Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bleu, Bleu, L'amour Est Bleu (Surtout En Regardent Pierre Bleu)

Still not convinced? Alright, let's consider this in slightly more pseudo-scientific terms. Many years ago, probably while Music From BBC Children's Programmes was on general release, the BBC used to use a caption slide in a horrid navy/mustard/white colour scheme for unveiling the day's children's TV schedules. On either side of said schedules were a set of illustrations featuring iconography from some of the more popular offerings of the day, complete with two children gazing up at them in awe. On the left were the Play School house and Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout, and on the right were Scooby Doo and - you knew it was on the horizon - the Blue Peter boat.

"So what?", you're probably thinking. "It stands to reason that they'd slap a few random representations of view-enticing shows onto an otherwise bland-looking schedule which probably had bloody God's Wonderful Railway in it on top of everything else, without even considering that in the far and distant future someone would use it as a flimsy springboard for launching into yet more unwarranted Blue Peter-bashing". And yes, in the conventional and indeed literal sense, you'd be exactly right. But consider it more in terms of the cognitive associations of this juxtaposition. The shows on the left, it has to be said, are precisely those that would appeal to the more arty and cerebral sector of the audience, that had 'seen' the jazz influences of Play Away and indulged in pre-school existential rumination on the modern condition and its relation to the pop-art ethics underpinning the Play School toys, and probably grew up to be obsessed with French cinema and lo-fi music and indeed with recapturing the lost 'white void' studio of the mind. Whereas those on the right (yes, alright, this isn't Robin Carmody's Saturday Night Takeaway you know) pointed towards more of a sense of structure and order and academic rigour, with precision and achievement and fresh-faced fun taking precedence over angst-ridden doodling intended to somehow 'take down the government'. In a sense it really is the whole 'Left Brain/Right Brain' theorem writ large, only the wrong way round, and with more Barnaby.

And so it was that if you went through childhood with the imprinted image of a Franco-English stop-motion bear lodged in your subconscious, Blue Peter was merely something that Other Children Liked. Its adherence to formality and achievement and unobtrusive modes of dress, not to mention its obsession with historical facts and figures and ever so slightly patronising exploration of 'foreign' cultures, was sometimes more than the unfocused creative mind could cope with and as such simply rejected it. Others may have had their Bring And Buy Sales and free entry to the Natural History Museum for Blue Peter badgewinners, but this was a world you could not understand and were not invited into anyway, forced instead to stand peering through the window with Mr Davenport from Rentaghost.

It's worth mentioning at this point that there is something of a misconception that those who were barred from entering the Blue Peter party automatically sought solace in Magpie, the ITV counterpart that folk legend would have you believe was something tantamount to a 'roller disco' in comparison. However, that's ignoring the fact that underneath its more modish trappings, Magpie had much the same obsessions as Blue Peter - almost as if Brotherhood Of Man had decided to go 'New Wave' - and the last thing you wanted was to replace something you didn't like with more of the same in trendier jackets. If anything, such disaffected viewers would probably have gravitated towards How!, where the presenters explained how things work but made surreal fun of them at the same time... but that's straying way too far off the central narrative thrust for now. Of course, Magpie did have one very significant thing in its favour, but we'll return to that in due course.

Suffice it to say that no matter how entertaining the archive clips routinely included as extras on 'Classic' Doctor Who DVDs may be, and no matter how legendarily entertaining the bitter rivalry between Blue Peter and Magpie presenters may have been in more recent times, and no matter how enviably classy a complete run of Blue Peter 'books' (never 'annuals'... the whole argument that's taken up two blog posts encapsulated in one word right there) may look on an erstwhile Noakes-decrier's shelves, that's all to do with how vintage Blue Peter seems now, and back when vintage Blue Peter wasn't actually vintage, it was the prim and proper diametric defuser of any theoretical Fingerbobs firework lit by Keith Chegwin. And here it was, slap bang in the middle(ish) of the first side of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, poised to do exactly the same thing again.

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