He presented Blue Peter for over three years from December 1993 and as the 60th anniversary of the hit children's TV show approaches, Tim Vincent has gathered a team of ex-presenters for Once Seen on Blue Peter, a special play that's premiering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Blue Peter first sailed onto British TV screens on October 16, 1958 and continues to be the longest-running children’s television programme in the world.
60 years and over 5,000 episodes later, Tim Vincent has brought together ex-presenters Peter Purves, Janet Ellis, Peter Duncan, Mark Curry and a surprise celebrity guest for a special play that sees the group of ex-presenters come together to receive a lifetime achievement.
My earliest memories of Blue Peter are watching Tim Vincent and Katy Hill present the show in the mid-nineties so to interview Tim over twenty years later was a bit surreal. But he could not have been nicer and we spoke about Once Seen on Blue Peter - Makes, Bakes and Outtakes, the legacy of Blue Peter and I tested his ex-Blue Peter knowledge with a little quiz at the end.
Can you believe it's been 60 years of Blue Peter?
I know! It's less of a shock for me because every ten years there's always some sort of get together or celebration. I was there for the 40th and the 50th so yeah, 60th now! It shows that we're all getting a bit older.
Kids television has changed a lot, yet Blue Peter has remained. Why do you think that is?
I think it stays true to its roots and doesn't try and chase any trends. Certainly when I was doing it in the mid-nineties, a lot of the things that we did then are still buzzwords now. Like recycling and the environment and it was a time when it probably wasn't as trendy.
Now everyone recycles at home but we were doing it 25 years ago and actually the show was probably doing that ten or fifteen years before that!
Everyone always talks about the now famous Blue Peter audition. Can you remember yours?
Yeah, very much so. It's very intimidating because if you're a fan of the show you're then auditioning to be a part of it. They usually take someone who's quite young going into it so you're really eager and they always do the audition in the studio, usually at the end of a recording day. You're wheeled in to do your mini version of presenting which is very intimidating because you're on the proper set and they always make you present on something like a trampoline, with me it was a bucking bronco.
The reason they do that is because however much you can learn to be a presenter and can learn your lines and be very polished, when you're on a trampoline in a big studio jumping up and down trying to find the camera with the red light to talk to them, any sort of pretence goes out of the window and you're just being yourself. Which is what the producers and the editors want to see. What they really like.
It's great that they can learn lines, but do they have a sense of humour, can they cope with something that goes wrong, will the audience like their personality? It's still a miracle when I look back that I got the job!
When did you come up with the idea for Once Seen on Blue Peter?
It was about seven or eight months ago and I'm very friendly with the ex-Blue Peter editor Lewis Bronze who gave me my job. I was at his house having dinner and I can't remember how it came up but he said that next year would be the 60th anniversary of Blue Peter and I thought "Oh my goodness that's such a milestone so it would be a good time to do something."
The producer that I'm doing the play with had had a sellout show last year in Edinburgh which was an audience with Alex Salmond so I mentioned it to her and she said "Oh we should do something" and I was very keen not to do something where everybody just sits on stage on stools and I interview them about Blue Peter.
What's the show about?
First of all, it's a play, rather than people sitting around talking about Blue Peter. All the presenters play themselves. It's like The Trip, it's Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing a heightened version of themselves.
It was just an idea in my head that I wanted all the presenters in one show where they're all playing themselves and set in a green room which is where all the actors relax and they're probably a bit more unguarded.
They've all been congregated to accept a lifetime achievement award for Blue Peter and it's them all coming in to the green room at different stages, being harassed by an assistant floor manager who's the only person on stage who's not an ex-Blue Peter presenter. They're all complaining to him about their riders and where their dressing room are but they're all there and the assistant floor manager has to get them all to a point where he can get them ready to accept the award. With a few fun diversions along the way!
There's a scene in it where they're talking about what else they've done but they'll always be remembered for Blue Peter. Janet Ellis is an accomplished writer and has had books published, Peter Duncan has been nominated for an Olivier but we're all going to be known for being a Blue Peter presenter.
Are you pleased that Blue Peter continues to be the thing you're most known for?
Yeah, very much so. The magic of that show is that I did it twenty years ago, some of them did it thirty years ago, Peter Purves did it longer than that but we'll all be in Edinburgh for three weeks doing the show and talking about it.
That's the weight of that show. There are only so many shows out there that have that longevity and fondness. Even now, people will come up to me on the street and say "You were my favourite presenter" or "You're a bit before my time. I remember Mark Curry" everyone's got their favourite Blue Peter presenter. It's like a Panini football sticker album.
I only said that I would do this play if I could get some of the older presenters because I think it needs to be a generational thing. So you've got Peter Purves, Mark Curry, Peter Duncan, Janet Ellis and then me, so that covers quite a few years on the show.
Did they take much convincing?
It was a leap of faith for them because at the point that I approached them, there was no script. And there was no director attached. I had to explain to them what it was and they all loved the idea but obviously wanted to see something that was written.
Luckily, Tim Whitnall, who's the writer, won an Olivier for doing a play in Edinburgh a couple of years ago and had it made into a BBC drama so it's high-end writing. And then the director was awarded an OBE!
So it's a very safe pair of hands but at the end of the day it's still a leap of faith because they're playing themselves and there are some very funny lines at someones expense at one point or another.
Why did you choose Edinburgh to premiere the play?
It's the epicentre of new dramas and lots of people go there who are theatre goers and it's a comedy so that's also part and parcel of Edinburgh as well. Denise who I've done the production with, knows the setup and how everything should be.
We're at the Assembly Rooms which is one of the prestigious places to perform in in the centre of Edinburgh and so it was a no brainer really.
Had you visited the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before?
No! I've never been and I've always wanted to. It's weird, it's absolutely amazing and I used to own a place in Scotland so it was something that I'd always wanted to go to but it never worked out for one reason or another.
It's slightly surreal that the first time I'm going to be at the Fringe is because I'm putting a play on there!
Do you still keep in touch with your Blue Peter presenters?
Yeah I do, Diane actually rang me yesterday. She's moved slightly out of London so I don't see her as much. Every now and then I see them. Also, because it's the lead up to the 60th anniversary in October, Blue Peter are using lots of ex-presenters to do bits and pieces.
A couple of weeks ago I was actually on the Blue Peter set in Manchester with Katy Hill who I used to present with. Katy and I were just going "this is a bit surreal" we were like ghosts who had come back to haunt the show.
It's in a completely new beautiful studio now but there's none of that Television Centre buzz. If we were doing the show in one studio, next door there'd be a sitcom being filmed and David Jason would be in the same cafe trying to get a coffee and then Top of the Pops would come in so there'd always be a real buzz there.
Do you have ambitions beyond Edinburgh for Once Seen on Blue Peter?
Absolutely. The way it's written means that it could be replaced with other Blue Peter presenters doing it. It has to be written for those particular presenters that would go in because they're playing themselves.
It could hopefully be something that could tour. The way it's been described and I agree with, is it's the timber and the feel of The Trip but the format is like Art, the play where different people can come in and try out different angles.
It's a five-hander, but it could be a four-hander. It's blisteringly quick.
How would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
Wicked. Funny. Sad. Surprising. Poignant.
Before you go, it's time for a quick quiz. First question, who was the first ever Blue Peter presenter?
Correct! An extra point if you know how long he presented the show for?
This is a guess... three years?
Incorrect. It was 8 years and 281 days! Who's the longest serving Blue Peter presenter?
Ooh... now that's a good one. I would hazard a guess that it's got to be either John Noakes, Val Singleton or Pete... I would probably say, Valerie Singleton?
Incorrect. It was John Noakes. 12 years and 178 days. Which Blue Peter presenter was on the show for exactly the same length of time as you? That's 3 years and 39 days.
I'm trying to think who that could be. Romana D'Annunzio?
Incorrect. It was Sarah Greene.
Oh really?! I didn't know that. I'll bring that up next time I bump into her in Waitrose.
Last question, who was the youngest Blue Peter presenter?
Well female was Yvette Fielding and male was me, I think. I auditioned when I was 20 and I almost 21 when I presented my first show. I can't remember how old Yvette was. She was younger than me though.