Blue Peter: England’s dream of childhood

It is the 60th anniversary of Blue Peter. Described airily as a “magazine show” to those unfamiliar with its sui generis format, Blue Peter has sat in the BBC schedule as unwaveringly as the 9 O’Clock News for a televisual eon.

The reason, I suspect with an outsider’s perspective, is that Blue Peter is the collective dream of English childhood given form and that the culture could no more abandon that dream then it could abandon the idea of adulthood embodied in the News.

I say an English dream of childhood, rather than a British one, because whether they knew it or not, Blue Peter has never been about how children in Scotland, or Wales (and certainly not Northern Ireland) lived and played and imagined. They may well have all had the same dreams and been excited by the same Blyton-esque mix of pluck, exploration, make and do and dogs.

Being Irish, I don’t know. But it was clear to me when I watched it (not often, not with any enthusiasm) that the programme didn’t know either- and didn’t care.

These were English pals (and the capacity to cast really likeable sorts for Blue Peter remains one of its spectacular skills) mucking in, or mucking about. Digging in the Blue Peter garden, exploring the British landscape (though always through the eyes of the English visitor), having adventures, making biscuits or honest terrible Christmas decorations and so on and so on.

But in fact, the producers (well, really the founding master and commander of Blue Peter, Biddy Baxter) understood their ostensibly factual programme was playing in the imagination as much as any Doctor Who or Wombles.

Blue Peter has pets, because there are many children who would like to have a pet, but can’t. And Biddy Baxter gave those children dogs and cats to live with- animals who would grow up and then old with them.

She imagined living in one of the newly built, post-war estates of high rise flats. So the Blue Peter Garden was created, so those children would have a garden- a patch of nature to tend along with the presenters.

Biddy Baxter understood that the reality of many children’s lives was not Blyton, but Kes. But her programme chose to offer them an escape, not a mirror. Even the famous Blue Peter badge- a talisman which allowed the bearer to access museums, galleries and the rest of the cultural world at discount or for free- was an unacknowledged effort to spread that access to children who might never manage it any other way.

None of this was ever acknowledged on screen, but was a quiet river of radicalism buried under the conventional enthusiasms of the middle classes.

Even the famous fund raising feats of the Blue Peter Appeal- where tens of thousands of children sent in bottle-tops or other tokens of value to help a charity- were more than their apparent Good Works at the Village Fête. What they really tried to demonstrate to children was the potential of collective action to make change.

A 60 year anniversary in television is an achievement difficult to imagine being repeated by any programme starting now.

Blue Peter’s continuing power comes from having offered more than imagined friends, pets or gardens.

It offered an imagined England that was always consciously and deliberately better than the real thing- because children deserved better.

Just there, in that studio, twice a week, England’s dreaming.

And just for once, we should be glad of it

Fís Special Post: Free ebook sample from Sit Down and Be Counted

The Fís Television Summit is running in Galway this week. To mark the occasion, something a bit special.

Sit Down and Be Counted, published in 1969, is a curious beast of a book. A (critical) history of the birth of RTE television. An analysis of television’s place in a culture as both an expressive form and a medium. A prophetic understanding of how the technological form of getting moving pictures into people’s home forced a particular grammar onto how stories could be told. A J’accuse. A book by lovers of the form of the book, crammed with italics, footnotes, prefaces, endnotes and appendices. And, in telling the story of how a quirky, original and independent television culture was systematically oppressed, it is a kind of mirror history of Ireland itself.

I will be republishing Sit Down and Be Counted as an ebook (and some very special print copies). And, with the blessing of the authors, their heirs and good graces, to coincide with the Fís Summit, you can download a sample from it here, today. If you have a kindle, you’ll need to load upload the pdf via the Send to Kindle App.

The rest of you may read, print and enjoy the pdf in whatever format or device you like the best.

Sit Down And Be Counted A cautionary Tale Free Sample

If you’d like to know when the final book is ready to buy, stick your email in this form.

Sit Down and Be Counted

 

 

 

When the Sheriff loses it

Here’s an interesting specific (and extreme) example of an administration body which becomes sociopathic by losing sight of its purpose.

Polk Sheriff tweet

It is a institutional disorder which seems to be endemic across corporate entities. It’s most serious in state bodies, because of they’re gifted with state coercion powers.

So, let’s take the Sheriff’s office as an example. Usually, they spend their time enforcing warrants. All very good (provided the warrants system hasn’t been debased or corrupted).

That’s what they do, for most of the time (let’s say. Doubtless they do other things. Being a sheriff, posses, I presume, feature).

And they forget that isn’t actually what they are *for*. Their purpose is to increase the security of the society they police.

The warrant business is just part of that broader purpose.

Now, suddenly, part of the context they exist in alters. The entire nearby population is facing a simultaneous security threat (hurricane Irma).

Hurricane Irma from space

The purpose of the Sheriff’s office hasn’t changed- secure the security of all the nearby humans. But they still think they are for warrants.

The institution has mistaken what they do for what they are for.

And we, as outsiders not conditioned by months and years of warrent enforcement, say, that’s mad and *evil* and the institution feels hurt and gets angry and defensive.

This is same thing it has always done, after all. It can’t see that the shift in context (keeping humans alive now may need specific acts) has meant that continuing to do what it was doing before has become contrary to the purpose of the institution.

This has all, of course, been an analogy for the behaviour of the Dept of Social Protection and its Public Services Card actions. #psc

Trump v Nixon: Disapproval rating

Donald Trump has been President of the US for just over a fortnight now. Gallup, the polling people, have been tracking his approval and disapproval ratings daily. Today, his disapproval rating hit a new high of 53% of all US adults.

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POD complaint to go to the European Commission

cc Nuno Nogueira

There has been a pretty significant exchange of correspondence with the Data Protection Commissioner over the Primary Online Database since my last post. The result is that I am copying all of the documentation to date and will be forwarding it to the European Commission as part of a complaint regarding Ireland's failures to ensure that Article 8.

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The Dublin InQuirer- A City Desk for Dublin

I only recently became aware of The Dublin InQuirer and have become facinated by it. It started as a website and then, to fend off financial instablity, began offering a monthly print newspaper on a subscription and (limited) retail basis.

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What really makes a civil servant quit?

Between 1996 and 1999 the rate of resignations from the civil service rose by 34%. The civil service had been under resourced and demotivated, while subject to an embargo on hiring staff. Staff careers and earnings had stagnated.

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The PODcast: An interview giving the story so far

The benighted story of the Department of Education's perennially unraveling Primary Online Database of 5+year olds has been bouncing along for over a year now. If you were to scroll through a year's worth of this blog's posts you'd have a pretty good picture of what happened when, but you might also expire with tedium. It'd be a race to see which would happen first.

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