1 9 6 8 – 1 9 8 0 (UK)
ITV had no real challenger to Blue Peter until 1968 when Thames Television invited Sue Turner, whose background was in current affairs, to find the answer. The result was Magpie – a magazine show aimed at eight to fourteen-year-olds which was to provide genuine competition for Blue Peter.
The show was made in Thames’ Studio 3 at Teddington and was transmitted as a live outside broadcast – originally on Tuesdays – using the studio and surrounding lock area.
Magpie first aired at 5.10 pm on Tuesday 30 July 1968 (Thames’ first day on ITV after the network ended their contract with ATV and Rediffusion) and the cartoon magpie mascot was called Murgatroyd.
The popular ‘Captain Fantastic’ segment was brought across from Do Not Adjust Your Set starring David Jason as the raincoated and moustachioed Captain and Denise Coffey as The Evil Mrs Black.
The Magpie format changed in 1969 to a twice weekly, 25-minute show which aired on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A further change came in August 1972 when the broadcast days were altered to Tuesdays and Fridays.
The first presenters were Susan Stranks (who had been the ‘typical teenager’ on the maiden panel of Juke Box Jury), Tony Bastable and former disc jockey Pete Brady.
Sue Stranks holds a very important place in the hearts and minds of English males of a certain age. For a start, she rarely wore a bra (it was the fashion) and I thought she was absolutely gorgeous when I was 13.
The Magpie Sixpence Appeal was an annual charity fund raising exercise and during the appeal, the running total was shown each programme, indicated by the length of a red line running first around Studio 3, then out into the corridor and, potentially, around the entire Teddington Studio complex.
While Blue Peter appeals asked for silver foil, brown paper or old socks, Magpie simply asked for plain old cash . . .
In total, Magpie lasted 12 years. Other hosts included Jenny Hanley, Mick Robertson, Tommy Boyd and Doug Rae. The final programme, broadcast on 6 June 1980, invited the original three presenters back to compete in a ‘Table Cloth Removing’ contest.
While the show was popular with a certain type of kid, it never had anyone to compare with Blue Peter’s John Noakes. If Noakes was haring around the Isle of Man TT course, the Magpie team would be in the studio playing with their Scalextric, and if he was scaling the north face of the Eiger you had the feeling they would answer it by purchasing a return ticket on the Snowdon mountain railway.
Presenter Jenny Hanley is the daughter of the late Jimmy Hanley, who was the presenter of ITV’s popular Admag show Jim’s Inn from 1957 to 1963, and one of the regulars on The Five O’ Clock Club (1963 – 1966).
The ten numbered Magpie badges each signified that you had done something special. This is what you had to do to get each badge . . .
One for Sorrow – Spend one night or more in hospital and let Magpie know. Your nurse or doctor (or parents) had to sign the letter.
Two for Joy – Pass any sort of test or exam. Your teacher had to sign your letter to Magpie.
Three for a Girl and Four for a Boy – These badges were given to girls or boys who wrote an interesting letter to Magpie on any subject they chose. A good painting or drawing would also qualify.
Five for Silver – You were awarded this badge if you sent in a really original idea for a Magpie programme item.
Six for Gold – All you had to do to qualify for this badge was to send Magpie a tall story, preferably of your own invention.
Seven for a Secret Never to be Told – You could not nominate yourself for this badge. It was reserved for one of your friends who had done a good deed. Of course, there was nothing to stop you doing your own good deed and asking a friend to write about the deed to Magpie.
Eight for a Wish – All runners up in Magpie competitions received this badge.
Nine for a Kiss – Jenny gave this badge to any boy or girl who learned to swim since 1 July 1970. Your letter had to be signed by a parent or guardian. Mick gave it to anyone who wrote to him about a visit to an interesting place (such as a museum, art gallery etc) and told him what they liked best about their visit and what they learned from it. Doug gave the badge to anyone who took up a sport they had never done before, or who introduced a friend to a new sport.
Ten for a Bird You Must Not Miss – You could only be awarded this big enamel badge if you actually appeared on Magpie (hence the TV set on it).
The original Magpie badge – with Murgatroyd on it – was only given for an especially good letter or drawing or anything which took much more time and trouble than usual to complete. You could not ask for this badge.