Lovable Petra? She Was Just a Neurotic Mongrel Who Hated TV . . . FOR PETER PURVES, BLUE PETER MEANT OFF-SCREEN RIVALRY AND A DOG WITH DISTEMPER
Byline: JANE KELLY
WHERE is he now and what's he been doing since Blue Peter? Those are the questions that invariably accompany the mention of Peter Purves who, with John Noakes and Valerie Singleton, became enormously famous in the great days of children's television.
Blue Peter, which once accompanied Princess Anne on safari, was an influential programme during the Sixties and Seventies. Purves and his co-presenters received 3,000 letters a week from children eager to help the less fortunate, from Deptford to Dacca.
Whatever he has been doing since he finished presenting Blue Peter in 1978, after 860 shows, Purves has obviously done it rather well.
Now 58, he lives with his second wife, actress Kathryn Evans, at The Grange, a sumptuous Cotswold house which is mainly Tudor with a late-Georgian extension.
Since the halcyon days of Blue Peter, his career has been rather fragmented: two children's programmes for the BBC, Stop Watch and Going Places, a game show called Babble, his own corporate video company, fronting TV darts shows and directing pantos for Rolf Harris, Colin Baker and Sarah Kennedy.
In what seems like a tangential departure, last week he became editor of a new magazine called Mad About Dogs.
But perhaps this job reveals a rare thread of consistency in his career, since he has been presenting the Crufts dog show for the BBC since 1976, and he has loved dogs all his life, perhaps more than he has people.
PURVES is still a fine figure of a man with his massive shoulders, abundant muscle, an eager expression and throbbing good nature. He is not unlike his two beloved Newfoundlands, Kent and Gulliver.
His Peke, Jamie, meanwhile, has to be carried out of the Newfoundlands' reach. Despite being top dog, he is too small to enforce his position, so the others knock him about.
'I love dogs, but I am not overly sentimental about them,' says Purves. 'I don't crumble when they die.' And they do. Several urns line one dresser in his non-fitted, heavily wooden Victorian kitchen. They contain the ashes of his late lamented pets, with brass labels marking their names and dates.
Petra, the beloved Blue Peter dog, is not among them. He is certainly unsentimental about her.
'She was immensely popular but she didn't have much personality. She'd had distemper, lost her teeth, developed diabetes, her eyes were bad and she was neurotic and badly bred. An accident. A mess.
'People imagined she was a German Shepherd, but she was some rough collie cross,' he says. 'She hated the studio.
She would slink off the set whenever she could.' Sadly, Purves's large, open face will always be associated in the public's mind with Petra's small, dejected one. It is a pity for Purves, and he feels it, that he has never had another big success to give him a post-Petra identity.
'I am totally bored with people who throw Blue Peter jokes at me,' he says. 'They come up and say "Down Shep" and "Here's one I made earlier".
After the five-thousandth time it's not remotely amusing.
I just glare at them.' Hardly anyone remembers him as Steven Taylor in Dr Who, a part he played for a year during the mid-Sixties.
After Dr Who he didn't work for 18 months, which is why he took the Blue Peter job, giving up acting, temporarily he thought, for presenting.
'Of course it was a brilliant job, with the chance to work abroad. If it hadn't been such a good job, I wouldn't have stood it for so long.' Off location and back in the studio, things were not so happy for the Blue Peter presenters. The public saw them smiling and relaxed, but there were terrible tensions behind the scenes.
'Blue Peter was the editor Biddy Baxter's control freak empire,' he says.
'She wouldn't allow us to use an autocue, we had to learn all the scripts.
'There was no spontaneity but we were determined to get it right. …