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BBC deletes Blue Peter from BBC One

Children's TV staple sent away to digital

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Blue Peter - home to four-legged rascal Shep, the coat-hanger advent crown and school-boy favourite Janet Ellis, is being turfed out of its home on BBC One.

The 54-year-old show that gave kids the drama of hibernating tortoises, out-of-control baby elephants and, yes, Janet Ellis, will be shoved into the back end of Freeview. Blue Peter, along with the entire canon of the BBC’s children’s programming, will be dropped into the CBBC and CBeebies channel by the end of the year following the end of analogue telly transmissions.

The move was approved by the BBC Trust and it is expected to help Auntie cut hundreds of millions of pounds from its budget by 2017.

The BBC is under financial and competitive pressure: the TV licence fee, which funds the broadcaster, was frozen by Chancellor George Osborne in 2010 for six years in the face of inflation and increasing costs.

BBC One is the Beeb’s most popular TV channel with 47 million viewers, according to BARB, although its most popular programme is currently Saturday evening's The Voice which has under nine million. Blue Peter attracted just 300,000 viewers, according to The Guardian, which quoted the BBC admitting that viewing of children’s shows on BBC One and BBC Two “is low and has fallen significantly over recent years”.

Those numbers mean Blue Peter is costing more and more per viewer to produce for the flagship channel.

At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities to expand audiences beyond TV and even the PC now that everyone can get their hands on smartphones and tablets. And the new crop of digital channels are also emerging as a handy spot to plonk niche programming. For example, BBC digital radio station 6 Music, which was nearly axed in 2010 to save money but then saved following a DJ-led campaign, attracts 1.2 million listeners versus 14 million for BBC Radio 2. The BBC's Asian Network has 507,000 listeners.

A BBC Trust spokesperson told The Reg: "Only a very small percentage of children still solely watch these programmes on BBC One and BBC Two alone, so moving them to digital channels is merely following current viewing patterns and reflects the fact that CBeebies and CBBC will be universally available on digital TV from the end of this year."

The spokesperson said children's telly is "absolutely fundamental" to the BBC.

Austerity measures aside, this is the end of an era for a programme that has occupied generations of youngsters in the early evening before their parents sat down for the Six O'Clock News. The Beeb's paternalism bred a show that mixed the unpredictability of cats with the here’s-one-I-made-earlier approach to turning cardboard toilet tubes into sagging Thunderbirds island, the purpose of an annual charity appeal and an outdoors adventure for a post-school, pre-dinner viewing public clutching its jammy dodgers and a glass of R Whites.

All this was fronted admirably by the capable and talented Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves and John Noakes while teens and younger siblings held their breath as new presenters were introduced. Could Peter Duncan, who appeared in so-camp-it-hurts film romp of comic capers Flash Gordon, suitably occupy the action-man role held by Noakes?

It was BBC One and Blue Peter that were responsible for introducing an entire generation to sticky-back plastic, double-sided sticking tape, the Noakes and Shep tear jerker, and – oh, yes, Janet Ellis*. ®

* Mum of pop siren Sophie Ellis-Bextor

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