'Blue Peter' goes pink in cross-dressing Fringe show
Monday 23 June 2008
Take one openly gay former Blue Peter presenter, dress him up in drag, add sexually explicit content and light lampooning of his former employers' obsession with their squeaky clean image, and you have a show that is definitely one for after the watershed.
Later this summer Stuart Miles, who fronted the wholesome children's show for five years, will take his experiences to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Entitled The Adventures of Pink Peter, the show features the former Blue Peter frontman appearing as four female characters, one of whom is Vera Singleton, an imaginary estranged sister of Valerie Singleton, one of the programme's longest-serving presenters.
"Vera" believes she is far more talented than her sister and should have won the Blue Peter slot instead. The real Valerie Singleton presented the world's longest-running children's programme between 1962 and 1972 and was the image of piety that the show's producers have always demanded of presenters.
The show, which runs for two weeks, also features a mock version of the kind of charity appeals frequently launched by the programme, and one of his characters making something on stage with sticky-back plastic.
The gentle digs at his former employers will not be lost on fans of Miles, who switched to stand-up comedy and presenting a daily show on the Gaydar radio station after leaving Blue Peter in 1999 amid much controversy.
Alongside fellow presenters Konnie Huq, Katy Hill and Richard Bacon, Miles was part of the wholesome quartet who presented Blue Peter during the late 1990s. That image was shattered when Bacon was fired after being caught taking cocaine. Miles ruffled BBC feathers further by resigning from the show shortly afterwards in protest at the way senior executives had handled Bacon's sacking.
He criticised the programme heavily for no longer being relevant to children, calling it a "comfort blanket for a lot of people".
Miles played down suggestions that he was targeting Blue Peter, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and said his show was simply fun.
"There is a subtle link to Blue Peter but any references are nostalgic and affectionate," he said. "I'm proud of my time at Blue Peter, it gave me a lot of opportunities and I wouldn't be where I am today without it."
Miles admitted it was his time on the show that will draw the Edinburgh crowds: "It is about bums on seats and what people know me for is Blue Peter."
Blue Peter's presenters have a long history of being caught in "scandals" that dented the show's prim and proper image. Anita West was forced to leave in 1962 because she was getting divorced and Christopher Trace, one of the original hosts, was sacked after an affair with a 19-year-old. Michael Sundin was photographed in a gay strip club and Peter Duncan was revealed to have previously appeared naked in a film. Not even Valerie Singleton has escaped scrutiny. Last month she hinted on a celebrity version of The Weakest Link that she may have been romantically involved with her co-host Peter Purves.
Miles hopes to persuade Singleton to see the show. "I'd love it," he said. "I know she has a wicked sense of humour."
Presenters who walked the plank
Sacked in 1998 after a tabloid report of his 12-hour booze and drugs binge. Miles, a friend of Bacon, criticised how the BBC handled the sacking, resigned and called on the show to tackle more child-related issues such as divorce and drugs.
Dismissed in October 1985 after photographs of him stripping in a gay club appeared in a newspaper. A spokesman for the programme said later that Sundin was fired because "children didn't like him ... nothing to do with his sexual proclivities".
The former actress lasted only 16 episodes as a Blue Peter presenter before being sacked in 1962 because of her imminent divorce from the musician Ray Ellington. A decade later her successor, Lesley Judd, survived divorcing her husband.
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