John Noakes (born 6 March 1934, Shelf, near Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire) is a British television presenter and personality, best known for co-presenting the BBC children's magazine programme Blue Peter in the 1960s and 1970s. He remains the show's longest-serving presenter, with a stint that lasted 12 years and 6 months.
Blue Peter Presenter
Noakes trained as an aircraft engine fitter for the RAF and BOAC before deciding to become an actor. He trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and made his stage debut as a dog and a clown in a pantomime. He appeared on television in programmes such as the military police drama series Redcap and worked with the comedian Cyril Fletcher, before he joined Blue Peter as a presenter on 30 December 1965; his colleagues at the time were Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton. Trace left the programme in 1967, and was replaced by Peter Purves, creating the 'Val, John and Pete' line-up which lasted until 1972. When Singleton began to diversify her television career, former Young Generation dancer Lesley Judd joined the team. At a time when most BBC presenters spoke with received pronunciation (RP), Noakes's broad Yorkshire accent was a novelty.
Noakes usually fulfilled the role of action man in the series. Highlights included free-fall parachuting with the RAF's Flying Falcons display team and bobsleighing (his sled hit a hole in the ice and turned over, injuring him). After his five-mile-high free-fall with the RAF in 1973, he held the record for the longest free-fall parachute jump by a British civilian for a few years, although it has since been broken. In segments involving swimming, he often wore rather brief swimming trunks which caused raised eyebrows at the BBC (for instance the trip to Mexico in 1970); in a comedy routine recalling her childhood Dawn French mentioned this.
Like most presenters, Noakes was encouraged to take special responsibility for one of the show's pets. His original dog was Patch, the son of Petra, the very first Blue Peter dog. After Patch's sudden death in 1971 (from a rare disease) he was given another pet dog, a Border Collie puppy, christened 'Shep' by viewers. Noakes' attempts to control the excitable Shep led to his memorable catchphrase "Get down, Shep!".
After Blue Peter
In 1979, Noakes wrote a children's book, The Flight of the Magic Clog (published by Lion, with illustrations by Toni Goffe) in which Mr. Brooks takes John, Mickey the brainy one, June the talkative one, Barbara the pretty one and Eric the clumsy one on an adventure against the international villain Baron Wilhelm Doppleganger and his secret arms factory using a giant magic flying clog.
In 1982, he and his wife made an unsuccessful attempt to sail around the world. A second attempt in 1984 got no further than Majorca, where they settled down to run a boat rental business. In 1983 Noakes presented The Dinosaur Trail, a 7-part documentary for Children's ITV.
Between 1986 and 1988, the BBC produced a programme called Fax!, which answered questions posed by viewers. One question was "Whatever happened to John Noakes and Shep?" Noakes and his wife appeared on the show on 20 January 1987 to reveal what he had been doing since retiring from television, and during the course of the interview, Noakes tearfully revealed that Shep had died just three days previously.
Notwithstanding his status as an icon for a whole generation, Noakes has become publicly bitter about his Blue Peter experiences.Despite having come across as a very natural presenter, he claimed his television personality was a fake, and he was merely acting a role. He also complained about his perceived low salary during his time on Blue Peter, and expressed disgust that he had apparently never been insured for any of the stunts he had undertaken, claiming that he would never have gone through with them had he been aware of this at the time.
Programme editor "Biddy Baxter was an awful woman," he said in 1999. "I don't want to talk about her." Baxter, for her part, has denied Noakes claims about the lack of insurance for his stunts. The Singleton/Noakes/Purves team was reunited in October 1998 for a programme celebrating 40 years of Blue Peter and again in January 2000 for the disinterment of the time capsule that they had buried in 1971.
In 2003, Noakes co-hosted an ITV1 series entitled Mad About Pets and in 2004, he took part in the Living TV reality TV show I'm Famous and Frightened!. A year later, he appeared in the Channel 5 programme Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver.
On 14 June 2008, he appeared in a Blue Peter-themed edition of the Weakest Link, being voted off second. It was noted that when the presenter Anne Robinson spoke about Shep he became visibly upset and could not hold back the tears trying to answer the question.
He is now a language tutor, specialising in Romance languages. He is trained in the Michel Thomas method of language tuition.
On 7 September 2013, he appeared with Peter Purves in Pointless Celebrities (episode 6 of series 4).
Other TV Work
Overlapping with his period on Blue Peter, Noakes and Shep appeared in another factual series, Go With Noakes, in which they travelled around the country getting involved in diverse activities like motor racing, rowing, aerobatics and painting. In each series Noakes was featured travelling around Britain in a particular mode, e.g. sailing, narrow boat, walking, open top car. Go With Noakes began on 28 March 1976, and would run for five series and 30 episodes, finishing its original run on 21 December 1980.
Noakes left Blue Peter on 26 June 1978. Popular belief has it that he was not allowed to keep Shep, but although the dog was indeed legally owned by the BBC, Noakes was offered the option of keeping him. However, according to the behind-the-scenes book Blue Peter The Inside Story (by Biddy Baxter, the show's longest-serving Editor), this was conditional on Noakes not using Shep for any advertising or commercial purposes.