Late Blue Peter legend inspires Harrogate charity show

Inspiration - The late Blue Peter legend John Noakes with his famous dog Shep.
Inspiration - The late Blue Peter legend John Noakes with his famous dog Shep.

A conversation with Blue Peter legend John Noakes has inspired a forthcoming Old Time Music Hall charity show in Harrogate.

Not only will the Friends of Harrogate Hospital event at the Royal Hall raise money for NHS Dementia Care, it will also bring full circle to a chapter in the story of the late TV personality’s life of adventure and mishap..

John Noakes' secret past in the panto - The advert in the Harrogate Advertiser of December 1960.

John Noakes' secret past in the panto - The advert in the Harrogate Advertiser of December 1960.

As a young actor in the early 1960s, Noakes appeared in panto on the stage of Harrogate Theatre and was involved in an incident which has shades of the famous Elephant episode of Blue Peter years later.

The anecdote surfaced last year when the charity event’s main organiser Albert Day was chatting to John Noakes, a close friend in the final months before the popular former TV presenter died of Alzheimer’s disease in May.

Friends of Harrogate Hospital’s Albert Day said: “John Noakes was a good friend of mine and a hero to millions.

“The idea for the show came from meeting Vicky and John out in Mallorca last year.

“At the time he was deteriorating but could still spin a yarn.

“He told me about the time he appeared at Harrogate Theatre or Harrogate Opera House as it was known then.

“He was involved with Cinderella for Harrogate White Rose Theatre when there was an “incident” with the ponies.

But was there any proof that this was genuinely an early example of the time John Noakes tried to control an elephant in the Blue Peter studio - and famously failed - or was it a tall story?

Albert Day came into the Harrogate Advertiser office where with the help of the reporters tracked the relevant article down in the newspaper’s archives room.

And the proof was there - in an article of Saturday, January 7, 1961.

Albert said: “John was fresh from drama school when got a job as assistant stage manager. Part of his duties was to dress as a footman and take care of the two ponies that pulled Cinderella’s “coach” in the transformation scene.

“At one performance, it had been raining and as the ponies pulled the trap up the slope from the street it started to slip on the rake of the stage!

“John did his best to control the slide but to no avail – ponies trap and footman went ever-closer to the orchestra pit.

“One pony showed its disapproval by taking a bite out of John’s bottom, the other hovered over the pit but was held by its harness.

“Cinder’s trap tipped up, she did a forward-roll and the hapless John was left with no alternative but to leap across into the audience, aware of a wild-eyed trombonist looking up at him as he sailed over the pit. A lady on the front row held her arms wide, giving him a soft landing!”

The Friends of Harrogate Hospital’s aim at the fundraiser at the Royal Hall on October 28 is to raise more than ten thousand pounds as part of a drive to equip it dementia care facilities with some of the latest equipment.

The Old Time Music Hall concery will be the flagship event in the Friends' golden jubilee year.

Top of the bill is classic family entertainer Billy Pearce, a stand-up comedian, actor and vocalist who has appeared in eight Royal Variety shows and stars in the Bradford Alhambra pantomime annually.

Albert Day said: "Harrogate has not had a traditional Music Hall for some years, it will be our flagship event to 50 years of fund raising, a show that combines the best of British traditions as a fitting tribute to those enduring dementia and those who care."