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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Nellie the Elephant Packed Her Trunk

Blue Peter! those were the days. 

Having the hots for Val Singleton, in black and white. Baby elephants and embarrassing live action golden showers. healthy, harmless innocent fun and today all that's going. At least the show's moving from the BBC Television Centre in London to Salford in Manchester; taking its garden  and the bust of Petra the longest serving Blue Peter doggie presenter. It was difficult to decide who had the waggiest tail, Petra  or, the two old time presenters, John Noakes or Peter Purves. 

Blue Peter remains true to its founding instincts. Today, the last day at the Beeb's HQ it's celebrating and commemorating 50 years of childish joy by doing what it's always done best - performing useless stunts. This time seeking to break the record for the largest number of people simultaneously performing a hula hoop routine. The eyes get misty just at the thought. It makes one yearn for Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter to be on hand to announce it as a "Record Breaker".

I never got a Blue Peter badge; never collected milk bottle tops nor helped my mother in the kitchen as the programme encouraged us to. Was it on twice or three times a week - essential viewing for us teenipops? Now it's shunted into the ghetto that is CBBC with presenters whose average is about 7 1/2 years. 

Stupidly I went to the show's website. I was expecting to see pictures of my hero presenters all those years ago. Not there of course, they'd mean nothing to the pre-pre-teens who now watch the show, but I felt rather hurt that my past was not recognised. So I dashed off to read about Val on Google. She is 74! I'm sure I saw her with Pete Murray in a Greek Restaurant in the early 80's, but I could be wrong. 

I was never into "Magpie" - the commercial channel's equivalent. Far too adult and trendy. I always said why watch "Magpie" when there was "The Magic Roundabout". Anyway by the time I'd tuned into Magpie I was already hooked on "Out of Town".  Even then, 50 years ago,  it was nostalgic: the sights and sounds Jack Hargreaves conjured up have long passed out of mind. 

Despite the efforts of cyclists and the aged one's passenger wife we arrived at my friend's 70 birthday bash. It was held in the private room of a restaurant in the block of flats he lives in. He's been there so long that he remembers when the restaurant was part of the flats and you could order breakfast, lunch and dinner to be sent up to your flat. Now, I'm told, the restaurant is part of a chain owned by Michael Caine.  "Not a lot of people know that!"

We were treated to Pimms as we arrived, and tried to recognise faces. So many old faces! For the meal we were seated round a long table with my friend at one end and his long time female friend at the other. Waiters and waitresses glided silently between us, offering bread and pouring wine as we chatted away. 

Conversation was halting, as one hard of hearing guest, me included, tried to guess what another near deaf guest had said and replied with something you thought was relevant.

The food was classic. Carrot and coriander soup; Steamed Turbot and veg; prune and almond pie with lashing of liquered cream. All lubricated with a French Viognier - a wine which, until about 20 years ago, was only found in the French Appellation of Condrieu. Now it's spread like a rash across the wine growing regions of the world.

Then onto the speeches. Much reference to mortality, the joy of long friendships,  school days, university and libraries. The guests were a mixed bunch, artists, poets, doctors, lawyers, business men and civil servants. The poet recited a poem he'd composed that morning for the event, written on a large piece of cardboard. He finished off with a resounding version of the "Road to Mandalay".

Sitting there listening, imperfectly to poem and song, you could hear the chatter of young boys in the dorm at their boarding school, the clink of glasses as the new Oxford undergrads at the end of the 1950's/early 60's drunk deep of claret and future prospects.

This was a privileged generation, born into fairly well off middle class families, with a tradition of erudition and education. Prep school, public school and then Oxbridge followed by careers in the professions. I have to admit to a slight envy in not having had such an up bringing.

My pal, with his learning, his reading and brain power, is a fabulous man. The love and admiration for him threatened to overwhelm the poor boy last Friday. 

It was a fabulous evening. One post script - a very special guest was my mate's old school master at the public school he attended around 1955/56.

The past was alive and palpable around that table, and it was a privilege to have been part of it. 


Steve said...

Blue Peter occupies a very special place in my childhood due to the allure of Caron Keating... I guess she was my Val Singleton.

The Sagittarian said...

Sounds like it was a fabulous way to pass the time, and how amazing your mate's old school master was there. Funny how when you're younger you always think teachers etc are so OLD but in reality I guess only 10-15 years older than us.

Madame DeFarge said...

Never liked Magpie. Didn't like the way they asked for money and not bottle tops.

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