Blue Peter debuted in 1958. Here former presenters tell Mark Smith what the programme means to them, as they play themselves in a new show at the Fringe

Peter Duncan

Duncan presented Blue Peter from 1980 to 1984 and from 1985 to 1986. He is also an actor and appeared in the 1980 film Flash Gordon. He is also a former Chief Scout.

You are appearing in a Fringe show inspired by Blue Peter. How is it going to work?

It’s a play and we’re playing ourselves, although you could say we’re playing heightened versions of who we are. It’s witty and rude.

The idea is to explore the show and how we feel about it?

I think so. It’s written by Tim Whitnall, who has a great track record, and it’s very funny. All the ingredients are there and it’s perfect for Edinburgh – the idea that you have a bunch of people playing themselves. We’re lambs to the slaughter at the same time.

You’ll be met by affection and nostalgia, though, won’t you? What’s the reaction you get on the street from people?

To be honest, Blue Peter is a long time ago now, so usually it’s a certain generation that remember me from that. For other people, it’s Flash Gordon and nothing else exists in their lives. Blue Peter has a general warmth about it across the generations because of its longevity and its positive vibes towards young people, a bit like the Scouts, which I got involved with – it’s a good feel. The liberal elite, as the phrase goes now, can make fun of it and all that bollocks, but when I was doing it, it was important to reach across the demographic, which I think it did brilliantly.

It consciously did that in its appeals, didn’t it, which all children could take part in, by sending in bottle tops or whatever?

That was the beginning of interactive television – Blue Peter was the market leader and the world caught on. It’s got much more exploitative now – those

prime-time shows where people are making money. In Blue Peter, you were seeking to benefit others, not the TV station or yourself.

Was being on Blue Peter frustrating?

No. I’d been an actor for 10 years before I did it. I gave up a very good career actually to have a change and then I went back to it – I did different kinds of things – I did musicals.

When there was a tabloid fuss about a film, The Lifetaker, you were in that was called pornographic. That was interesting because there’s an expectation that all Blue Peter presenters should be wholesome and lovely, isn’t there?

It’s not real – it’s Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch getting at the BBC and using anything they can to knock out the opposition. It was quite fun; I rather enjoyed my notoriety and got a lot of slaps on the back and fluttering of eyelashes.

Was there an expectation on Blue Peter for you to be a good person? There’s a certain responsibility, isn’t there, being a children’s television presenter?

I think there’s a responsibility being Chief Scout and when you’re on telly. If you are living a high life and pretending that this is how you should live your lives and you’re behaving in a different way, I think there has to be some moral perspective to it. But I don’t think you have to be a perfect human being and you have to be forgiven for your misdemeanours, depending on what they are.

Blue Peter, on the other hand, created a version of a world that you would want to live in, didn’t it?

Blue Peter played to the good side of human nature. It also introduced children gently to the tougher sides of life and the BBC should turn Blue Peter into a global brand. You could project those principles worldwide.

Is the show lost now that’s on CBBC? Are you sad that it doesn’t have the profile that it once had?

I still think it serves a large number of people. The point of delivery has changed. I still think it’s a force for good – its principles have given it its longevity. I mean, you imagine if the BBC tried to pull it? John Humphrys would go mad. Even the Daily Mail would.

Tim Vincent

Tim Vincent was a Blue Peter presenter from 1993 to 1997. For many years he was the presenter of NBC’S entertainment show Access Hollywood.

You devised the new Fringe show about Blue Peter, didn’t you?

I did, yes, with a friend of mine who’s a producer who did an audience with Alex Salmond last year and I was saying that this year is the 60th anniversary of Blue Peter and we should do something. It would have been easy, because there’s always an interest in Blue Peter, to devise a stage show where presenters on high stools talk like Comic Con but because it was Edinburgh and the Fringe I wanted to do something properly. So we wrote a play – the premise was they play themselves, but if you’ve ever seen The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, they play themselves but with a slight edge to it. It’s set in a green room at an awards ceremony where they’ve all accepted a lifetime achievement award for Blue Peter.

You’re poking fun a little bit at the show?

I wanted a tribute to Blue Peter but I didn’t want it to be saccharine. We are poking fun but it’s a sturdy enough tree to be able to rattle a few branches.

What’s your relationship like with the programme?

For 15 years I worked for an entertainment show called Access Hollywood. I lived in New York for three years, I had a fantastic career in America and still do, but if I walk down the street here everyone will know me from Blue Peter. But it’s better to be known for something that was a 20-carat great show and still is rather than “Oh, you were the one who did that awful reality show”.

What do you think was the appeal of the show? It was warm, but it also introduced children to some of the darker sides of life, such as poverty around the world in the campaigns

Oh, yes, one of our first foreign trips when I joined was to go to South Africa and spend a day in Soweto and see what it was like and what was actually happening and doing it in a way that everybody could understand. The thing about Blue Peter is that it’s the longest running children’s show in the world but every couple of years we would do audience research and every single time it would come back and say that half the audience were adults. They were watching because we didn’t patronise and also, if you remember, there wasn’t even Channel 5 when I was on it so everybody tuned in.

The show put the presenters through it?

Yes, I was dropped in the middle of Norway and had to dig a hole in the snow to sleep in overnight – I jumped off helicopters onto boats. But the biggest thing for me, and the thing I had to get good at, was doing the make items – it’s a very technical thing to do – you have four minutes to make something with six cameras trained on you, live, that’s a very technical thing to do.

What do you think of the current status of the programme? Would you agree that it doesn’t seem to have the iconic hold that it once did?

I think television has changed – it’s also not on a prime-time channel, but the essence of the show is the same. I was recently a guest on the show and it’s still the same mix – it’s very well researched and produced and not materialistic or sensational. It’s still

ground-breaking and it was environmentally proactive before anybody. If you think about it, it was all recycling – you didn’t