventing a new word that enters the English language (an odd ambition I admit); and
(6) being the recipient of a Blue Peter badge.

I had better explain that last one for my non-British coterie of chums.

Blue Peter is the longest-running children's TV show in the UK and, I believe, the world. It celebrates its 50th consecutive year on air this coming week. The name of the show comes from a naval signalling flag that indicates that a ship is about to set sail; the idea was that the show should be a voyage of discovery for children and, sure enough, its magazine-style format of features, adventures and guest interviews has remained pretty much unchanged for half a century. As such, it has become a national institution; as much an icon of Britishness as red London buses, the crown jewels and lager-fuelled tattooed chavs fighting in the street on Friday night.

As a child I was always an avid viewer because Blue Peter was always so damned interesting. It would have presenter John Noakes doing some mad stunt like skydiving or cleaning Nelson's Column. It would have fascinating historical features about the Great Fire of London or the English Civil War - sometimes our hosts would even dress up. In one notable 1980s episode, during a feature on the history of corsetry, Maggie Philbin appeared in stockings and suspenders. We all watched that episode a few times, I can tell you.

Every year, the presenters went on a foreign trip and brought us back images and stories of what life was like in other countries. And every week, one of these familiar, friendly TV personalities would demonstrate how to make something from garbage; things like desktop pen-holders from toilet roll cardboard tubes or space rockets from 'squeezy' washing-up liquid bottles and sticky-backed plastic (being the BBC, they weren't allowed to mention brand names like Fairy Liquid or Fablon). With their catchphrase of 'Here's one we made earlier', they encouraged us to be artistic and crafty and creative and to give these home-made delights to our bemused relatives for Christmas and birthdays. It was, and still is, a fantastic show.

Over the years there have been many notable incidents, some of which have become a part of televisual history. Like the day that Lulu the baby elephant came to visit ...

Or the day that Simon Groom made this fabulous comment ...

We laughed when Mark Curry crashed a miniature traction engine into the scenery. We roared when the Girl Guides' campfire got out of hand during the 1970 Christmas special. We were outraged when vandals destroyed the Blue Peter Garden. And we were sad when Janet Ellis left the show because, allegedly, the frumpy old BBC considered that her status as an unwed mother-to-be made her position untenable (the baby she was carrying grew up to be pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor). With its twice-weekly TV slot, generations of presenters, Blue Peter pets, and its oh-so familiar format Blue Peter has become an integral part of the British way of life.

All of which brings me to the badges. Throughout its long history, the show has awarded the much-coveted Blue Peter badge to children who have done notable things or to adults who have appeared on the show. These badges are treasured keepsakes and allow children into a range of theme parks, museums and other attractions for free (which, with the advent of e-bay, became a real issue. Read the story here). The badge is shaped like a shield and is white with a stylised blue sailing ship on it. It is, like the programme, so iconic as to be instantly recognisable by most British TV viewers. And they've often found their way into other TV series. Rick (Rik Mayall) wore one in The Young Ones and Ace (Sophie Aldred) sported one on her jacket during Sylvester McCoy's tenure as the Doctor in Doctor Who.

In recent years, a number of colour-coded badges have been introduced (see here) but the blue and white logo has remained fairly constant. So you can therefore imagine my excitement when this envelope plopped onto my doorstep this morning.

I tore it open in barely restrained excitement, read the enclosed letter and then gazed in wonder upon my shiny new Blue Peter badge. And not just any old Blue Peter badge either; it's the limited edition special 50th anniversary gold badge! I went all wobbly at the knees and needed a sit down with a good, strong cup of Earl Grey. At last! After all of these years!

So it's not an Academy Award or a Nobel Prize. But it is something that, while less important, probably means more to me. But why O Colgan, I hear you cry, have you now been awarded a badge? Well, I won't go into all the details (long-time fan ... childhood ambitions ... awards ... philanthropy ... police ... charity work ... I've just written a book that mentions Blue Peter in glowingly nostalgic terms etc.) but, yes, basically it was a begging letter. I'm not proud of that.

I ended with 'Please can I have a Blue Peter badge. Stevyn Colgan aged 47¼ '.

'Make an old man happy', I said. And, bless them, they did.

Now, the album ... I've made a start with my co-writer Huw Williams and I'm starting piano lessons next year. There's a possibility that I may be able to earn a living from writing and artwork and, as for writing for Doctor Who, let's just say that I'm closer to it now than I ever have been before. As for my new English word, I'm still yembling that one.

But I do, finally, have a Blue Peter badge. Ooh, I've gone all wobbly again.


Jon M said...

Brilliant Steve! Isn't it great when people step up and prove to be plain nice? Leslie Judd mmmmmmmmm

Stevyn Colgan said...

Jon - It is isn't it? If they ever decided on an alternative title for Blue Peter, it would have to include the word nice.

chris hale said...

Well done you!

The world is, of course, divided between those who watched Blue Peter, and those who chose Magpie instead. Well, from 1968 onwards, anyway.

I was firmly in the Peter camp (heck, I even tried to make the Dalek costume using, among other things, an upturned fruit bowl and sink plunger!), but did occasionally watch Magpie, which always seemed to me slightly "hipper" than the Beeb's "Hello children everywhere" cosiness.

I recall some years ago a TV programme about obsessive personalities, where a young gentleman had nurtured, over the years, a not necessarily unhealthy interest in Janet Ellis. However, when the presenters actually arranged for him to meet his plaster saint, he was unable to bring himself to be in the same room as her, and instead conducted his interview, via walkie talkie and an intermediary TV reporter, from a car parked outside.

Stuart Peel said...

A golden Blue Peter badge ? I'm so envious that my face has actually turned green. It looks surprisingly fetching actually.

Janet Ellis. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - I was also a Blue Peter man ... unless Magpie had some famous 1970s 'dolly bird' on the show in which case my teenage hormones would force me to defect. Besides which, did Magpie have Bleep and Booster? I think not. But I still have my Bleep and Booster Annual!

Stu - I wore it to the pub this evening. And I would pin it to my jim-jams if I had any. Maybe under the pillow ... just for safe-keeping?

Debby said...

Maybe buy yourself some jammies, just to have something to pin your badge on. Don't go all out and get bunny slippers though. Our Buck simply could not bear them. He followed you constantly, and if your feet moved suddenly, he was on 'em like a big dog. Since he is a big dog, it became clear that somebody was going to take a bad fall down the stairs. In closing, get the jammies, skip the bunny slippers.

Stuart Peel said...

I think the badge can get you into certain places like Tussauds and Chessington Zoo (World of Adventures ? Pah !). Although you'd probably best check before turning up with it proudly pinned to your chest.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Debby - I'll have you know that I don't own any slippers yet. Or a cardigan. or a pipe. I'm just too young. Oh who am I kidding ...

Stu - Yes it can ! Whoop! Whoop! And that was the basis of the recent scandal as greedy parents were snapping them up on e-bay for £20-£30 a throw to save money. After all these attractions now charge a lot to get in. So the BBC had to introduce an ID card scheme for badge holders. True!

What's the world coming to when you can't even trust a Blue Peter badge holder. Sigh.

p.s. I've just had a quick look on e-bay and the buggers are still selling. Average closing price seems to be around £40-50!

chris hale said...

It's quite sad, really, the thought of Blue Peter badge owners selling them for a few quid. It's a bit like these poor old soldiers who have to sell their medals to supplement their meagre pensions. Not that I'm equating the BP Badge to a VC, of course, but I'm sure the badge sellers will regret it one day. Especially if they decide to visit Madame Tusshead's, or similar.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - It is a huge shame ... but, then again, the show is actually older than me so I guess there must be legitimate sons and daughters of badge winners out there who have had them passed on in wills and bequests and who don't want them. Next stop ... Antiques Roadshow?

Me said...

Hi there Stevyn

Thanks for sharing your good fortune and for illustrating only 4 of your printable acheivement wishes remain - and I think you will earn a living as a writer in due course - so - what will you use to fill in the wish list gaps?
Mini me is waving madly at you - she is very jealous!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Hello Me (and hello Mini-Me!!)

Thanks for the kind words.

Don't worry. I have plenty of unprintable ambitions left ...

Blog Princess G said...

I'm blue and gold with envy. Well done mister!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Princess G - Thanks! Of course, you'll remember Blue Peter won't you? It just goes to show that good things come to those who get a bit cheeky and have a go at blagging a badge.

Janet said...

And it's not just ANY ol' Blue Peter badge, either. Congratulations! That's a special treat.


Stevyn Colgan said...

Janet - I feel so shiny and special. Gush.