From the age of about six to twelve, one thing marked the passing days as surely as swimming with Dad on Saturday, church on Sunday, scouts on Friday, and that was – every Monday and Thursday on BBC-1 at 5.00pm – Blue Peter.
Even the Blue Peter year had its own internal calendar: the lighting of the candles on the advent crown (made of old coat hangers and tinsel, natch), the warnings about pets on Guy Fawkes Night, and especially the Blue Peter “Special Expeditions”.
Every summer, Val, John and Pete (for I was lucky enough to be a child during the glory days of these iconic BP presenters) would go somewhere so exotic that we had barely heard of it. The resulting films would be shown in the autumn.
Ceylon was one (right): It was not yet “Sri Lanka”. Another was Bangkok, yet to acquire its current racy/sleazy reputation.
(As a kid, I imagined the whole production team having a two-month jolly holiday. In truth they probably went for a single exhausting week.)
Anyway, it was their trip to Bangkok which earned me a coveted Blue Peter badge. I had spotted in the Guinness Book Of World Records that the official place-name for Bangkok was incredibly long, indeed the longest in the world.
Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit
Instead of copying and pasting from Wikipedia (like I have just done) I wrote it all out by hand in a letter to Blue Peter.
My reward, a few weeks later, was to be watching the show, when Valerie Singleton announced,
“We have received a letter from a viewer called Ross Welford…”
The rest of her sentence I didn’t quite catch because I was yelling to everyone in the house to come and watch.
It got better. Peter Purves then walked to the far side of the studio and began unrolling a long strip of vinyl across the studio with the place-name printed on it, while he and John Noakes tried to pronounce it.
The next day I was famous at school. And for several weeks later. In fact, only last year, someone mentioned it to me: “Do you remember when you were on Blue Peter?” As if I could forget!
Forty-odd years later, and last week, my name was read out on Blue Peter again, and again it was for writing something. A book this time.
Time Travelling With A Hamster is on the shortlist for the Blue Peter Book Award, so I found myself once more on the sofa waiting for Blue Peter to start.
It’s a bit different. The theme music is just about recognisable as the old tune, and the presenters are exhaustingly energetic, but some things don’t change: the first item was about the London to Brighton vintage car rally, which BP must have done at least three or four times when was a kid. Best of all, they still have the advent crown!
If I win, I get to go on the show. Apparently – and very unusually – every single episode since 1964 has been archived, so they might be able to dig up that item on Bangkok’s place name from some time in 1974. I might even get a Blue Peter badge.
(Is it greedy to have two, do you think?)