This week Whovian Leap sidesteps out of the Whoniverse. But not too far!
“Do you want to see a show in Edinburgh?” asks my Scottish friend.
“You know Peter Purves?” I reply.
“Yes, wasn’t he in Blue Peter?”
“Yes, but also Doctor Who! He’s appearing in a show called “Once Seen on Blue Peter” at the Fringe. It’s a celebration of sixty years of the TV programme.”
“Do you want to go?” she enquires and realises immediately she has asked a silly question. She is fully aware of my Whovian dabblings. Of course I want to go and see Peter Purves!
The following day we collect the tickets. We are a bit early at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms so we wait in the bar and have a drink. I look around to see there if there are any celebs. I don’t recognise any. Most of the crowd look slightly silver-haired, but as excited as little children. There is a Blue Peter buzz in the air. And then – all of a sudden – we are ushered in.
As we take our seats, familiar children’s songs of old play, causing the excitement to mount further. I look at the stage. It shows a “green room”. Then, from a blue on-stage door an actor storms in. But it isn’t Peter Purves…
In best River Song tradition, I won’t reveal too many spoilers. “Once Seen on Blue Peter” stars former presenters of the show Tim Vincent, Janet Ellis, Mark Curry, Peter Duncan and of course Peter Purves. As they walked onto the stage one by one, we all clapped wildly.
I couldn’t believe it. I was in the same room as legendary companion Steven Taylor, not to mention the hilarious Morton Dill. My mind started to wander back into the Whoniverse. Inexplicably I remembered Peter Purves recounting the advice that William Hartnell had given him for television acting – all your gestures have to be close around your face. It was Hartnell’s response to not being able to gesture broadly in the same way as you can on stage, because TV is “small” in that it doesn’t capture all the action across the whole set all the time.
I snapped back to reality. This was the stage. And Steven Taylor, sorry, Peter Purves was standing on it. Right in front of me. The “ballroom” at the Assembly Rooms was quite small and the actors really did feel very close up.
They talked about their Blue Peter experiences. Purves spoke about his first day nerves when he first appeared on Blue Peter live on air, and he joked that this was coming from someone who had met the Daleks!
The former presenters bantered together as they recollected their Blue Peter memories, playing gentle parodies of themselves, with a modicum of humorous one-upmanship. There was plenty of video footage. I was laughing so much at the “Lulu the elephant” clip that my phone slipped out of my pocket and clattered to the ground. In the darkness of the room I had no idea where it had landed. Worse, I felt a little embarrassed, but fortunately only one or two of the audience sitting near me had noticed, before turning their minds back to the manic on-screen elephant action. I did so too, quite sure that my phone would rematerialise, when the lights went up at the end of the show.
I was swept away by nostalgia. We all were. Growing up in the UK, Blue Peter had played a major role in all of our childhoods. It was if we had all jumped in a certain blue box and taken a trip back to a time long gone.
I gazed at Peter Duncan’s hideous checked green and white Blue Peter costume, hanging up in the corner of the stage. I wondered if it had been that monstrous item of attire which had given Doctor Who producer, John Nathan Turner the idea for that other Eighties abomination, the Sixth Doctor’s costume. That said, now I wouldn’t now want them to have been any different. Love them AND loathe them, they were part of our growing up. Besides, as the First Doctor once said somewhat disingenuously, “You can’t rewrite history, not one line!”
The audience was moved as Purves spoke affectionately of his much-missed colleague John Noakes. Mentions of Shep the dog brought a tear to our eye.
Towards the end of the show, Purves told the “floor manager” character that he would tell him all his Doctor Who stories at the bar after the show. Two Who references in total! Not bad at all, I thought.
The cast took a bow and everyone clapped and cheered uproariously. We all felt twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years younger.
My Scottish friend and I descended the steps leading out of the Assembly Rooms. I looked around, hoping to see Peter Purves. He wasn’t there. I would have asked him to pose for a photo with me, in my mind both of us were to perform a Hartnell double lapel grip. Then Tim Vincent dashed past us out onto the street. Smiling. He knew the show had been a success. He wasn’t wrong.
My friend later admitted that she had initially been humouring me in agreeing to go, but she had thoroughly enjoyed the show. She was in such a good mood that she would even watch an episode of Doctor Who with me that evening! Now, if I had been in control of the remote, I would have chosen a Peter Purves classic. But being a wee Scottish lassie, she fancies David Tennant something rotten and I wasn’t going to push my luck. We watched a Tenth Doctor tale. But I’m quite sure if one day she ever watches Steven Taylor in action, she will fancy him too!
And what of my phone, I’m sure you are all wondering. Well, it was under my seat of course. And what better recommendation for “Once Seen on Blue Peter”? – “You’ll roll around laughing so much that your phone might even fall out of your pocket!”
All thanks to Lulu the elephant, fifty years on, still causing a commotion! Now that is time travel!