It is with mixed feelings that I heard of the death of television presenter John Noakes. His final years had been blighted by Alzheimer’s disease and he narrowly escaped death when he wandered from home in the summer of 2015. The pain of realising that this complex, intelligent man, so full of life on screen, had been transformed by the ravages of the illness was visceral for those of us who only knew his work persona as well as those who were his friends and family.
In so many ways this marks the passing of an era; not just because those of us who grew up watching him on Blue Peter are now well into middle age, but because the creative environment that enabled him to shine on television is long gone. His colleagues on Blue Peter providing inspiration and leadership for a generation as well as enabling those of us who did not have pets at home to experience what it was like to own tortoises, cats and, of course dogs, even if it was vicariously.
Although his first official companion canine was Patch, son of the unforgettable Petra, it is Shep with which he will forever be associated. Although officially “property” of the BBC, one suspects that Shep may have been the dog of a lifetime for John Noakes; Shep was gifted to him when he left the programme in 1978. Contractual restrictions to which John Noakes did not agree meant that they did not live together for Shep’s remaining nine years, although Shep appeared in
Go With Noakes which overlaped his time at Blue Peter and ended in 1980.
What is striking looking at still images and videos of John Noakes with Shep is the bond between the two. Even when a still puppy, they had clearly established a strong rapport.
Television is a very different place today. Blue Peter is screened on a specialist channel as the medium has fragmented and, tragically, Television Centre and the Blue Peter garden were sold to property developers in 2013. Although the outer fabric of the building is Grade II listed, it will never be more than an empty shell, a sad monument to the greed that has trampled over the creativity and idealism that allowed the likes of John Noakes to flourish.