"Magpie" was a magazine-format children's show which was broadcast on ITV and intended to rival the huge popularity of BBC 1's "Blue Peter".
Made by Thames Television and transmitted live from 1968-1980, "Magpie" was a much rougher-round-the-edges affair.
Unlike "Blue Peter" whose target audience at the time seemed to be nice, well-behaved middle class children, "Magpie" was targeted at the hip, groovy classroom rebels.
The varying presenter line-up included sultry Susan Stranks, Marc Bolan look-a-like Mick Roberts and virginal Jenny Handley. These trendy mods were the leading lights in kids TV in the early 70s and at its peak "Magpie" was a serious rival to the safe-ground of "Blue Peter".
However, unlike its BBC counterpart, "Magpie" never lasted the distance and in 1980 it was scrapped.
Never before have two kids shows left the nation so divided - were you a "Blue Peter" kid or a "Magpie" kid?
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Since the inauguration of commercial TV in Britain in 1955 there's always been a perception that the (state-funded although, ahem, theoretically independent) BBC is solid, serious and worthy, and that the commercial channels (particularly the first, historically speaking, to air, ITV) are frivolous, populist and ephemeral. (There is some factual basis for this last perception, since ITV has always been more reluctant to screen repeats than the BBC.)
In the kind of postmodern ideological meltdown (with the convergence of/confusion between the sociocultural left and the libertarian right) there's been an inevitable blurring of the boundaries between the BBC and ITV. (Indeed latterly there's been a kind of role-reversal, with the BBC (largely privatised by stealth) dumbed-down and politically supine, while ITV pursues higher quality programming, and shows slightly greater political independence of the Blair/Brown administrations.)
In the 1970s, however, the BBC still gave off a decided whiff of Reith-era austerity and earnestness (and at least the appearance of incorruptibility), and "Blue Peter" was locked into an eternal upper middle-class version of the 1950s. (Oddly enough, despite now having much younger and trendier presenters, something of this aura perversely persists even today.)
Simply by being unambiguously of its own time, "Magpie" managed to appear trendy, and simply by addressing the real interests and concerns of its young audience, irrespective of class, it distanced itself from its hidebound rival. Nothing emphasised this distance more than the respective theme tunes: while "Blue Peter" used a jaunty orchestral version of "The Sailor's Hornpipe" (subsequently updated but never replaced), "Magpie" featured a bespoke rock tune, performed by the Spencer Davis Group, whose chorus ("Magpie...") wavered semitonally in the psychedelic style of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life" ("I'd love to turn you oooooooon...").
I was definitely an ITV kid - I loved "Do Not Adjust Your Set", "Timeslip" and "Magpie", and syndicated American shows such as "Lost In Space" and "Land Of The Giants". (Apart from "Ivor The Engine" and programmes from the "Watch With Mother" stable, I cannot think of a single BBC children's show that I would have watched.) "Magpie" really hit its stride with the superb trio of Mick Robertson, Jenny Hanley and Douglas Rae (who out-trendied the inaugural trio of Tony Bastable, Susan Stranks and Pete Brady by an incalculably high factor). Having said that, the "Magpie" presenters were gradually-replaced individual modules, not entire teams who came and went en bloc.
The ITV policy of non-repeats means that there is nothing like the same access to old footage of "Magpie" than there is to...that OTHER programme. This distorts present-day awareness of the relative importance that the two shows had when they were concurrently airing. It is also indicative of the different programming priorities of ITV and the BBC, that "Magpie" was axed at the end of the decade it did so much to define, while "Blue Peter" carries on in its strangely dislocated bubble of timelessness.
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