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Blue Peter's action man John Noakes dies aged 83 after battle with Alzheimer's

May 29, 2017 12:51 PM
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His family hope he will be remembered for "his many escapades with his faithful companion Shep" during his stint as the longest-serving presenter

The man who is arguably Blue Peter's most memorable presenter, Yorkshire's beloved John Noakes, has died aged 83.

The star had a reputation as the show's action man for his 12 and a half years in the 1960s and 1970s, a stint which makes him the programme's longest serving presenter.

As well as being the show's daredevil he was also known for his partnership with canine stars of the programme, Patch - the first Blue Peter dog Petra's puppy - and the border collie Shep, who inspired Noakes's catchphrase: "Get down, Shep!"

His family said he died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning and that they hoped Noakes would be remembered for "his many escapades with his faithful companion Shep".

Family friend Wendy Downes said in a statement: "John Noakes died peacefully on Sunday morning, May 28.

"He had endured and suffered from Alzheimer's over recent years and whilst he will be greatly missed by his wife, family and many friends, his release from continuing ill health must be counted as a blessing.

"His many escapades with his faithful companion Shep, during his time with Blue Peter, will live on in many peoples memories and that is how his family would like him remembered."

Former Blue Peter presenters were among the first stars to pay tribute to show "legend" Noakes.

Peter Purves, who co-presented Blue Peter with Noakes, told the BBC: "I knew about it yesterday. Very sad, very sad indeed.

"But I think as his family have said it really is a blessing. He was suffering badly from Alzheimer's in recent years, and in the very recent years it got extremely serious."

He described Noakes as "unique", adding a former Blue Peter editor reckoned he was "the best presenter ever".

Purves said: "He had qualities that no one else had and he will be remembered very fondly by a lot of people and none more so than me."

He added: "He was a happy-go-lucky guy in many ways. He was actually quite serious as well, and very, very shy.

"I mean that's what you really wouldn't realise about him, I suppose. Johnny performed as John Noakes. He didn't just be John Noakes.

"And when he was off screen he wasn't quite as scatty and as free and as loose, and sometimes quite odd.

"You felt you were protecting him sometimes when you were working with him on television, because you didn't know quite what he was going to do next.

"But we had so many laughs and so much fun together over the years. I mean hundreds and hundreds of happy memories. I'll never forget him. He was a good friend."

Purves said Noakes would like to be remembered as "the daredevil on Blue Peter".

Konnie Huq went on Twitter to express her sorrow, writing: "John Noakes. Best Blue Peter presenter ever. RIP. So sad."

Anthea Turner called the presenter a "Blue Peter favourite", and Zoe Salmon, who presented the show between 2004 and 2008, tweeted: "I am deeply saddened to hear about John Noakes, a Blue Peter legend who will live on in our hearts. Privileged to have met him."

Katy Hill credited Noakes for her desire to present the children's show.

She wrote on the social media site: "Saddest news about the legendary John Noakes who inspired me to want to present Blue Peter & do everything he did. The best!"

Former presenter turned actress and author Janet Ellis, said: "The best, bravest, funniest BP presenter. If we didn't walk in John Noakes' shadow it's because he shone the light for us. RIP".

Noakes' bravery was illustrated by such feats as ascending Nelson's Column without a safety harness using just a rickety wooden ladder - a sound problem meant he had to repeat the climb - a bruising encounter with a bobsleigh and a record-breaking skydive.

Noakes initially found the TV cameras terrifying upon his debut in 1965, and said that he felt as though he had been "stripped naked".

"I actually shook with fear... I went through murder. I even went to a hypnotist and a faith healer to try to get me out of it," he said.

He told how he only survived the job - he lasted until 1978 - by acting the clown and developing an on-screen persona as "this idiot called John Noakes".

The phrase later inspired the name of a pop song released by Barron Knights.

Born in Shelf, near Bradford, Noakes began his early adult life training as an engine fitter for the RAF before deciding to become an actor and studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He notched up small TV parts in series like Redcap and Mogul and landed the Blue Peter job after editor Biddy Baxter decided to have a third presenter on the show to join Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton.

She spotted a picture of Noakes in an article about a local theatre production of Hobson's Choice in the pages of the Leicester Mercury after returning to her home city for the weekend.

Trace was later replaced by Peter Purves and the trio of Singleton, adventurer Noakes and Purves became a classic line-up.

One of Noakes's most memorable moments on the show was when he was asked to drop his trousers to show his bobsleigh-induced injuries - he realised he was wearing his wife Vicky's underwear which he had put on by accident in the dark.

As well as Blue Peter, Noakes made 1970s travelogue spin-off Go With Noakes, where he travelled around the UK with Shep alongside him.

When Noakes left Blue Peter, the BBC had let the presenter keep Shep but he was forbidden from using the dog in adverts.

He wrote a children's book, The Flight Of The Magic Clog, and appeared on reality shows I'm Famous And Frightened and Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver Live.

In 1982, he left England on a sailing trip to see the world but, he and his wife were shipwrecked in a hurricane.

Noakes said later that he had not been happy on Blue Peter and that he was not paid what he was promised.

"When I left I was offered the part of Willy Mossop in Hobson's Choice at Oxford and three weeks of doing that gave me the equivalent satisfaction to 12 years of TV," he said.

He also hit out at the show's editor, saying: "Biddy Baxter was an awful woman. I don't want to talk about her."

But fans of the show would see him reunite with his former co-presenters for Blue Peter anniversary celebrations, including the time capsule dig in 2000.

As well as former Blue Peter presenters, others who fondly remembered Noakes were quick to pay tribute.

Responding to a tweet referring to the TV star as "special to everyone of a certain age in this country", comedian Omid Djalili, tweeted: "Well said. John Noakes meant so much to so many of us. Such a sad day."

BBC director-general, Tony Hall, said: "John Noakes was one of the BBC's most loved children's presenters.

"He was a warm and engaging presenter who appealed to all ages and provided children's TV with some of its most memorable moments.


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