My previous post featured a story about the younger of my 2 older brothers, “Brother 2”, whose birthday is today. He was born on 16th October 1958, the day that the first episode of Blue Peter was broadcast, so they are the same age. We were very much a Blue Peter family. While the cool kids next door watched Magpie on the rival channel, with its long-haired male and bra-less female presenters, we nerdy kids were loyal to Christopher Trace, Valerie Singleton, Petra the dog, Jason the cat, and co. I was especially interested in the animals.
I was touched to find this letter recently, kept amongst the family papers. It is a letter personally addressed to me, written and signed in May 1976 by Biddy Baxter, a name familiar to anyone who watched Blue Peter back then. Baxter was the programme’s editor, who ensured that all children’s letters received a personal reply. This one reads:
“Thank you very much for your letter – it was nice to hear from you again.
It was kind of you to send us the toy mice you made for Jack and Jill. We think they’re a splendid idea! We are sure the kittens will have a lot of fun playing with them. We are awarding you a ‘Blue Peter’ Badge for making the mice so well. It is silver badge this time as you already have a blue one!
With best wishes form all of us on the programme.
I had made some toy mice out of felt and stuffed them with catnip from our garden (something our cat Frisky enjoyed), and sent them in for the new Blue Peter kittens, Jack and Jill. I was thrilled to receive my silver badge, and impressed that they had a record of my previous one, which I’d received after writing them a letter some years previously. I wore both badges proudly on my school blazer (nerd!), and was upset when I lost the silver one. The blue one survives in the Usmeum, although, as you can see in the above photograph, it is scratched and worn.
What Biddy Baxter didn’t realise, however, was that this wasn’t my 2nd letter to the programme: it was my 3rd. Years before this, Brother 2 and I had sent a joint letter, which surely would have earned us a Blue Peter badge each, had it not been misinterpreted. The programme had run a feature on Pearly Kings and Queens, in which they lamented the shortage of mother-of-pearl buttons available for their costumes. Our little hearts went out to them. Mum had a big wooden cigar box full of old buttons, saved from clothes cut into rags or leftover from sewing projects, and with her permission we hunted through the box for any mother-of-pearl ones. We found enough to fill a tobacco tin (cigar box? Tobacco tin? With no smokers in the family, I wonder where these objects came from?), which we wrapped up and posted with a carefully worded letter typed up for us on proper paper by our secretary Mum. We signed it with both our names – A. & S. R_ – but not, alas, our ages. The nice acknowledgement letter from Blue Peter came addressed to “Mr & Mrs R_!”
Perhaps it was too carefully worded, too professionally typed. We didn’t bother to point out their mistake, and I was the only one who got any badges, later on (by which time Brother 2 had lost interest in such things and moved on to pop music and politics anyway). But there is a nice coda to this story: my brother’s 2 daughters, aged 9 and 10, have recently been awarded Blue Peter Green badges, for poems about the environment that they wrote and sent in. They are just as thrilled with theirs as I was with mine.
Happy Birthday, Brother 2!