WHERE WERE YOU WHEN: Blue Peter’s John Noakes met Shep

Former presenter Janet Ellis remembers the unbreakable bond between man and dog.

Blue Peter Shep
JOHN, WE’RE ON! Noakes and his canine co-star Shep. Image: BBC

How does a programme reach through the television screen to its audience? Especially when that viewer is a child – the most discerning and easily distracted audience ever. The programme has to talk only to them – and make them feel special. There may be a grown-up in the room, but the successful children’s show has to reflect their curiosity, their sense of fun and their hopes for the future without judgment or irony. If you add animals to the mix, they’ve got to be loyal and messy, lovable and unpredictable – just like real pets (and children, come to that). And you have to make sure you pair them with an owner who is all that and more

Blue Peter got the mix exactly right and the result was magical. From their first appearance together in September 1971, John Noakes and Shep were the perfect double act. John’s boyish enthusiasm was easily matched by his border collie’s appetite for life – as evidenced in that familiar catchphrase: ‘Get down, Shep!’ The two of them could be very naughty. They both loved it when things went wrong and – appropriately – always cheered on the underdog. The questioning of authority and rules that made John so watchable, so funny and so influential was replicated in his devoted pet’s behaviour. And Shep was his pet – make no mistake about it. No ‘just on camera, then off with a handler’ stuff here. It was a real, 24-hours-a-day relationship with that much sought-after quality: chemistry.

Like all the best partnerships, they knew each other well and loved each other’s work. Live television can be chaotic but nothing fazed these two and because they were so at ease, we could relax as well. Not all dogs take to the studio. Hardly any presenters live on in so many memories. I can see them, playful and unforgettable, in countless joyful recordings but, most of all, I hold them in my heart.

Also that month…

  • Actor Martin Freeman, right (Sherlock, The Hobbit), was born.
  • John Lennon started life in New York, never to return to the UK.
  • Showjumper Harvey Smith was cleared of making an offensive gesture at Hickstead after using the ‘V’ sign.
  • Lord Snowdon was fined £20 for driving carelessly when his car, carrying Princess Margaret and their two children, collided with a photographer.
  • The Old Grey Whistle Test music show made its debut on BBC2.