Monday, May 29, 2017

The importance of John Noakes

Some 20 years ago the BBC showed a history of Blue Peter. It was the one revealed that Daniel the Blue Peter baby had grown up into an agreeable, hippyish character who had once done time for drug offences.

At work the next day we were all rhapsodising over our memories of John Noakes. A South African who worked with us remarked that she thought she understood British culture pretty well, but every now and again something like this came along. Our adoration of Noakes was a mystery to her.

But John Noakes was an important figure. His death somehow feels like the final death of my own childhood.

Lucy Mangan explains his appeal well:
If his co-presenters Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton stood in televisual loco parentis, Noakes was your beloved, daredevil uncle, with energy and enthusiasm to spare for the kind of spontaneous, crazy projects your parents could never quite bring themselves to get behind. 
And like all the best uncles, he had a dog, Shep – the only one who could match him for energy and enthusiasm. Often, indeed, overmatching him; hence the emergence of Noakes’s most common and famous utterance: "Get down, Shep."
The Blue Peter Noakes joined was a staid affair. As I once remarked of the disposal of Petra's litter of puppies in those days:
It all sounds like an aristocratic family: Patch stayed at home as the heir and the other dogs were found respectable careers.
But Noakes helped to change that and the Sixties do strike me as an unusual decade in that the British rather liked children then.

As I wrote in another post, no doubt too grumpily and nostalgically:
In the 1960s Blue Peter's presenters were undoubtedly on your side, but they knew lots of interesting things that you didn't and shared them with you. You don't make good children's television simply by giving children what they think they want - you end up with Tiswas if you do that. 
Today's Blue Peter producers put me in mind of Outnumbered, whose scripts will one day be studied as a key text in the uselessness of middle-class parenting in the early 21st century: 
What these modern middle-class parents are saying to their children is: "You are on your own. I have nothing to teach you, no wisdom to impart. You are already much better and cleverer than I am." It is not listening, but a total abdication of their responsibilities.
Noakes will be remembered for his extraordinary stunts - the most famous of them can be seen above, But he had his gentler side too,

Go With Noakes, a spin-off programme for him and Shep, had its share of stunts too. But I remember it best for the weeks when the two of them drove through beautiful countryside and met interesting people.

Life should be more like that.

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