Blue Peter sets sail from its prime BBC1 berth of 54 years

 

After more than 50 years as a children's teatime fixture, Blue Peter will set sail from its flagship BBC1 home to a digital channel that the BBC made earlier.

The magazine programme, along with children's favourites including Newsround and In the Night Garden will be banished from terrestrial channels as part of a shake-up to cut costs after the completion of the switchover from analogue broadcasts to digital.

The BBC Trust approved plans by Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, to end the block of teatime children's programmes which has run on BBC1 for more than 60 years.

Blue Peter, which first aired in 1958, and other programmes for pre-teens, will now be shown solely on the dedicated children's channel CBBC. Biddy Baxter, the programme's former editor, opposed the move, saying it would reduce the available audience.

But figures showed that more children aged six to 12 already watched Blue Peter on the digital channel, where the episodes now premiere, than on BBC1, where it is shown on Fridays.

BBC1 had already cut the show, now hosted by Helen Skelton and Barney Harwood, to one episode a week. The CBBC channel is now viewed by 93 per cent of its target audience, the BBC said.

The decision to move the world's longest-running children's show prompted outrage on Twitter from older viewers, who fondly remembered the sticky-backed plastic episodes of their youth. Its current audience, as likely to watch episodes on laptops via the iPlayer, reacted with a shrug.

Caroline Norris, producer of the award-winning Horrible Histories series, warned that the "demotion" to digital could reduce the funding for children's shows. She said that fees for writers and actors are lower for CBBC shows, with terrestrial repeats required to make up the shortfall.

The BBC said the £78.3m funding for CBBC would be protected from cuts, guaranteeing children's programmes a bigger slice of licence-fee spending. The Trust found that the impact on its target audience of axeing the BBC1 children's shows would be "very low".

The BBC promised a marketing campaign to alert children to the Blue Peter migration, which will not take place until the nation has completed the digital switchover, by the end of the year. The BBC1 airtime is likely to be filled by repeats and quiz shows to help build an adult audience for the Six O'Clock News. The shake-up also means fewer big budget entertainment shows and a reduced investment in sports rights.

There will be a narrower range of programmes on BBC3 and BBC4 but a commitment to showing the best foreign drama imports, such as The Killing, will be retained.

BBC fixtures such as Grandstand, Grange Hill and Top of the Pops have already been swept away by the digital revolution and the competition for audiences and resources which has resulted.

From Lulu to Cookie: Favourite moments

1969 John Noakes steps in a pile of freshly laid dung when Lulu the Elephant runs amok during day release visit from Chessington Zoo. Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves try to keep the show on the road.

1983 Gardener Percy Thrower left in tears over the devastation as Janet Ellis reveals shocking vandalism of Blue Peter garden. Football star Les Ferdinand later admitted "helping a few people over the wall" then retracted the claim.

1983 Diversion into Cambodia's genocide as Margaret Thatcher tells children the Khmer Rouge aren't all bad. There are "those who supported Pol Pot and then there is a much, much more reasonable group within the Khmer Rouge".

1987 Health & Safety? Pah. Janet Ellis persevered through a broken pelvis on an assignment with the RAF Falcons to become the first British woman to achieve a 90-second freefall parachute jump.

1988 BBC Children's TV boss Lorraine Heggessey delivers on-air explanation for sudden departure of presenter Richard Bacon, axed after admitting taking cocaine, following a tabloid exposé.

2004 Viewers learn a lesson in mortality when George, the tortoise dies, aged 83, after 22 years of screen service. Presenter Matt Baker says death "is something all pet owners have to face". So get over it.

2007 Asked to choose a name for the new Blue Peter cat, viewers opt for Cookie. But BBC producers decided the name should be Socks, a deception which prompted an on-air apology during the TV phone-in fakery scandal.

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