Monday, 21 October 2013

The Blue Peter Garden

Beth and I recently found ourselves wandering around Salford’s MediaCityUK searching for an iconic point of interest, a small piece of popular British culture, arguably one of the most famous gardens on the British Isles, the Blue Peter Garden. Always a regular viewer of the programme I had aspired to one day visit it and see where George the Tortoise (1920 – 2004) once roamed, this was that day!
Designed by Britain's “first celebrity gardener” Percy Thrower MBE (1913 –1988) back in 1974 and later adapted to an Italian sunken garden in 1979 the Blue Peter garden has remained as much a regular feature of the programme as the advent crown. The garden flourished over the years, despite several vandal attacks (the most notorious being the 1983 incident) and when the programme's production moved from London Television Centre to MediaCityUK in 2011 the garden too was relocated and officially reopened to the public by HRH the Princess Anne in 2012.
The garden still contains elements of the past within it such as the impressions of Percy Thrower, Lesley Judd, John Noakes and Simon Groom along with the pets Shep, Goldie, Jack and Jill and Freda the tortoise! Standing in the corner, standing guard almost was what I really wanted to see the bronze statue of Petra, Blue Peter’s first pet. As I have previously mentioned I was a regular viewer of show, tapering off at around the time of the unearthing of the Blue Peter time capsules. However my earliest memory of the programme was the time they relocated the Petra bust from outside BBC Television Centre into the garden and from that moment on I have always admired this magnificent statue.


(left) The impressions of Percy Thrower, Lesley Judd, John Noakes and Simon Groom along with the pets Shep, Goldie, Jack and Jill and Freda the tortoise in wet cement as documented in the Sixteenth Blue Peter book, 1979 (right) The impressions in 2013.

 The Future: Impressions of the Blue Peter presenters at the time of the garden’s relocation Helen Skelton, Barney Harwood, gardener Chris Collins and Barney the dog

The statue regards Petra the dog who first appeared on the programme in 1962 winning a special place in viewer’s hearts, so when she died in 1977, a special bronze bust was commissioned from Blue Peter artist William Timym MBE (1902-1990). Timym had worked as a syndicated cartoonist for many years but more famously worked on ‘Bengo’ and the 'Bleep & Booster' series, and which featured on Blue Peter in its early days. A skilful sculptor Timym had created a miniature of Petra and a lion’s head for the Zoological society of London in1976 (he would later create the life-size sculpture of 'Guy' the Gorilla for London Zoo in1982). The bust of Petra was to be erected outside Television Centre as documented by Peter Purvis’s ‘Goodbye Petra’ article in the Fifteenth Blue Peter book, “As she’d come and gone through the main gates of the BBC’s Television Centre every week for most of her life. We could think of no better place for Tim’s bronze than just inside those gates, next to our Blue Peter silver birch and the box we buried for the Year Two Thousand which includes her photograph, as well as those of Jason and Patch. The article also documented the producing of the sculpture (right). Using several drawings he had made of Petra over the years as reference, Timym sculpted the bust from clay on an armature. Three weeks later the sculpture was taken to the Sculpture Casting Studio near High Wycombe to be cast in bronze using his trademark  “lost wax” process. Once the bust was complete markings were added using acid and a blowtorch.
When it came to the plinth several people contacted the Blue Peter office wishing to donate granite to the cause when it was suggested “on the air” that concrete would have to be used as it was all the programme could afford. Although they were offered granite from the original London Bridge, they went with the first offer they received made from a quarry at Gelli in South Wales, which had the appropriately named Blue Pennant stone on offer (which had also been used to repair the Tower of London). Once the right piece of stone had been selected the quarry’s most experienced mason, Des Wilkins cut the plinth to size adding the inscription and Blue Peter ship before transporting it to London. Then on the 23rd of March (Peter Purvis’ last episode) the bronze was erected. With Lesley Judd pouring the concrete onto the top of the plinth as Peter Purvis and John Noakes lowered the head on. It stood outside BBC Television Centre until 1984 when the building was extended when it was relocated (along with the 1971 time capsule) to the safety of the garden and it has been a part of it ever since.

When I heard that the programme was being relocated to Salford I wondered what would become of the garden because I’m like that, I become concerned over what many others would disregard as simply sentimental nostalgia. But seeing it living on in another part of the country, I found it reassuring and surprisingly moving. I highly commend the ones responsible for preserving the garden and making it available for the public to visit. If you ever visit Salford’s MediaCityUK be sure to go and visit it.

 © Arfon Jones 2013. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

1 comment:

  1. I'm annoyed at the BBC for selling Television Centre. There was so much history there. Incidentally, Bleep & Booster was on the show between 1963 and 1977, so it didn't just appear in 'the early years'.



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