Tuesday, 7 July 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#4)


In 1977 John Noakes, Blue Peter's most unlikely Action Man, was about to climb Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square - without a safety harness and wearing nothing more than a car coat and a pair of flares. His mission - to help clean pigeon droppings off the statue of Nelson.


I must confess I've been looking for an excuse to show this classic bit of footage for ages. And what better way to shoehorn it in to my blog than to include my actual Blue Peter badge - the one I received as a competition runner-up in 1968, c/w a signed letter from the show's producer, Biddy Baxter. It's been sitting in a 'badge box' (not to be confused with a badger box) full of all my old punk pins - Generation X, Buzzcocks, Radio Stars et al - for donkey's years. So I'm pleased to elevate it, finally, to treasured status. It is my fourth object.

The non-Shep related quote below is taken from Noakes' IMDb page. It's from the commentary he overdubbed on to the film afterwards; as opposed to the ongoing nervous dialogue he's having with his appointed sherpa, and the BBC camera man during his assent (both of whom are also wearing precisely the same amount of PPE as Noakes i.e. bugger all).


"At this level, the plinth on which Nelson stands overhangs the column. I found myself literally hanging from the ladder with nothing at all beneath me."

John Noakes (1934-2017)


15 comments:

  1. I'm not sure that flares were the wisest choice of trousers!

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  2. I had very mixed emotions watching that clip. Sheer terror mixed with enormous admiration mixed with nostalgic melancholy. Thank you for sharing it, and your badge. By gum, indeed.

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    1. Imagine if he'd got to the top and realised he'd left his Blue Peter badge on his other jacket.

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  3. I'm no lover of heights, so you'll forgive me if I don't partake of the video. I bumped into this very clip elsewhere quite recently and was forced to exit rather sharpish before I keeled over onto my keyboard. Ditto anything Fred Dibnah related. Cool badge though.

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  4. Looking at that video again it does just seem unbelievable, but it fits with my childhood so well and I suspect yours too, a time for jumping off walls, swinging on ropes, riding bikes and scaling a climbing frame with no real concept of risk. Probably pierced my fingers a few times on badges too - lovely mention of your old pins!
    Brilliant to see your Blue Peter one - I got sent one too after I had written in to tell them about my multitude of penpals from around the world. Those were special days.

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    1. Unbelievable is the only word to describe a man who at 9am had just parked up round the corner on Charing Cross Road and, by half past, with no training, no PPE and no Health & Safety was standing 200 feet in the air on a shaky wooden ladder looking nervously down on a very murky capital.

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  5. Maybe we could ask the UK PM to have a go at this method of cleaning Nelson's Column?

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  6. I remember watching the episode when John did this climb. Do you think we were quite so in awe of what he did back then as we all are now? We were so used to a life where our dad’s probably scaled all sorts of edifices to replace chimney pots etc with only a shuggley ladder, we didn’t wear seatbelts or helmets on our bikes. A different world. Those flares though... Argh.

    Great badge. Mr WIAA has a button badge with the Blue Peter on it but that’s a fine looking specimen.

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    1. My dad used to send me up ladders, onto roofs, and into small high places he couldn't get on the farm.

      To reassure me there was no danger, he would always say, 'you can't fall... there's nothing to stop you'.

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    2. That's exactly it, Alyson! I too watched it when it went out and probably thought 'This is a bit dull; it's just John Noakes climbing up a ladder.' It's not as if he was going down a toboggan run on a tin tray or anything.

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