Blue Peter was first aired on 16 October 1958. It had been commissioned to producer John Hunter Blair by Owen Reed, the head of children's
Blue Peter
programmes at the BBC, as there were no programmes in existence that catered for children aged between five and eight.[1] The name "Blue Peter" was thought up by Hunter Blair; the Blue Peter flag, used as a maritime signal, indicates the vessel is about to leave, and Hunter Blair intended the name to represent "a voyage of adventure" on which the programme would set out. Hunter Blair also pointed out that blue was a child's[who?] favourite colour, and Peter was the name of a child's[who?] friend. The first two presenters were Christopher Trace, an actor, and Leila Williams, winner of Miss Great Britain in 1957. The initial format mostly involved the two presenters demonstrating different activities, with Trace concentrating on traditional "boys' toys" such as model aeroplanes and trains, and Williams concentrating on dolls and traditional female tasks, such as cookery. They were supported on occasion by Tony Hart,[2] an artist who later designed the ship logo,[3] who told stories about an elephant called Packi (or Packie). It was broadcast every Monday for fifteen minutes on BBC tv (which later became BBC One).[2] Blue Peter was popular from the outset, and over the first few months, more features were added such as competitions, documentaries, cartoons, and stories. Early programmes were almost entirely studio-based, with very few external films being created.

In 1961, Hunter Blair became ill, meaning he was often absent from the show. After he produced his last show on 12 June 1961,[4] he was replaced by Clive Parkhurst the following September. He did not get along with Leila Williams, who recalled "he couldn't find anything for me to do", and in October Williams did not appear for six editions leaving Christopher Trace on his own or with one-off presenters.[5] Parkhurst was replaced by John Furness,[4] and Anita West joined Christopher Trace on 7 May 1962.[6] She featured on just 16 editions, making her the shortest serving presenter, and was replaced by Valerie Singleton,[7] who presented regularly until 1972,[8] and on special assignments until 1981.[8] Following Furness's departure, a new producer who was committed to Blue Peter was required, so Biddy Baxter was appointed.[4] However, at the time, Baxter was contracted to schools' programmes on the radio so was unable to take up her new post until October 1962. It was suggested that Edward Barnes,[9] a production assistant,[4] would temporarily produce the show until Baxter arrived, at which point he would become her assistant. This suggestion was turned down, and a more experienced producer, Leonard Chase, was appointed with Barnes as his assistant.[10] Baxter eventually joined Blue Peter at the end of October 1962.[9]

During this period, many iconic features of Blue Peter were introduced. The first appeal took place in December 1962, taking place of the previous practice of reviewing toys that children would ask for themselves.[11] Blue Peter's first pet, a brown and white mongrel dog named Petra was introduced on 17 December 1962.[12] Features such as "makes" (normally involving creating something such as an advent crown out of household junk) and cooking became regular instalments on Blue Peter and continue to be today.[13][14] The Blue Peter badge was introduced in 1963, along with the programme's new logo designed by Tony Hart.[3] Baxter introduced a system that ensured replies sent to viewers' letters were personal ones; as a girl, she had written to Enid Blyton and received a standard reply twice which had upset her.[15] The following year, from 28 September 1964, Blue Peter began to be broadcast twice weekly, with Baxter becoming the editor and Barnes and Rosemary Gill (an assistant producer who had joined as a temporary producer while Baxter was doing jury service) became the programme's producers.[16] The first Blue Peter book, an annual in all but name, was published this year and have been nearly every year since.[17][18] A third presenter, John Noakes, was introduced at the end of 1965 and became the longest serving presenter. A complete contrast to Trace, Noakes set the scene for "daredevil" presenters that has continued through the generations of presenters.[19] Trace left Blue Peter in July 1967,[20] and was replaced by Peter Purves in November. The trio of Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves lasted five years, and according to Richard Marson were "the most famous presenting team in the show's history".[21] In 1965, the first "Summer Expedition" (a filming trip abroad) was held in Norway, and have been every year since all over the world.[22]

The first colour edition of Blue Peter aired on 14 September 1970, with the last black and white edition on 24 June 1974.[23] A regular feature of the 1970s were the Special Assignments, which were essentially reports on interesting topics, filmed on location. Singleton took this role, and in effect became the programme's "roving reporter".[24] Blue Peter also offered breaking news on occasion, such as the 1971 eruption of Mount Etna, as well as unique items such as the first appearance of Uri Geller on British television. In May 1976, presenter Lesley Judd interviewed Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, after he had agreed to bring his daughter's diaries to Britain.[25] In 1974, the Blue Peter garden was officially opened in a green space outside the television centre restaurant block.[26] By this time, Blue Peter had become an established children's programme, with regular features which have since become traditions. Its theme music was updated by Mike Oldfield in 1979, and at the end of the decade a new presenting team were brought in, consisting of Simon Groom, Tina Heath and Christopher Wenner. They were, however, overshadowed by the success of the previous two decades, and failed to make an impact.[27] Heath decided to leave after just a year when she discovered she was pregnant, but agreed to have a live scan of her baby, something which had never been done on television. Blue Peter was praised for this by the National Childbirth Trust who told the BBC that in "five minutes, Blue Peter had done more to educate children about birth than they'd achieved in ten years of sending out leaflets".[28] Wenner was unpopular with viewers, so left along with Heath on 23 June 1980.[29]

Sarah Greene and Peter Duncan both joined in 1980, and a new producer, Lewis Bronze, joined in 1982.[30] The 1980s saw the Blue Peter studio become more colourful and bright, with the presenters gradually wearing more fashionable outfits, in contrast to the more formal appearance of previous decades.[31] Several videos of Blue Peter were released from 1982, the first being Blue Peter Makes, and an omnibus comprising the two weekly editions of the show appeared in 1986 on Sunday mornings. On 27 June 1988, Baxter took part in her final show, after nearly 26 years involvement,[32] and Bronze took her place as editor.[33] Around this time, Blue Peter became distinctively environmentally aware and introduced a green badge in November 1988 for achievements related to the environment.[34]

In the 1990s, a new version of the theme tune was written, and due to falling ratings, BBC1 controller Alan Yentob suggested airing a third edition of Blue Peter each week. This meant that the third show was pre-recorded; Joe Godwin, the director, suggested that the Friday show should be a lighter version of Blue Peter, which would concentrate on music, celebrities and games.[35] A fourth presenter, Katy Hill, was introduced in 1995,[36] but unlike earlier decades, there was little stability in the lineup, with resignations and new additions made almost every year of the decade. The 1990s also saw many more live broadcasts on location, with many shows shot entirely away from the studio.[35] Blue Peter was also one of the first television shows to launch a website. There were also two changes of editors: Oliver Macfarlane replaced Bronze in the mid-1990s,[37] and moved on in 1999 soon after Blue Peter celebrated its 40th anniversary.[38] It was at this time Richard Bacon was sacked following reports in News of the World that he had taken cocaine.[39] Steve Hocking was then appointed as editor in what was believed to be a difficult period for the show.[40]

However, the 2000s started off successfully, when two time capsules that had been buried on Blue Peter were opened up. The former presenters were invited back to assist, and the rest of the programme looked at life in the 1970s when the first capsule was buried.[41] With Hill's departure and replacement by Liz Barker in 2000, the new team of Konnie Huq, Simon Thomas, Matt Baker and herself made the programme strong and consistent for the next five years, which had been somewhat lacking in the 1990s. The Friday edition of the show, as in the previous decade, featured games and competitions, but additionally there was a drama series, The Quest, which featured cameos from many former presenters. Basil Brush also made several appearances on Fridays. It was at this time that the new controller of BBC One, Nigel Packard, asked for Blue Peter to be broadcast all year round. This was achieved by having two shows per week instead of three during the summer months, and using pre-recorded material.[42] The early 2000s also introduced Christmas productions, which the presenters took part in.[43] In 2003, Richard Marson became the new editor, and one of his first tasks was changing Blue Peters output on the digital CBBC Channel, which for the first year of the channel's launch consisted of repeated editions, plus spin-off shows Blue Peter Unleashed and Blue Peter Flies the World.[44] This new arrangement involved a complex schedule of live shows and pre-recorded material, being broadcast on BBC One and the CBBC Channel. Marson also introduced a new set, graphics and music,[45] In February 2008 the BBC One programme was moved from 5:00 pm to 4:35 pm to accommodate The Weakest Link, and as a result of the move, Blue Peters ratings dropped to as low as 100,000 viewers in the age 6–12 bracket but are now steadily improving.

Over 4000 shows have been produced since 1958, and almost every episode from 1964 onwards still exists in the BBC archives. This is extremely unusual for programmes of that era, and is a testament to the foresight and initiative of editor Biddy Baxter, as she personally ensured that telerecordings and, from 1970, video copies were kept of the episodes.