THE SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT

Not too long ago, this flagship (a-ha-ha!) BBC children's programme celebrated its 40th anniversary. The Beeb's own web site marked this unprecedented achievement with numerous articles and archive features (mostly supplied, no doubt, by current Producer - and ex-Dr Who Magazine writer - Richard Marson). However, all that remains of this undertaking is a page of official biogs on past presenters, and that's no fun. Here therefore, for posterity, is a run down of all those to have graced our screens over the years, plus a fair smattering of the tabloid scandal and ill-informed gossip that has blighted their careers. Plus! Now add to our list of definitive 'Peter moments... Arbitrary Cream ratings have been assigned.

CHRISTOPHER TRACE, LEILA WILLIAMS, ANITA WEST, VALERIE SINGLETON OBE, JOHN NOAKES, PETER PURVES, LESLEY JUDD, SIMON GROOM, CHRISTOPHER WENNER, TINA HEATH, SARAH GREENE, PETER DUNCAN, JANET ELLIS, MICHAEL SUNDIN, MARK CURRY, CARON KEATING, YVETTE FIELDING, JOHN LESLIE, DIANE-LOUISE JORDAN, ANTHEA TURNER, TIM VINCENT, STUART MILES, KATY HILL, ROMANA D'ANNUNZIO, KONNIE HUQ, RICHARD BACON, SIMON THOMAS, MATT BAKER, LIZ BARKER, ZOE SALMON, GETHIN JONES...

Christopher Trace (1958-67)
25 years old (going on 40), Trace was a former army officer, turned actor. Largely, his duties involved playing with train sets, and then (allegedly) a Scandinavian girl during the first Blue Peter Expedition. Trace returned to Blue Peter in 1978 to launch the Outstanding Endeavour Awards and died in 1992.

% Dull

Leila Williams (1958-62)
21 years old at the outset and the former Miss Great Britain 1957. Oooh! Saucy! Dolls were her territory. Owns pubs now (recently retired as landlady of The Royal Oak in Surbiton).

% We want photos!

Anita West (1962-62)
Couldn't hack the pace of a once-a-week, fifteen minute show, so left after four months. Returned triumphant to star in the Blue Peter Pantomime of 1998 as a Nativity play schoolteacher. The panto, incidentally, went embarrassingly over-budget.

% Something of a jinx, maybe?

Valerie Singleton OBE (1962-72)
Joined the show as it went twice-weekly, and saw the arrival of new series editor Biddy Baxter. Did a few special assignments after leaving, mainly from Venice and that. Covered up the Petra debacle pretty convincingly too (the original puppy died after just one show and was covertly replaced by a lookalike)!

% The first lady, really

John Noakes (1965-78)
Grand old man of the 'Peter, now rather disgruntled about his perceived low pay cheque at the time. Returning many times, though (recently for the opening of the "Box For The Year 2000"), Noakes lives on a boat in St. Ives, or something. Famously lost a dispute with the Beeb over use of Shep in adverts for dog food and, in later years, tearfully revealed death of same on FAX (qv.).

% Almost definitive {see Matt Baker below)

Peter Purves (1967-78)
Quieter, more cerebral, supply teacher-like foil for action man Noakes, ex-Dr Who companion Purves often ended up studio-bound. Famously resisted being involved in the bringing up of the so-called 'Blue Peter baby', Daniel ("...it's not a bloody man's job!") until ordered to do so by Baxter. A fixture at CRUFTS for many years, he now edits "Top Dog" magazine.

% Stoic

Lesley Judd (1972-79)
Inherited the kindly aunt role thanklessly from Singleton, and stuck with it for a commendable time. Duties involved mainly the "makes" (as the loo-roll, double-sided sticky tape constructions are called in the business) and historical re-enactments. Was also the mole in THE ADVENTURE GAME (qv.)

% Erm, kindly

Simon Groom (1978-86)
Outdoors type Groom spent many of his 'Peter days showing viewers around his parents' Derbyshire farm, accompanied by the imaginatively-named golden retriever, Goldie. His legacy includes playing the drumroll on Mike Oldfield's rehash of the signature tune, drunkenly stealing a giant inflatable figure from a Japanese restaurant, and being interviewed for "Playboy".

% Balding

Christopher Wenner (1978-80)
Whence he came, we dunno. Wenner tried, but failed, to add some action man machismo to the programme, abseiling down Television Centre and going hang gliding. Even Janet Ellis was to beat that later with her parachute jump. Was therefore adjudged by Biddy Baxter to be ill-suited to the programme.

% Transient

Tina Heath (1979-80)
Starting the lazy trend for Blue Peter presenters being plucked from other children's programmes (in this case LIZZIE DRIPPING qv.), Heath at least made television history by having an ultrasound scan of her unborn child (named Jemma, as it happens) live on the programme. Then left before the breastfeeding could be featured.

% Matronly

Sarah Greene (1980-83)
Where to begin? Urban myth relates that there is a university pool table in Hull commemorating Greene's achievements thereon with the local rugby team. Arrived at the 'Peter chubby-cheeked and brunette, fled as a blonde saucepot to SATURDAY SUPERSTORE (qv.) before marrying MIKE SMITH and spoiling everything. Thankfully, photos of Greene (and younger sister LAURA) in Victorian underwear survive.

% Photogenic

Peter Duncan (1980-84) (1985-86)
Despite the dodgy porn film background (and we don't mean FLASH GORDON), sometime actor Duncan gamely attempted to step into the vacant Noakes shoes. Eventually found his niche as a clothes horse, sporting a natty green and white check suit for the majority of his tenure (it was designed by a viewer in a competition). Ran the London Marathon.

% Daring

Janet Ellis (1983-87)
Graduating from JIGSAW and memorably suffering an asthma attack half-way up Ayres Rock with Simon Groom, la Ellis achieved notoriety for daring to conceive a child (no, not chanteuse daughter Sophie) out of wedlock. Much adverse publicity ("VERY Blue Peter" screeched the Sun headline) led to her leaving "by mutual agreement".

% Still knocking about the Beeb

Michael Sundin (1984-85)
Gateshead trampoline gymnast Sundin arrived on the 'Peter fresh from a film role in RETURN TO OZ (as Tic-Toc). Most of his items were, hence, behind-the-scenes films at the Henson creature workshop or similar. Was replaced by a returning Duncan. Died, aged 28, of an AIDs related illness.

% Unfortunate

Mark Curry (1986-89)
Professional speccy dipstick Curry always seemed a second-best choice Blue Peter presenter, looking somewhat too old to be acting like such a kid. Terminally accident prone, he provided many reels of "hilarious mishaps" for ALRIGHT ON THE NIGHT and like programmes, reputedly getting his nob out on more than one occasion.

% From the Timmy Mallett school of broadcasting

Caron Keating (1986-90)
Gloria Hunniford's daughter, don't forget, Keating dragged the show into the 'Eighties, with her beribboned, highlighted hair and innovative fashion-victim dress sense. Became positive '80s "action girl" role model for viewers. Post-Peter, married her agent, had kids and tackled 'serious' issues in boring trouser-suited daytime TV roles. Died, aged 41, in 2004 after a long off-screen battle with cancer.

% Got the dads watching again, mind

Yvette Fielding (1987-92)
SEAVIEW (qv.) refugee Fielding became the youngest ever Blue Peter presenter when she joined aged 18. She soon acquired the tag "brave" when it was revealed on the programme that she suffered from a skin disorder, earning her a GOING LIVE (qv.) S.O.S. Star Award (for 'Top Lady') from viewers. Now married to a BBC cameraman and sprogging.

% A rough diamond, at best

John Leslie (1989-94)
Favourite of the tabloid press, Leslie has had more dish-the-dirt articles published than most Blue Peter presenters, most of which paint him as something of a lady's man (in the case of one allegation, two lesbian ladies in a Birmingham Travellodge - an encounter which ended only in disappointment for the lanky Scot). Kept Blue Peter badges in his car with which to bribe speed-trap coppers.

% Dated Catherine Zeta Jones, too, of course

Diane-Louise Jordan (1990-96)
The programme's first (gasp!) black presenter, Jordan was imported from BBC TWO's CORNERS. One from the "Don't you know who I am?" school of TV presenters, we hear, she is famously short in stature (which made for interesting framing of her and Leslie). Quit to present SONGS OF PRAISE.

% Religious

Anthea Turner (1992-94)
Between UP2U (qv.) and GMTV, Turner squeezed in a couple of years on Blue Peter and managed a lively dialogue of innuendo with Tim Vincent. Developed a suspiciously close bond with Bonnie, the Blue Peter dog (they slept together). Celebrity Big Brother appearance failed to revive career.

% Magazine covers: Tatler nude with snake, Hello with chocolate bar, etc.

Tim Vincent (1993-97)
Former CHILDREN'S WARD star Vincent sported a series of embarrassing hairstyles during his three-year stint yet was remarkably scandal-free. Went on to do THE CLOTHES SHOW, SHORT CHANGE and FULLY BOOKED in a pretty, nondescript way, then a bit more acting (EMMERDALE) and regular appearances on SO GRAHAM NORTON.

% A bit of a yawn but, hey girls, look at those cheekbones!

Stuart Miles (1994-99)
According to BBC sources, Miles fell out with the production team after his application to become the show's editor was rejected. According to an interview in The Guardian, he wanted to go off and do more challenging things. Like HOLIDAY, DIAL-A-DATE and, erm... hello? Hello? The phone's gone dead.

% Career move lunacy

Katy Hill (1995-2000)
Hill rose to stardom after a period as secretary to the Head Of Children's Programmes at the BBC. A little on the beefy side, with an endearing speech impediment, she is mainly remembered for playing rugby in the programme's opening titles, and getting married in "Hello!" (then separating from her childhood-sweetheart husband some months later).

% Ditched from Saturday kids' telly.

Romana D'Annunzio (1996-98)
Scot D'Annunzio joined after a chance meeting with editor Lewis Bronze at the Edinburgh Festival (though she didn't pursue the offer of "work experience" for three years). Reportedly became bored with the show quite quickly and went back to theatre.

% Serious

Konnie Huq (1997-)
Now amazingly the senior member of the team, teetotal non-smoker Huq was presenting Channel Five's MILKSHAKE morning shift before moving to the BBC. She also interviewed Neil Kinnock for NEWSROUND (qv) when she was about 14.

% A bit shouty, though

Richard Bacon (1997-98)
Now all but totally written out of the programme's history, Bacon's well-documented drug error actually resulted in an on-air apology by the Head Of Children's Programmes. Turned up on THE BIG BREAKFAST looking remarkably wide awake, before finding natural home on BBC Choice gameshows. Reportedly just missed the chance to front LIQUID NEWS.

% Still dating Konnie, though

Simon Thomas (1999-2005)
Ready replacement for the coke-snaffling Bacon, Thomas played the Purves to Baker's Noakes with supply-teacher aplomb, whilst his apparently non-ironic declaration of admiration for Shaky's Merry Christmas Everyone edged him up a notch in our book. Like Baker, always ready to whip on the lederhosen or a frock for the sake of a visual gag, thus deserving a fate better than Crufts, and we suppose donning a neck-tie for Sky Sports is indeed that.

% Stolid. But at least he's not John Leslie

Matt Baker (1999-)
Dons the advent crown as the once and future king of the 'Peter, combining as he does the essential qualities of all the best previous BP fellas - freeform comedy (Noakes), dad owns farm (Groom), comes from County Durham (er, Sundin, well kind of). Would be first to flick Vs at lorry drivers on BP filming trips. Starring role in 2001's absurd Blue Peter Quest, wherein he had to lip-synch in drag to Blondie and look at Peter Duncan's arse, confirmed his coronation. The best BP presenter ever, fact.

% "Lovely stuff!"

Liz Barker (2000-2006)
Marking the return of the trademark 'vision of shy loveliness' to the BP sofa-units, the ex-Lion TV runner and librarian Barker easily lived down memories of that Dave Hill haircut to become the big-sister de jour for viewers everwhere. Nonethless, the memory of her as a serving wench in The Quest will live long in the memory. Where should we send these stamps?

% Student fave

Zoe Salmon (2004-)
She came in to cover Liz's maternity leave and stayed. Embroiled in that Red Hand of Ulster rumpus, of course, but the girl from Bangor is not half bad. Okay, she's no Liz or Konnie but she's aimable enough at the makes and that, and - obviously - brings back memories of Caron Keating. Which isn't a wholly bad thing.

% File under: "One For the Dads"

Gethin Jones (2005-)
He stepped up to the plate when Smudge died ("Cats are free spirits") and has been spotted engaging in some good old fashioned horse-play with Matt, so we're saying Gethin's shaping up pretty well so far. Could do with being a bit less slick, mind.

% Reliable stoodge for Matt

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