A night with the stars
This weekend has been one long celebration of children’s entertainment. Saturday was devoted to Dr Who with a splendid round-up of the surviving Doctors to celebrate 50 years of intergalactic adventures in the Tardis. I came downstairs to find all three of my at-home kids lined up on the sofa mesmerised by the screen and wearing black 3D glasses. They looked like extras in an even older science fiction belter – The Day of the Triffids, where giant plants roam the earth blinding everyone in their path.
No sooner had I recovered from that than it was time to head for the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane to cover the British Academy Children’s Awards – the highlight of which was Sir David Attenborough presenting the pioneering Blue Peter editor, Biddy Baxter, with a special award from the academy for her contribution to children’s television.
If ever there was a symbol of imaginative but no-nonsense television she is it. She brought Blue Peter to life by making the presenters perform the whole show live. She introduced elephants as well as cats and dogs and had children raising money for other children before Children in Need was even a twinkle in Pudsey’s good eye.
Talking of Pudsey, he was there too! Not the bear, the real thing – the all-dancing charmer who won Britain’s Got Talent with his owner Ashleigh. Pudsey trotted up the red carpet like the pro he is sporting a glittery bow tie before barking his tributes to Biddy Baxter via the waiting microphones.
I shared my spot on the red carpet with nine-year-old Harrison, aka Hag, from the kids’ website kidzcoolit.com. He was as cool as a cucumber playing away on his DS waiting for the celebrities to arrive, before zipping into action the moment the flashbulbs started. Thank God he was there to tip me off otherwise I would have completely blanked Bobby Lockwood and Aimee Kelly from Wolfblood. I was too busy gazing at Henry Winkler – star of 70s and 80s US high school comedy, Happy Days, and yes, he’s still got it. He fixed me with the eyes that made a million high school girls melt as he shook my hand, declined the reporter next to me’s request to “Do a Fonz” and instead spoke of his passion for helping people overcome the dyslexia that made his own high school life anything but happy. He’s making up for it now, starring as Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the Richmond Theatre in London and transforming his World’s Greatest Underachiever children’s books starring Hank Zipzer the dyslexic hero, into a series for CBBC. Henry Winkler plays Mr Rock, Hank’s teacher. “I’m having so much fun it should be illegal,” he said, swashbuckling sword fighting and all, “I’m extraordinary for 50 seconds. Though after 50 seconds it all falls apart!”
The theme of the evening seemed to be science and nature, with twin doctors Chris and Xand van Tullekan picking up the award for best factual show with Operation Ouch and Sir David Attenborough and wildlife writer Steve Backshall of BBC’s Deadly 60, presenting awards. Steve – sporting a gold Blue Peter badge – described his recent stint presenting Blue Peter as one of the scariest things he’d ever done, his tussles with wild animals, including losing part of his finger to a piranha included, and said presenting kids’ television was far harder than presenting for adults. “Children can spot a phoney a mile away,” he said. ”I wish there had been some animals there to help,” he said, adding that as a child he found Blue Peter inspirational. “Biddy Baxter’s Blue Peter with John Noakes heading off round the world – they opened the doors for a generation and were my inspiration,” he said.
Getting a chance to ask Sir David Attenborough a question for Candis readers was magical. How was it, I asked him, that he managed to get children so interested in science and the natural world. “You don’t have to switch children on to nature,” he said, ”Children have always been fascinated by it, you just have to point them at it. They have a natural curiosity and sense of wonderment.”
It was a belief shared by Mathew Baynton of Horrible Histories who, when I asked him a similar question said, “I think the real question is how anyone manages to make history boring – it’s such a central part of life – it’s stories, it’s who we are, how we are, it’s everything.”
You can see more TV history in the making, including all our favourite clips from Blue Peter here.
Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn