A Hot Take: John Noakes Was A Bit Of A Cunt

The truth about the beloved children’s TV presenter and his canine sidekick is a little hard to swallow.

In 1987, John Noakes – former Blue Peter presenter – appeared on the TV show Fax!, answering the viewers’ question “whatever happened to John Noakes?”. As well as discussing his career since his retirement from television, Noakes tearfully announced that Shep, the dog that was his co-star for several years, had died three days earlier. It was a touching, heartbreaking moment – a TV star who has lost his beloved partner telling all to an audience that he had not been in front of for several years.

Except that wasn’t the full story. Not remotely.

john Noakes was a jobbing actor who found a new career as a children’s TV presenter in 1965 when he joined the crew of the BBC show Blue Peter. A rare Northern voice on TV at the time, he would become the longest-running presenter on the show, staying until 1978. Noakes became the show’s ‘action man’, being the person who would be involved in the most extravagant stunts – everything from a bobsleigh stunt that went disastrously wrong to an 8km free-fall parachute jump and an unassisted ascent of the 51-metre-high Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square where he helped clean the pigeon poop that the statue accumulated.

Noakes eventually left Blue Peter and had his own show, Go With Noakes, where he and Shep travelled the UK having all manner of adventures while using various forms of transport to get from place to place. At the time, tabloids exposed the fact that Noakes was not sleeping in tents as the show suggested, but was actually spending the nights off-camera in fancy hotels. But we can allow a little artistic licence in shows like this I suppose. The real Noakes hypocrisy would not be revealed for several years.

During the production of Blue Peter, Shep lived with Noakes and the production budget included the costs of looking after the dog – a stipend that covered the costs of feeding and other expenses involved in having a pet dog were paid to Noakes during his run on the show. When he left, he was allowed to keep Shep – fair enough, you might think, for what had become both a beloved pet and a sidekick over the years, with the catchphrase “get down Shep” expanding far beyond children’s TV – the Barron Knights even released a single called Get Down Shep that referenced the pair’s status as pop culture icons. Shep would be Noakes’ partner on Go With Noakes too and you would be forgiven for thinking that the pair were inseparable.

In fact, it seems that Noakes’ affection for his dog only stretched to how much money the animal was worth to him. The rules of the BBC at the time prohibited Shep from being used in commercial advertising, which cut off a potentially lucrative revenue stream for Noakes. And after he left Blue Peter, the stipend for looking after the dog ended. Fair enough, you might think, given that neither of them was involved in the show anymore. But Noakes was furious. Outraged that his ‘dog money’ was no longer being paid by the BBC, he flew into a rage and would not even discuss the possibilities with Blue Peter producer Biddy Baxter. Instead, he gave up ownership of Shep almost immediately and when he appeared in a series of dog food ads soon afterwards, it was with a stand-in dog called Skip. You might reasonably ask, therefore, why Noakes was so upset at the death of a dog that he had abandoned as soon as it stopped being a cash cow.

Noakes seems to have been a deeply troubled man. His fury at Baxter meant that he refused to appear in Blue Peter retrospective documentaries and he often talked of his TV persona as being nothing but an act – “Idiot Noakes” as he called him. His TV career fizzled out, perhaps because he was hard work, and he died in 2017. He was probably the most beloved children’s TV presenter of the 1970s and his fearless, mad adventures on Blue Peter remain some of TV’s most breathtakingly audacious and madly dangerous moments. But his treatment of Shep, using the dog simply as a way of making money and rejecting him as soon as that money stopped flowing in, seems unforgivable and makes him look like a dreadful person. Every Blue Peter moment is polluted by the awareness that he was an unpleasant money-hungry opportunist who rejected a dog that felt itself to be a part of his family as soon as it stopped being profitable. What a cunt.


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