Go with a greyer Noakes: Michael Bateman talks to the former Blue Peter star who is returning to television

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JOHN NOAKES, the former children's TV presenter, is set for a comeback. But it won't be on Blue Peter, where the intrepid Yorkshireman made his name, with Shep the faithful collie at his side, doing deeds of daring.

Noakes, the boyish fortysomething who thought nothing of parachuting from 25,000ft to thrill the viewers, is now a boyish 60-year-old, and the hair combed forward youthfully over his eyes is a steely grey.

He has made three editions of Third Age, a series of half-hour programmes on BBC 2 this autumn, in which he introduces people over 60 to new activities, such as painting in Constable country, jiving and snorkelling.

All those thirtysomethings with Blue Peter badges will no doubt welcome the chance to renew acquaintance with him. But it raises the question, where on earth has he been all this time?

The answer is, mostly on a boat in Majorca.

He hasn't been off our screens entirely by choice, he confesses. He puts up ideas; the television bosses turn them down.

'I suggested a series taking a family round the world on a boat in a leisurely way. But TV executives these days want a race.

'I put up an idea, cruising the waterways of America, the Mississippi, the Hudson river, the Great Lakes. It would be expensive. They said no. All they want is to make a fast buck.'

John Noakes parted company with Blue Peter in 1978 after 12 years. There was a certain amount of acrimony, for the BBC refused to let him use Shep in dogfood commercials. So he used a lookalike Shep instead. Then he had his own series, Go With Noakes. And then suddenly, Noakes himself was Gone.

He bought a large ketch, the Jonathan L Seagull, and announced his intention of sailing to the Caribbean with his wife, Vicky. Their plan was scuppered when they were shipwrecked off Casablanca. Although they considered themselves lucky to have been rescued by a Japanese tanker, John Noakes regrets a missed opportunity: 'If only we'd had a camera on board, it would have been the documentary of all time.'

Two years later, in 1984, with the insurance money, he bought another ketch and started the voyage again, promising to make it this time 'come hell or high water'. However, after stopping for three days in Palma, Majorca, he decided to drop anchor there. He bought a farmhouse in the hills above Andraitx, whose harbour is full of international yachts.

Majorca has its share of celebrities: Harry Secombe has a home here, as does film star Michael Douglas, whose wife is Majorcan, but until recently John Noakes has kept a low profile. Then, last year, he was 'outed' and Fleet Street discovered him.

The papers seemed to think he should be unhappy and lonely, but he is not wistful about his past. He trained as an actor, he points out, and considers that the John Noakes of television fame is not truly him: 'It's not even my real name.' (He refuses to say what is.)

He had never performed on television when he was discovered playing in rep in Birmingham by Blue Peter's editor, Biddy Baxter.

'I got stagefright in front of the TV camera. The one-eyed monster strips you naked. I had nothing to hide behind and I got my comeuppance. So I had to invent this idiot, John Noakes. I'd do something crazy, and people would say, aren't you scared? I'd say no, it was this other idiot, my doppelganger. As John Noakes, I became a totally different person.'

There was a time when he was never out of the newspapers. This year he has featured but once, in Majorca's Daily Bulletin, photographed opening a Salvation Army shop in Palma. He did travel to Glasgow and Birmingham to fly in a hot-air balloon for Save the Children. But he didn't go up. For once the weather was too rough even for our hero.

(Photographs omitted)

Lunch with Noakes, Sunday Review

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