Digger talks to Peter Purves
Peter Purves was one
third of the most popular line-up of Blue Peter presenters, Peter,
John and Val. In the heyday of the programme in the sixties and
early seventies, these three were compulsive viewing for tens of
millions of Britain's youngsters, showing us how to make things from
old boxes and bits of plastic, discussing the latest trends for kids
or entertaining us with their daring stunts. Peter was also Doctor Who's
companion, Steven Taylor, during the early pioneering William Hartnell
Since leaving Blue
Peter, Peter carved-out a name for himself as a commentator on
events like Crufts, darts and biking and Peter has been very
involved in theatrical production and direction as well as appearing
in pantomimes himself. He achieved a 'great honour'
when he appeared in a parody training video on the Alan Partridge
Digger managed to
catch-up with Peter and here is that interview.
Digger: How did you
get involved with pantomime production?
Peter: It all started when
Johnnie Noakes and I left Blue Peter. We were invited to do
pantomime. Paul Elliott asked us to do Cinderella and it's the
only opportunity I ever get to work in the theatre! And I've
done it ever since. After the first two I started directing and
I've directed over thirty now. This year
I am directing Wendi Peters (Coronation Street) in Snow White.
Digger: And you've
made a name for yourself there. And what's this link you've got
with The Chuckle Brothers?
Peter: Most adult
audiences who come to see them go away saying "I didn't
expect to enjoy that". They get dragged along by the kids because
the kids see them on Chucklevision, which I must say I don't
find particularly funny, but in the theatre, yes, they're
very funny. And I enjoy working with them very much.
Digger: It's a fantastic
genre isn't it, pantomime? You've got the history obviously,
but also there's the fact that there are jokes and lines aimed
squarely at the adults that are over the children's heads but
the children have plenty to enjoy.
Yes, I think you have to put something in for the adults. But
the shows have to stay clean. I get very irritated by smutty
comedians. It alienates the parents as well because they're
embarrassed for their children. "What's that mean,
mum?" It's not good.
Digger: How did
you 'get into' acting and what/when was the defining moment
that made you decide you were an actor?
I was about nine I think. I probably knew well before that
that I wanted to be an actor, growing up in Blackpool. I went
to lots of shows, mostly variety shows but also plays at the
Grand Theatre. I saw all the big stars of the day because
Blackpool had seventeen theatres at that time.
Peter on Doctor Who
and John Noakes
on Blue Peter
..... I'd go to the shows for kids on the pier on Saturday
mornings and occasionally I'd get the opportunity to take
part. I was always the first on stage. It was a showing off
Peter: Oh, no no.
Well, yes, but not in those circumstances - shyness is a strange
thing, you can be shy and extrovert. I think I am, but
there you go. Early on I found that I liked what happened in theatres and
on stage. And when I was nine I was cast
in our school play and I played Robin Hood. You can't have
better than that, can you?!! The following year I played
Alan Breck in Kidnapped and again you can't get a better
part for a kid.
Digger: Was Robin
Hood on telly at the time with Richard Greene?
No, we didn't have telly then. I'm very old! (Digger
laughs) We got our first TV in 1953 to watch the Coronation
and the cup final.
Digger: Oh, you're
one of THOSE families! I've heard about them.
What was I?.......I was fourteen in 1953......
Digger: So it was
a great time to be growing up in Blackpool?
... Absolutely. Stanley Matthews was at his peak. I went to school
with Jimmy Arnfield, who unfortunately has got mouth cancer.
It's rather sad............... so school plays started me off
and from then I wanted to be on the stage. That's the be
all and end of it. As soon as I realised people could make a
living from it, that's what I wanted to do. I remember being
laughed at by my elocution teacher at school. "What do
you want to be?" "An actor." "Ha ha.
Fine!" And then he proceeded to put on rather bad mini
productions of Shakespeare.
I'm sure he didn't get much further whereas you showed him a
thing or two, didn't you?
Being an elocution teacher in Blackpool was hardly the
pinnacle, was it?
Digger: The irony
was that in the early sixties film and TV were falling over
themselves for accents with all the kitchen sink dramas.
Oh yeah, yeah, funnily enough when I started acting I didn't
have much of an accent, I forced it away. I've got a bit of an
accent but it's probably nothing like as strong as it was when
I was at school. I consciously didn't speak with an accent. My
grandmother spoke beautiful English. She used to stop me
flattening my vowels. I'd say "Bla-a-ackpool" and
she'd say "No, it's Blackpool."
Who were/are your acting inspirations, both male and female?
Well..............Marlon Brando. On the Waterfront was
probably the most inspirational thing I've ever seen. Em.....
it's very difficult!..... Funnily enough I loved Eve Marie Saint in
the same movie. Funny how I grew up seeing and enjoying lots
of movies - I mean I was very small when I saw Gone With The
Digger: That was
Well, I didn't see it in 1939 as I was a bit young!.... Obviously
people like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot....
Peter with his
as Steven Taylor
in Doctor Who
and with Val and John on Blue Peter
Digger: They had
some very sexy ladies in those days.
Absolutely. And then early on contemporary people like John
Hurt who came out of drama school and was two or three years
older than me I think. And I was always impressed with him. And Bill
Hartnell in his way, he made a number of good movies. This
Sporting Life with Richard Harris. All of these people come to
mind although I've never been a hero worshipper - I'd just get
on and do it myself anyway. But things like On The Waterfront
I thought "I wanna be that, I wanna be a film star."
fame as a Doctor Who assistant and then as a presenter on
Blue Peter, what were the positives and negatives of being
hugely famous nationally?
Peter: There weren't
many negatives really. The press didn't intrude much.
Wills said the same, she said we weren't bothered when we went
into a pub.
Absolutely right. The fame game had not started then and the
cult of celebrity. Which is just as well because that gets in
the way of doing good work. You want to be known for the work
rather than you.
are your enduring memories of Doctor Who?
Oh, I enjoyed a lot of it. It was hard work - we did them in a
week and with all the technical requirements of it which were
actually greater then than now. They do them in short takes
these days but we'd start rehearsing on the Monday, do a
technical rehearsal with the technical boffins, lighting and
sound man and various studio personnel and the producer and
director (who'd obviously been there all week) on the Friday.
on the Saturday you'd rehearse in the studio all day, camera
rehearsals with a break for tea or dinner and then we recorded
it Saturday night without breaks. The only time we had a break
was if we were bringing the Tardis in or out. The 'Special
Effect'!! (Digger laughs.) And the production levels were so
huge then because the director had to be quite brilliant. It's
not like a director nowadays where they shoot it once and then
shoot it from another angle and then another and then cuts his
best bits together. That's how they do it. He had to know the
shots beforehand and he knew if it was a close-up, a big
close-up, a two-shot, a three-shot, a group shot or whatever.
And of course our wide shots were never that wide. It was
important because the cameramen had to know which lens to use,
they had a turret on the front of their camera with four
lenses on it. When the camera wasn't being used they had to
adjust to the next lens they needed. They were virtually the
original cameras with very slow lenses and fixed focus.
The Chuckle Brothers
Digger: I remember
those cameras on the intro to Grandstand. Programmes
from that time did tend to be very close-up didn't they?
They had to be. And consequently, your sets were very small.
What was the point of having a big set? In those days the sets
were mostly, or seemed mostly cardboard. They didn't move all
the time like they did on Crossroads, but they were on the
getting confused with Crossroads. Someone did some research on
hundreds of hours of tape of Doctor Who and found five seconds of
Yeah, yeah, that's about right.
How much fun was it being on Blue Peter and how would you
describe your fellow presenters? What were your funniest
moments? What were your scariest? If you'd like to take this
A general blanket Blue Peter question?! To actually start
doing it was absolutely terrifying. It was live, when the
music started I rather wished I hadn't signed the contract.
(Digger laughs) It was that scary.
Digger: Val had
been around for a while with Christopher Trace.
Oh yes, Val had been there quite a while and Johnnie but he
never got any better at remembering his lines and all that. He was always hopeless.
Digger: Which was
part of his charm.
Exactly. And noone ever rebuked him for it or should they. And
my position was that I arrived and nobody explained that I had
been engaged as the heavy foil to his action man. It would
have made no difference as I still would have taken the job
but I was a bit disappointed when I realised it. I would have
liked a bit more of the action.
Digger: Have you
got that sort of physical courage?
Em.........yes, not quite the same as Johnnie. I don't think
he had any fear. I don't think he thought about the dangers
whereas I thought about them and then did it. Johnnie had a fear
of one thing and that was horses. There were a couple of films
where I stood in for him.
Digger: I can
remember that famous one they used to do every year on the
boat where the cadets would climb up the masts to the crow's
I couldn't have done that. I wouldn't have done that. You see,
John is small, five feet eight inches or something like that
and I'm six feet and big guys like me don't do things like gymnastics.
They tend to be lighter and more compact if you like. I used
to do all the rock climbing films and drove racing cars and
things like that. The person who's remembered for doing all
that is Johnnie because he did some spectacular ones. Like
climbing Nelson's column. That was seriously scary. We both
turned down a submarine escape and said we don't want to do
that. I turned it down because I thought I would have trouble
with equalising the pressure on my ears, even though I'm a good swimmer.
I got on very well with Johnnie, very well with Val and very
well with Lesley. We had a good time and a good rapport and I
think it showed.
Digger: What were
your funniest moments?
Well, the elephant! That was brilliant - it was live in the
studio and you can hear tittering and see some camera shake as
well. There were lots of funny moments on the programme and we
had some good laughs. One or two funny films that the
producers ultimately frowned upon. Sergeant Major Hutton from
the parachute regiment - we did a film about orienteering and
we did a film about being a waiter so we did a film called the
waiter's orienteering race with Sergeant Major Hutton
appearing out of trees saying "That way!" and then a
camel and a couple of bunny girls from the Playboy club turned
up. It was hated by the producers but everyone who saw it that
I heard from said it was the BEST film we had ever done.
Digger: How would
you describe swinging London in the 60s, what are your
happiest recollections of that period and who were the most
interesting people you met?
Crikey! Well they say if you can remember the sixties you
weren't there. Well I can remember the sixties. It was a great
time to be in London - the music scene was fantastic. I've
never been a clubber - actually that's not true I used to go to
jazz clubs but that was in the late 50s. I enjoyed Humph and
I'd go along to the Albert Hall and bands like Creedence
Clearwater Revival and to see Clapton, Cream, Steppenwolf,
Delaney and Bonnie on tour. Just great, great bands. My
favourite bands - I never liked Dylan when he was acoustic but
I liked him when he went electric although the aficionados
said "Ugh!" and he has one of the best backing bands
called The Band and they made one of my top twenty all-time
favourite movies called The Last Waltz which Martin Scorsese
directed and it's about their last concert in L.A. If you've
never seen that movie it's a movie to see. The names that are
in that concert are fantastic. The 60s were enjoyable - I was
27 in 1967 when I started on Blue Peter and I left it just
after my 40th birthday. These days they start it much younger.
like me we grew up with you guys and you were like members of
the family. The first thing you'd do when coming home from
school was switching on Blue Peter.
You have to bear in mind that there were only three channels then
and if you missed it you couldn't see it again and your
friends would all be talking about what you'd missed. It was
never repeated. At that time people couldn't record things. I remember
demonstrating the first domestic video recorder on Blue Peter
in about 1976.
Digger: They say
Ringo Starr had the first one in the UK.
I was probably about the third or fourth.
remember those first ones with the big heavy clanking
It was a wood case. It was a Philips
or Grundig machine.
How many Blue Peters were wiped by the BBC
in one of those 'culls'?
I don't think any. Most of Doctor Who was wiped - about thirty
my forty four episodes were wiped but I don't think any Blue
Peter. Much of
our stuff was recorded on two-inch tape and when we went to
colour it was one-inch tape and much easier to store. The old
two-inch tapes they used to wipe because they'd re-used them. It
wasn't just profligate, but yes in retrospect it was. Our
archives disappeared - wonderful things like a brilliant
series that Alan Bennett did in the sixties called On The
Margin of which not one frame remains. It was stunningly funny
stuff. He is an absolute genius and became a great playwright
but at the time was a great performer.
Digger: So what
are your biggest accomplishments to-date and what are your
don't rate my accomplishments at all really. I was delighted
to do ten and a half years of Blue Peter. I was thrilled to
present Kick Start. I am delighted to still be presenting
Crufts after 30 years. There's a lot of things I've enjoyed
and had fun with but I don't think I have any great
accomplishments. I've been lucky enough to have a career in
the business I wanted to do, that's my greatest achievement. I
don't think there's anything I'd change. There are perhaps one
or two bridges I burned that I shouldn't have but I don't
worry about those. I never look back anyway, I only talk about
these things when I'm asked.
Digger: Do you get
paid when they show this elephant scene from Blue Peter?
There's quite a few things like that which I get paid royalties
for. Normally some company buys these programmes and clips for
two or five years but we do get a royalty.
I know that the session musicians who recorded in the sixties
were paid a session fee and that was it. They got seven
shillings or whatever it was and nothing else after that even if
the song is played three million times.
You had to write it or be the principal singer to make money. A
lot of people who were one hit wonders have continued to make
money from it because it was such a good record.
Reg Presley from The Troggs made a fortune out of Love Is All
Around which was released by Wet Wet Wet 30 years after he wrote
and recorded the original. Rod Argent's Time Of The Season is
the most played song on American radio - over three million
airplays and rising, and Rod gets a royalty for every
play.................. So who would you like to have worked with
that you haven't done and on what sort of projects?
Well no, I never aspired to be a Shakespearian actor so there's
nothing in that line. I'd have liked to have made movies but
never got into the movie business at all, so that IS a regret.
In terms of people, those I have worked with I have thoroughly enjoyed
and I never thought "Oh gosh if I could have got that part
I could have played with so and so". I never think like
Are dogs your biggest passion?
Peter's first appearance on
Doctor Who 1965
Peter: Yes they are.
We're lucky in this country, aren't we, in that we have Crufts and
the Boat Race and Wimbledon and all of these traditions and events?
Oh yes. I love all sport. I don't normally do it, I normally take
the dogs out but I had a couch potato weekend this weekend and it
was fantastic watching the television sport.
You don't have anybody nagging you saying this and that needs to be
Yes, but I'm watching television! I do enough stuff around the house
so this weekend I watched the tennis, a bit of the Tour De France, a
bit of the golf.
What are your favourite TV and music and film?
I like a lot of the film noir from the 30s and 40s. Casablanca, the
Raymond Chandler scripts, The Big Sleep. Great, great movies. What
else? Funnily enough I went and saw La Vie En Rose last night and it
was staggeringly wonderful film. Marion Cotillard is stunning as
Edith Piaf and ought to win an Oscar for her performance. Movies of
all time, I do like one or two musicals like Singing In The Rain,
the definitively beautifully made and produced wonderful
performances. I like a lot of Fred Astaire's films. My wife was
originally a dancer and singer. In terms of stage although it's terribly
uncool to say so I think Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Evita and Tim Rice's
lyrics are just fabulous and my wife played it in London for 18
months. It's stunning when that is sung wonderfully.
Where are you based these days?
Because I'm in Northampton and I know you used to live up here. You
seem to be moving around the country like me.
(Laughs) Yes, well I've got no roots. We see a house and say
"We like that one, we'll have that." We have a lot of good
friends in this area so we're not likely to move.
What makes you laugh?
I love good sight gags. Going back to the films, Buster Keaton - I
love The General and The Navigator. Because the range of site gags
in there is amazing. Consequently I like people like Jacques Tati -
I think he's remarkably animated. I prefer Keaton to Chaplin because
I found Chaplin rather unsubtle. I love Laurel and Hardy. I love the
What's that Marx Bothers film with the mirror gag?
It's Duck Soup. I like A Night At The Opera when they're all on the
liner and in the cabin. There's about 25 people in the room and the
maid comes to the door and says "Can I clean the room?"
and Groucho says (Groucho impersonation) "I doubt you can even
get in the room." And then 25 people tumble out into the
corridor. I just like that sort of stuff. I like to like people and
the reason I liked Keaton was because he was so good-looking as
well. Totally believable and I thought he was real. I used to love
circus, not the animals acts particularly but in Blackpool we were
fortunate to have a clown called Charlie Cairoli and Charlie
was very, very funny.
I remember his catchphrase. He'd say "Right Children?" and
they'd all reply "Right Charlie."
That's right, because he had his own show didn't he? But that was
not the same as seeing him live in the circus where he did wonderful
slosh scenes. That's why I like pantomime because you can do that
sort of stuff too which is always good.
It's a peculiarly British thing, isn't it, pantomime? But it feels
as though it's got an Italian influence or something going on there
What's this thing about women dressing-up as men and men dressing-up
Oh, I don't know! I don't go there! I've no idea why it works, but
the best dames don't look like women. People like Les Dawson, there
was never any thought that it wasn't Les Dawson and he was a master
at it. That's sort of why I never liked Danny La Rue, I don't
particularly like that side of it. But I used to enjoy John Inman
playing the dame in pantomime and directed him a few times.
There's something about a woman in tights slapping her thigh that's
quite erotic too.
Doesn't do it for me!
What make you angry?
Stupidity, I don't suffer fools very well. This current government
who have just lied and cheated over the past ten years. I get pretty
angry. It's not that I'm a great Tory, I've always been a Labour
voter . The two parties are indistinguishable these days and have betrayed
every principal and sadly the one person who could support my view
in the Labour party is the one I could stand least of all and that
was Prescott. A total idiot and he used to drive me crazy and I
couldn't understand how he retained his place in the party. Religion
makes me angry but I don't get overheated about it but I really
dislike it and am a confirmed atheist and I believe most of the
world's troubles are caused by people who have some abounding faith
in some stupid superstition. It also makes me sad and depresses me
immensely that people can be so stupid. Defending this, that and the
other based on total myths and nonsense.
Who would you have at a dinner party with guests from any time, real
or fictional, dead or alive?
(Thinks long and hard)............... Brando MIGHT be there. I
didn't like what Brando became but I loved what he was. I certainly
at one time would have liked Jimmy Greaves to have been there having
been a Spurs supporter for many years. He was just brilliant and
sadly he wasn't there when Spurs won the 'double'. Maybe I would
have Stan Matthews too. I met him in front of our hotel when I was
six or seven in Blackpool - he owned a hotel a few doors up from
ours. And he was playing wonderfully for Blackpool at the time so
that would be before the 1948 Cup Final. I think I would have
enjoyed Marilyn Monroe - she was delicious and I think she would
have been great fun and a great party animal. Having just seen this
film last night, I think I would have liked Edith Piaf, a strange
woman and she probably would have driven everyone insane.
But it would have only been for one evening............ You do need
a few people to get things going.
The Marx Brothers
Oh, absolutely. I would have liked
Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick around my dinner table. Woody
because I have always thought him a genius, and in his early
movies, (and radio recordings) was absolutely hilarious. Kubrick
because I don't think he ever shot a bad frame of film. 2001, A
Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove are two of my top twenty films of
all time. And Buster Keaton too would have had to be there - a
flawed genius but the funniest, cleverest silent screen actor of
them all. To hear those three interact would be an absolute delight.
Good party!.... So what would you still like to achieve?
I don't have any particular ambitions left. I'd still like to be a
film star but I don't have a cat in hell's chance of that happening.
I don't have a burning ambition. I'd like to work a little bit more
than I do, but at my age it's not so bad that I'm still earning a
bob or two.
What do you think of children's TV today compared to the 60s and
I think for the reasons I mentioned earlier, how the directors
worked on Doctor Who, it is severely under-produced compared to what
we used to do. Although Blue Peter still manages to sustain a level
that seems reasonable. I don't see it very often but when I do I
think that's okay. I think that the producers and the people working
on the shows then were more skilled and had more experience at their
fingertips whereas today if you can point a camera in the right direction
and you can edit properly then you can do just about anything.
It's very easy to make TV programmes now whereas it was very hard.
I'm not saying it shouldn't be easy, but the people now are not as
good. Sometimes it does show. I don't like the lackadaisical
approach where things aren't scripted or rehearsed and the people performing
or presenting are just left to waffle their way through it. I just
don't think it's good enough and I think people deserve better than
that but there's not the money for it to be better than that.
I've noticed some terrible mistakes on captions.
Terrible. They're often put on live aren't they? And that can be a
I also get emails from TV and newspaper 'researchers' asking for
help and their research consists of typing in a word in Google,
finding my website and emailing me for help or information. I tell
them my hourly rate and I don't usually hear from them again.
Why should you do their work for nothing?
What would Val, John and Peter have made
of the internet, iPods and Sat Nav if they had been given a sneak
glimpse of the future back in the 60s?
We'd have loved them and we'd have been the first to show them, a
bit like Tomorrow's World. I can't keep up with the technology now
though. I can't handle an iPod. Sat Nav's fine although I don't need
it because I've been everywhere now. It pinpoints the odd house for
me. But we'd have loved them all then and had great fun
You could work an
I can't be bothered. It will hold 3,000 records but I haven't got
But I have one that holds 1,000 and I have
all of my favourite tracks on it. My whole collection. Every track I
like and it's very handy.
I would lose patience with having to load them up. There's a lot of
music I would like to hear again though.
Well, if you got into iTunes which is
Apple's music 'repository', you'll find it's quite fun just to
browse and remember stuff you used to like and download them at 79p
per track. It's all there.
Maybe you've convinced me to have a look. It won't hurt me.
What projects do you have lined-up?
I have some big dog shows to do, run by Notcutts Garden Centres. But
in the meantime I have a holiday and I have five dogs that keep me
busy. I take three of them to the beach every day and one's very old
so it 's shortly going to be two. Even in the bad weather we manage
to get down there.
Well Peter, many thanks for your time, it
has been very enjoyable and it's very much appreciated, as has been
your work over the years.
Thank you. You're welcome.
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