When I was a child I loved watching Blue Peter. I enjoyed everything about it: the presenters, the animals, the BBC garden, the Special Assignments to foreign countries, the dignified way we as children were addressed, and the sense of a little community that emerged over the years. I even wrote letters, sent pictures and received not just a blue and white Blue Peter Badge, but a silver one as well (showing off, sorry).
Of course I quickly grew out of it, as I'm afraid I was rather a serious child and didn't appreciate the wackiness that began to permeate children's tv, but Peter, John, Val, and later Lesley, became like friends to me in the early 1970s, especially as I spent a long time in hospital and stuck at home recovering from an orthopaedic operation.
The thing I loved most about Blue Peter was the 'making' slot that was featured on the programme: toys, games, things to eat, useful household items and decorations crafted from eggboxes, squeezy bottles, string, yoghurt pots and sticky backed plastic. These were demonstrated on live tv by the frequently ham-fisted presenters who muddled through the instructions getting glue, glitter and flour everywhere and then proudly announcing 'and here's one I made earlier', whilst producing a perfect, ready-made version from under the counter with a flourish.
Being a creative child, I looked forward to the making slot feverishly and was always hoarding toilet rolls and shiny foil paper 'just in case'. When I was little one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day was 'cutting out and sticking', when my mother would make a panful of flour and water paste for me and allow me to cut out the pretty ladies from last season's Grattan catalogue.
Last year Blue Peter, astonishingly, was fifty years old, and I was given a book of children's letters to the programme as a Christmas present. It was only whilst browsing through it that I discovered there was one amazing woman behind every single one of those Blue Peter makes: a 'housewife' from Portsmouth, Margaret Parnell, who had written in with an idea for crepe paper hats and so impressed the producers that she got the job of thinking up ideas for years and years worth of programmes. Yet there is almost no information about her! She is one of those invisible people whose name goes down almost as myth but remain silent in the background.
However, I did find one article about this lovely lady, an interview published last August in the Times, so at least one other person has obviously shared my curiosity for this great talent who shaped our childhood days. Do read it, it is most inspiring, and takes me back to a much gentler, happier, less acquisitive time that I often wish to return to in these crazy times. In some ways the work of this lady bridges the gap between the make-do-and-mend spirit of wartime and the craft revolution we are experiencing today, as so many of us feel the freedom to reconnect with crafts first encountered as young girls.
So, please join with me in raising your glasses (or cups of tea and coffee) to the marvellous Mrs Margaret Parnell!
Since this has been rather a long post I will wait till the weekend to tell you about another massive influence on my creativity as a child: the brilliant, beautiful, beloved book Something to Do by Septima. Don't miss it!