Sunday, 25 June 2017

Valerie Singleton - National Treasure!

I had thought that I wouldn't be able to go to Llyswen to see Valerie Singleton, but then a friend said she wanted to go and offered me a lift.
We arrived a bit early, and popped into the Bridge End for a swift half. I don't think I've ever been in there before, though I've been past plenty of times. There was Butty Bach on the hand pump, and a pretty extensive menu chalked on the wall, and a few locals playing darts at the back.
The village hall is just a few yards along the main road (we moved the car from the pub car park), and they have a plaque on the wall saying that the hall got a grant from the EU for improvements.
She was in the area to stay with a friend, who was up on stage interviewing her - his name was James something, and he'd gone to Finland with her some years ago for some filming work, where he crashed a snow mobile into a snow drift. She also called out to a lady in the audience who runs the B&B where she's stayed on previous visits to the area.
I've met quite a few famous people over the years, and sold books to some of them - thanks to the Hay Festival, mostly - but this was something different. I grew up watching Blue Peter twice a week, like millions of other children, and I found myself in awe to be sitting only a few yards away from Valerie, who certainly doesn't look as if she's just celebrated her 80th birthday. She was very eloquent, and had some amusing stories to tell about her life. One of her first friends, for instance, at the convent school where they practiced archery along a long corridor, was the daughter of Odette, the World War Two spy, and another friend was the daughter of Mary Norton, who wrote the Borrowers. Then she went to RADA, along with several very famous people, including Albert Finney, who she rather fancied at the time.
Video clips interspersed through the evening included some of the adverts she was in before Blue Peter, including one where she's spring cleaning a house with Flash. She was taken on by the BBC as a continuity announcer, which stopped the advertising work, and then auditioned for Blue Peter, which at the time was a fifteen minute slot once a week, mostly about model trains. After a while, she was told she had to choose between Blue Peter and continuity announcing, and thought Blue Peter sounded more interesting. She had no idea what a phenomenon it was going to be - and then came Biddy Baxter, and they went twice weekly, and started the Blue Peter Appeals, and so on.
Another video clip was the famous one showing her walking a young lion and taking him into a corner shop.
Then she was chosen to go to Kenya with Princess Ann, to film around a school for street boys. Over the years she's done a lot of travelling and travel writing, starting with the Blue Peter Special Assignments. She talked about going to Hong Kong when the first fleet of Vietnamese boat people arrived in the harbour - and how she was given a script, but ended up describing the scene in her own words, only referring to the script occasionally. She said she never had any training as a journalist, but she was proud of that piece of work, and got quite a bit of praise for it when she got back to London.
When she left Blue Peter, she moved to Nationwide, and other news programmes like Tonight (another video clip showed her interviewing Bryan Ferry and David Bowie). She also worked on PM and The Money Programme, on radio.
The most recent video clip showed her as a guest (coming out of a time capsule) on the Graham Norton show, where she made something very rude with a serviette! She said she'd been shown how to do it on a cruise she'd been on, and it seemed just the thing for Graham Norton!
She's still doing a bit of TV work - she's been filming for one of those antique programmes, where you're given £300 and have to go out and buy something with an expert, and try to make more money when it goes to auction.
The last thing she did, though, was to attend John Noakes' funeral. She said that, over the years, they'd lost touch (partly because he lived in Majorca), though Peter Purves remained good friends with him, and gave a speech at the funeral which told her a lot about him that she'd never known, like what a good actor he had been.
To finish the evening Rev Charlesworth stood up to thank Valerie for such an entertaining evening - she said that she'd been described as an "icon", which she didn't really like, though someone had once described her as being like a listed building, which she liked better - and Rev Charlesworth said that she ought to be a National Treasure!
At the end of the evening, my friend brought out her Blue Peter Book of Teddy's Clothes, which she'd had since she was eight, and got Valerie to sign it for her, and we ended up having a nice chat about what the shops in Hay were like (and I spoke to Valerie Singleton, and managed to stay coherent, even though I felt that I'd regressed to being eight years old!)
It really was a fantastic evening, and the light supper they put on in the interval was really nice, with all sorts of tasty nibbles included in the ticket price. We were slightly surprised that there weren't more people there, but I don't think it was terribly well advertised. Some of us, certainly, were of exactly the right age to be complete fan-worshippers!


Jane said...

Hi, I was at school with Jackie many moons ago and she suggested I read your blog as we had recently talked about loving Blue Peter! It was a very interesting read & I learnt a fair bit about Valerie that I didn't know. What an interesting and varied life she's had and with more to come no doubt even though she's not working so much now, it seems like she's not ready to retire just yet! It brought back happy memories of collecting bottle tops, sticky back plastic and the pets I adored like Petra & Jason to name but a few! Thank you, Jane

Eigon said...

You're welcome!