Cold Call: Sally Chatterton rings Peter Purves

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The Independent Culture
PETER PURVES must have worked with the meanest bitch in showbusiness, Petra, the German shepherd. His experience with her, and his passion for animals, made him an obvious person to ask about the maltreatment of police dogs, and he was incandescent: "It's appalling. It absolutely beggars belief that the Essex constabulary could have thought that this was even remotely good training."

I suspect he may even prefer our four-legged friends over the two-legged variety. "To get the best out of dogs you have to love them. However bad an owner is, their dog will stick by them absolutely. That's what I find so tragic; the dogs are amazingly loyal and perhaps a little stupid. They don't have great brains and humans can be careless."

"You'd never hit a dog then?"

"I think they are wonderful animals that deserve respect. I've got four now and couldn't ever imagine even slapping them, let alone do anything approaching what those policemen had to do. If you treat a dog cruelly, you're not going to get a good response. You have to trust dogs."

I venture that his love affair with the canine species must have begun with his pairing with Petra.

"Actually, I had my first dog, a cocker spaniel, when I was 11. But work didn't allow me to have a dog until I was doing something regular like Blue Peter and a dog was part of the programme."

"Surely you loathed going from cuddly cocker spaniel to Petra the psychopathic pooch?"

"Petra was my dog. She loved me and I loved her. True, she hated everyone else and everything else. She was never very happy. But, you know, for better for worse. We spent great time together."

There was no question of ever replacing her? "No. Lassie she wasn't, but she was a great surrogate pet for the nation."

Things have changed though, and all is not well in the Blue Peter garden. They are no longer qualms about replacing key members of the team, be they canine or human. I ask him about Blue Peter's recent scandal. "The only thing I'd be prepared to say is that I suspect that Blue Peter, being the programme it is, had no choice but to do what it did. I wouldn't be judgmental about Richard either. I feel very sorry for the lad. I don't believe that something like that happens by accident and I think that he was possibly set up."

I suggest that this may be because of the ephemeral nature of the job these days. "True. I don't watch Blue Peter very much but when John and Val and I were presenting there were only four presenters in four years and now it's more like 12 presenters every four years. The team changes quickly and the job seems to be seen as a launching pad rather than as a great job."

"So the presenters must have a completely different relationship from the one you three had after working together long-term?"

"We all knew each other pretty well and we remained firm friends. Obviously you're going to have some arguments. You can't be jolly all the time but there was a happy level of intimacy with which you treated each other."

"You didn't mind being Noakes's straight man then?"

"It was quite deliberate -I was the fall guy. He would always win. You'd have this great evil baddie with the power and everything, yet the idiot would still win."

Purves doesn't seem to mind being the loser at all. "Johnny was great fun to work with. We are discussing the possiblity of putting a TV show together. We are seriously talking about it."

The future, in fact, may hold something for Purves beyond pets.