To kids growing up in the sixties, seventies and eighties, Blue Peter was pretty much required viewing.
Blue Peter is a factual kids magazine show, educational, entertaining and covering all sorts of subjects, serious, fun, important and trivial. Starting in 1958, it is still running on the BBC’s CBBC channel.
The show also featured its own animal ‘presenters’, the Blue Peter Pets, including the enthusiastic collie Shep, John Noakes’s particular responsibility. The Blue Peter Pets role was to encourage and educate kids about looking after their own pets.
John Noakes was the show’s longest running presenter. He was the ‘stunt man’ of sixties and seventies Blue Peter. His escapades included climbing Nelson’s Column by ladder without a safety harness and performing a record breaking five-mile-high freefall skydive.
John Noakes didn’t tend to cover the really serious stuff. His area of expertise was to engage kids, engross them, in the sort of (often quite dangerous) activities your mum wouldn’t really want you getting up to. Like said scaling of Nelson’s Column. It was a role he seemed born to.
Affable, engaging, slightly ramshackle and completely down to Earth, Noakes once described his time on Blue Peter as “a Peter Pan existence, a bit like an overgrown schoolboy’s job”.
Having said that, Noakes was in later years bitter about his time at Blue Peter. He once claimed that his Blue Peter personality was a role he was acting. He didn’t get on with editor Biddy Baxter and in 1999 in a Radio Times interview he described her as “an awful woman”. In the same interview he stated that “Given my time again I wouldn’t have done Blue Peter. I’d done theatre for six years and was tired.” He did Blue Peter because it was regular work after six years of acting.
He stayed with Blue Peter until 1978. Towards the end of his time there, from 1976, he and collie dog Shep embarked on the series Go With Noakes. This featured the pair exploring Britain, and ran for six series. Shep went with Noakes when he left Blue Peter, staying with him until Shep’s death in 1987, which affected Noakes deeply.
Noakes was born in a village in West Yorkshire in 1934. He trained as an aircraft fitter, but decided to go into acting, financing his training at the Guildhall in London by working as a cleaner and a lift boy. He was offered the presentership of Blue Peter in 1965 after Biddy Baxter spotted him in a production of Hobson’s Choice. His Yorkshire accent was a refreshing change from the usual Received Pronunciation then expected of a TV presenter.
In 1982 he and wife Vicky moved to Majorca. They had ended up there after an attempt to sail to the Caribbean was halted by a 60ft wave which damaged their boat and left them injured. They were rescued by a passing tanker which dropped them at Majorca, where they stayed.
In later years Noakes developed Altzheimer’s, and in 2015 an alert went out that he had disappeared. He was found later that day having wandered off and fallen into long grass in a storm drain. His wife then confirmed that he had been suffering from Altzheimer’s for some years.
Today a family friend released a statement saying: “John Noakes died peacefully on Sunday morning, May 28.
“He had endured and suffered from Alzheimer’s over recent years and whilst he will be greatly missed by his wife, family and many friends, his release from continuing ill health must be counted as a blessing.
“His many escapades with his faithful companion Shep, during his time with Blue Peter, will live on in many peoples memories and that is how his family would like him remembered.”