Just Say Noakes!
Childrens TV Presenters should be seen and
not heard. Then the Noakes bloke came along. Nick George
picks up the sticky-backed plastic....
It was one of those rumours that start
in school and nobody questions whether it is true or not. The
rumour is so huge it defies disbelief, it's just too big to be
It is 1972 in a Cheshire schoolroom, lunchtime, and I had just
been told that John Noakes was quitting Blue Peter because he
was fed up with Peter Purves. My 'just scraped through the eleven
plus and in to state Grammer' brain is pretty well stunned by
this bit of info, and at that age I tended to believe most everything
said to me by someone with a relatively posh accent. Noakesy,
the rumour asserted, was to defect to ITV, where he was going
to be the chief presenter for Magpie.
All of us in the schoolroom at lunchtime break could quite understand
how John might get irked by Peter. After all, how many times had
we seen film of John Noakes throwing himself out of an aircraft
with the Red Devils/climb Nelson's column with a pigeon poo scraper
in one hand/attempt to drink fermented camel's milk in Morocco,
while meanwhile back in the studio Peter would be risking a paper
cut whilst fashioning a papier mache tunnel for the Blue Peter
We could all see that John and Valerie got on pretty well together,
and there didn't seem to be any visible tension between John and
Peter. But the only time Peter seemed to get out of the cosy BBC
was on an educational visit to the Science Museum or to see how
birds are painted onto glaze by hand at some pottery with a Royal
warrant in the Midlands. Purves wasn't doing his share in our
estimation, and we reckoned that this must have been what piqued
John Noakes too.
How was John going to fit into the alien culture of a show like
Magpie though? We couldn't figure it out. None of us watched Magpie
except for the funky song and airbrush title illustrations, however
we were all well aware of the tone of the show. It was older than
us, it was a hangover from Glastonbury and the King's Road, a
cultural country so distant that we couldn't relate to it. Although
Magpie had featured Marc Bolan and T-Rex when they started to
get famous, and we liked that.
You couldn't imagine a Lord of Glam Rock like Marc appearing
on Blue Peter, perched everso politely on the couch and stroking
Petra's neck, then explaining to Val how he was inspired to write
the lyrics for "Metal Guru". Well, John would definitely have
to be the chief presenter if he moved to Magpie. He'd earned it
as far as we were concerned. His style of Fair Isle sweaters and
Army and Navy shoes didn't include a sequin anywhere as far as
we could see, but his presentation skills had always been ahead
of the pack.
John, to us, was a grown up Dennis the Menace.
Shep was of course a better behaved Gnasher. John was living proof
that an ordinary bloke with a regional accent could do some fairly
out of the ordinary stuff and usually enjoy it. Noakesy had even
showed his bare bum at least twice on television, so he did have
that racy aspect which would help him fit in on the other channel.
We were with John all the way as he belted down the Cresta Run
in a bobsleigh. We'd trained with him in sub-zero temperatures.
Like John, we had paid close attention to everything the driver
and brakeman had said. Alongside John we had learned to shift
our weight to help the momentum, and had heeded the advice to
keep our hands well clear of the sled's razor sharp steel racing
blades. Well rehearsed, we rocked in time with the crew as they
got that sled moving. Faultlessly, we tucked our feet up just
in time as that four man bullet got rolling, off and away on this,
the fastest and most dangerous and challenging of all bobsleigh
runs in the world. Whoosh and roar of that manned missile taking
its first curve. John's narration screaming at us that the noise
was deafening, the speed breathtaking. We knew this, we were there
Then; we gasped and lurched sideways on the living room floor
in sympathy, horror and exctitement when John yells in his voiceover
' ...and then! A chance in a million!! We hit a hole in the ice
wall!!! ' Footage of bobsleigh careening out of control at over
ninety miles an hour. Blokes in jumpsuits and crash helmets
continues next column
Dennis and Gnasher
spilling out. Action Men with wildly flailing limbs,
thrown helplessly about at terrifying velocity. Surely Palitoy
could expect extra work in the injured joints and broken foot
section of their Field Hospital. John Noakes, trained to the max
as part of this bobsleigh crew, finished the Cresta Run hurtling
along the ice and over the finish line flat on his back with his
buttocks acting as a brake. Our reaction to this was mixed thoughts
of Ooh, we felt that one and You lucky, lucky bastard.
Cut back to the Blue Peter studio
and Peter's saying something like John, that must have hurt a
bit ( master of the Southern under-statement was that Purves ).
John, still fired up on the adrenalin of reliving the Cresta Run,
leaps up from the couch and drops his pants on live telly to show
every kid in Britain that his right cheek is just one huge bruise
in livid tones of grey. ' Whoo, I bet that still stings ' we muttered
at this in our millions, not in the least bit shocked at seeing
a bit of Noakesy's bare arse. It was a privilege, we were witnesses
to the wounds of a hero.
Valerie is taken aback but looks like she's going
to burst out laughing. Peter's face is a picture of Home Counties
shock and disapproval, eyes flicking off camera for directions,
to what I now as an adult assume to have been the producer's control
room at the back. ' That does, um, look rather like it hurt '
says somebody, which could have been Freda the Tortoise for all
I can remember. And John caps it with; ' You should see the other
one! That's got an enormous scab!'
John never joined Magpie,
we all know that now. The rumour around school died quite quickly.
Giving it a good think, it just wasn't probable that John Noakes
could share a studio with Susan making clothes peg holders out
of your dad's old kaftan, and that guy Mick getting out into a
nice parts of the country to pay surprise visits to his mates
I was growing out of kid's television when 'Go
with Noakes' first aired, and for me the 'Ilkley Moor bar tat'
brass band theme didn't help. We were all becoming faux-cynical
teenagers, the mood was being set nationally for the emergence
of punk rock. I did laugh at the 'get down Shep!' jokes, as it
was becoming uncomfortable to recall that we had once lionised
John Noakes, even if he did pronounce hard a's like us. Later
though, I wasn't upset or outraged to learn from the tabloids
that John's Pennine Way hike was all a fix, his backpack stuffed
with newspapers not camping kit. They only filmed John walking
sections of the route apparently, which realistically was kind
to Shep as the collie was getting on a bit by then.
By some accounts John Noakes eventually got tired
of, and angry with the Beeb. He may have had a lot of justification
for this, as he had discovered long after his departure from Blue
Peter that he hadn't been insured by the show's producers in the
event of an accident. What were they thinking of, these people?
Did they think that if Noakesy bought it in a big way then there
were plenty more of his type Oop North to replace him? That we
wouldn't notice, and after a brief tear was shed for John, forget
him without a backward glance? Not a chance.
There was the tragedy of John and his wife grounding
their yacht shortly after setting forth on the adventure of a
lifetime. The irony of that accident was vast. By then I had lived
in London for a few years, and had become heartily sick of people
making fun of my accent and origins. I could easily understand
John Noakes's desire to get away from it all. Apparently, when
this bloke from Halifax first joined the team of Christopher Trace
and Valerie Singleton way back in the early sixties, more than
a few Southern mothers had written to the BBC to complain about
John's strong Yorkshire accent. They feared that it would somehow
infect their own allegedly well spoken offspring, and that playgrounds
around Surrey would be filled with cries of eeeeh! ayup! and by
'eck!Invisible barriers to people with regional accents still
exist in Britain, and can only have been more pervasive in the
time that Noakesy was making a name for himself.
However, if John Noakes had ever discovered his
way blocked by one of those infamous glass ceilings, I doubt very
much it would have bothered him for too long. John, with that
big daredevil grin of his, would have just sky-dived straight
down through it and landed squarely on his feet without a scratch,
ready to have another go at it all over again ( with maybe a bruise
or two to show for his adventures ).
Some notes on nokes...
John-a-Nokes ( ie: John of the Oaks)
and his mate Tom-a-Stiles were one commonly used as fictitious
names in law proceedings during the 18th century. A happy little
couple have taken on this line of work of late. John and Jane
James Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaisms
(1885) defines the word 'nokes' as a simpleton - a derivation
of the word noke, an oak.