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Peter Purves

17 February 2020

The Blue Peter, Doctor Who, and Crufts Dog Show star talks to Saga about comedy, birthdays and Blackpool beach.

A prize winning Yorkshire Terrier to represent Peter Purves' 41 years as a presenter for Crufts Dog Show

This is your last Crufts after 41 years. Sad to say goodbye?

Of course! It’s been a huge part of my life. I will be presenting the Best in Show trophy this year, which is a massive honour.

When the news was announced late last year, it caused quite a controversy. Do you think your age had anything to do with you being asked to step down?

I believe so, yes. I had no wish to retire, but they wanted a younger presenter. That’s the story these days, isn’t it. You reach pension age and you’re written off. It’s appalling. And a lot of people seem to agree with me. I’ve had hundreds of supportive messages on Twitter. What happened to the idea that age equals experience? And experience means being good at your job.

Presumably, you had a pet dog as a child.

Not really. My parents adopted a field spaniel, but I was away at boarding school from 11 to 18, so I missed out on all that. Technically speaking, Petra, the Blue Peter dog, was my first pet. I started looking after her in 1968, the year after I joined the show. That’s when I really fell in love with the dog world. They got me to do all the dog items… obedience training, puppy walking with Guide Dogs for the Blind. The viewers loved anything to do with animals.

You grew up and went to school in Blackpool, which was a mecca for the entertainment industry back then. Did that have anything to do with your own career choice?

Definitely. I started off going to the circus, then the theatre, then watching great comedy names like The Crazy Gang, Frank Randle, Arthur Askey, Jewell and Warris, Charlie Chester, Nat Jackley, Frankie Howerd, Tommy Trinder. I wasn’t interested in being famous. I just wanted to be a performer. 

Have you kept anything from your childhood? A treasured memento?

Not really. Those years at boarding school were not particularly happy ones for me. The kids and the teachers that you didn’t get on with during the day were still there at night. And they still made your life miserable.

If we offered you a trip in a time machine, would you go backwards or forwards?

Well, I suppose I did get to travel in in a time machine when I joined Doctor Who in 1965, playing the Doctor’s companion, Steven Taylor. I always enjoyed the historical stories. The Vikings, the siege of Troy and Marco Polo. Great costumes. That always appealed to me more than the sci-fi stuff and the Daleks. 

Doctor Who and Blue Peter! Two of the UK’s most iconic kids’ shows.

At the time, of course, they were simply ‘jobs’. I came down to London from Blackpool in the summer of 1963 and started pounding the pavements, looking for work. I’d never been to RADA, so I wasn’t part of that London clique. Networking and hanging out at the right party was never my thing. I was much happier going to gigs… Cream, Steppenwolf, Creedence Clearwater Revival. We were spoilt for choice in the 60s.

Every generation seems to have its own Blue Peter moment. Valerie Singleton introducing the Beatles, Lulu the elephant, making stuff out of Fairy Liquid bottles, John Noakes hanging off Nelson’s Column...

For me, it’s the summer expeditions. My first one was Morocco in 1968, but I’ll never forget seeing the Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Uruguay. Or flying to Tonga in an old DC-10. Travelling with Johnny Noakes was always a lot of fun. Any chance of a gag and Johnny was there. 

Did you get to wear your own clothes on the show? Any outfits that you regret?

There was a pair of flared trousers, made from square patches of different-coloured brown leather. Tight at the top and a flare that was bigger than my size 11 shoe. Very striking! I wore them for our trip to Iceland and they were surprisingly warm. 

Did you have a favourite kids’ TV show?

We didn’t actually get a TV until 1953, so I would have been 14. My dad got one for the Coronation and the FA Cup Final – Blackpool v Bolton Wanderers. Radio was more my thing. Adventure Unlimited, The Goon Show, Hancock, The Navy Lark and Round the Horne. Making sure I was home by quarter to seven for Dick Barton on the Light Programme.

You left London in 1987 and now live in rural Suffolk. Are you happiest in the country?

As soon as I didn’t need to be in London for work, I left. Even in the 80s, it was getting expensive and stressful. Now we’ve got Constable Country and the Suffolk Heritage Coast on our doorstep. I still miss Blackpool beach, though. Easily the best beach in the UK. 

Do you still consider yourself a Northerner?

Yes, I do. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the sense of humour.

Who makes you laugh?

Les Dawson playing the piano. I met him several times and he was always the most wonderful man. Naturally funny, but absolutely no ego and no nastiness. Unlike a lot of today’s comedians.

What did turning 80 mean?

I never celebrated birthdays at boarding school because it meant having the mickey taken out of you and getting the bumps. My 80th involved a rare party… just family and a few friends. No bumps, thankfully!

Do you still look after yourself? Walking your two cocker spaniels every morning?

Yes, walking the dogs and a healthy diet, thanks to my wife, Kathryn. I am diabetic, so she makes sure I eat the right stuff at the right time. When you’re diabetic, it’s all about routine. If I was left on my own, I’d be surviving on chips and pizza. 

Is it true you’re an atheist?

Yes, I suppose so. There are certain aspects of the spiritual life that intrude into my thoughts, but I don’t believe in God and I don’t have ‘faith’.

What makes you shout at the radio/TV?

Politicians. From all sides. Hardly any of them have had a proper job. Arrogant. Disgraceful. Where are their brains?

And, finally, what’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

An old teacher of mine said, ‘Don’t even think about a career in TV. Waste of time. It’ll never last’.

Peter Purves makes his final appearance at Crufts on C4, March 5-8, 2020. He is also presenting Peter’s Perfect Pups, a mini-series for ITV's This Morning about rehoming and fostering rescue dogs.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.