Monday, August 24, 2009
Petra: A Dog for Everyone
A visit to my bookshelves comes up with Petra: A Dog for Everyone by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes.
It tells the story of Blue Peter's first dog - though it leaves out the fact that the original Petra died of distemper after her first appearance on the programme. Rather than face telling the nation's children that their new dog had died, they toured the pet shops of London until they found an identical replacement.
In September 1965 Petra had eight puppies - the father was Moss, a Shetland sheepdog. (These days he would have made a living afterwards by appearing in reality television shows.)
The eight puppies were named by a poll of Blue Peter viewers. They were called Candy, Patch, Peter, Prince, Rover, Rex, Bruce and Kim. Not a Britney or Jackiey in sight.
Of particular interest is what happened to the puppies. It tells us much about Britain in 1965.
Patch stayed on the programme with Petra, but died young. John Noakes famously cried on the programme when reading viewers' letters about him afterwards. Patch was replaced by the more famous Shep (no relation).
The "lively and friendly" Candy went to the British Rail Children's Home at Woking Grange. I don't know what has happened to the children since privatisation, but in 1965 they still wore short trousers and school sandals. Definitely well-behaved orphans. Peter and Kim also went to children's homes.
Rex and Bruce went to be farm dogs because they were "steady and reliable", but the book assures us they would live indoors with the farmers and not be kept outside as kennel dogs.
Prince "the smallest of the litter ... a quiet and gentle puppy" went to the Salvation Army Eventide Home near Marlow.
Rover, by far the biggest of the puppies, "was so lively and boisterous we thought he'd make a splendid Regimental Mascot. So he joined the Junior Leaders' Regiment of the Royal Engineers at Dover.
It all sounds like an aristocratic family: Patch stayed at home as the heir and the other dogs were found respectable careers. I do not remember all this from the television programme, but I was given a Blue Peter annual for Christmas that told the puppies' stories.
A D-list comedian on a Channel 4 clips shows says: We watched Magpie. Blue Peter was for posh kids.
Liberal England replies: Go away.