Cultural Shorthand (or British things I’ve had to explain to my non-British resident friends) #1: Blue Peter


Simon Thomas wearing his Blue Peter badge

Simon Thomas wearing his Blue Peter badge

Last night Simon Thomas, ex-Blue Peter presenter, was in my flat, building a bed in my flatmate’s bedroom.
If you are British you will possibly be fairly excited about this piece of information and want to know some more. How did he come to be in our flat? Why was he building a bed for my flatmate? Is he as gorgeous in real life as he looked on TV?
If you’re not British you will possibly be asking what on earth is Blue Peter?
Because Blue Peter is a piece of British culture we take for granted. Mention it in conversation and it’s like shorthand for a whole pile of feelings and ideas – the routine of childhood, wholesomeness, DIY, papier mache and sticky back plastic, Lewis Bronze, parachute jumping, badges, recycling campaigns, jumble sales, pets and gardening. Having a Blue Peter badge is as culturally pertinent as getting an MBE from the Queen.
There are a whole load of things I keep discovering like this, so I decided to blog them down as an aid to the foreign visitor.
Blue Peter presenters were such a fixture of our childhood psyches that we hold a special affection for them in our hearts. We were told when we were young it’s very hard to get a job as a Blue Peter presenter and lots of children (including me) aspired to be one. Everyone has their shortlist of favourites: top five male presenters, top five female presenters, top five Blue Peter moments (Mark Curry knocking the Lego head off a Lego sculpture, Anthea Turner building Tracy Island, Goldie’s death…) top five dogs, top tortoise (RIP George).
Simon Thomas was a little after my time but I still watched him with my sisters occasionally in the years he was on Blue Peter. He definitely falls into the top five fittest presenters category. And he goes to my flatmates’ church. They are friends with Simon Thomas. They know his wife. They get given beds when we move flat by him and he comes over to build them for them, no doubt using some of his DIY skills from his BP presenting days.
And all this is wasted on them because one is Australian and the other is Canadian. They don’t understand that Simon Thomas doesn’t just work in TV. He worked on Blue Peter. That makes him one of the chosen few, a glorious band of beautiful people. They don’t understand why their British friends start stammering and go all coy when they go to a service at their church and see him there. Because not only is he as gorgeous in real life as he is on telly. He’s famous. In a ‘famous to children and therefore massively famous in our minds although probably not in reality but it’s still makes you want to giggle excitedly’ kind of way. Blue Peter presenters were as much a part of our childhood lives as the kids you used to play with in the back alley and the first person you ever kissed.
It’s cultural shorthand, and whether you loved the programme or hated it, if you grew up in the UK you know what Blue Peter means to us as a nation. And if you’re not British, you have no idea, and it’s almost impossible to explain.


2 responses to “Cultural Shorthand (or British things I’ve had to explain to my non-British resident friends) #1: Blue Peter

  1. Pingback: Best of 2009 – the shortlist « Me and the Girl from Clapham·

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