Martin Edwards: The day John Noakes kept me smiling

The death of the former Blue Peter presenter reminds our columnist of a fundraising day that didn't all go his way

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

The sad news of John Noakes’s death reminded me not just of my childhood spent watching Blue Peter, but also of the time when, as a charity fundraiser, I met him and realised that sometimes the charity has to take a back seat.

Noakes’s passing is a national event to those of us of a certain age because, with co-presenters Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves, he presented Blue Peter in our formative years. Noakes in particular entertained the nation’s children and parents with his chirpy style and good-natured daredevil antics, usually with Shep the sheepdog in tow.

Later, when I was in my teens, our town featured in Blue Peter and we got to see the then presenters Sarah Greene and Simon Groom. But it meant very little to me because I was of the Noakes, Singleton and Purves era, with a dash of Lesley Judd. Like your favourite Doctor Who (Tom Baker for me), you can define your vintage by which of the show’s presenters you grew up with.

Years later I met Noakes when I was a fundraiser for Save the Children in Birmingham. As part of the charity’s partnership with Cadbury, the chocolate giants had decided on a subtle approach to branding at a local fundraising event: a 50-foot-tall, helium-inflated Cadbury’s Caramel bunny attempting some sort of record for asymmetrical helium-powered flight. Or something.

Anyway, the bunny was big, Cadbury’s pockets were big too, Noakes was hired to join the balloon’s pilot, and both were scheduled to go on the local radio station to promote it, along with me from the charity.

I met Noakes in the radio station reception, all twinkly eyes and tousled hair (him, not me), as he introduced himself with the words: "Hello, I’m Valerie Singleton." I duly laughed, and his winning charm carried us sailing into the interview.

The female presenter was very interested in Noakes’s funny anecdotes about his TV career, and at least as interested in the balloon pilot, who looked like Matthew McConaughey’s better-looking younger brother. She passed comment on-air about his dashing good looks and close-fitting pilot’s yellow jumpsuit, and for a while even Noakes struggled to be noticed.

Naturally, Save the Children hardly got a look-in.

It was one of those days when a corporate sponsor gets its way. Sometimes you just have to accept that it isn’t going to be your day and remind yourself of the longer-term benefits of the partnership. But when you’re in the company of someone like John Noakes, you still go home smiling.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of Julia’s House, the Dorset and Wiltshire children’s hospice

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