Edward Barnes’ greatest innovation as the head of the BBC’s children’s programs from 1978 to 1986 was the creation of Newsround. He started the TV news for young viewers in 1972, after discovering that only 0.7% of his target age group watched TV news: “It was a man in a suit talking, and it was boring. “, did he declare.
He placed John Craven, clad in a casual sweater, in the presenter’s chair, initially for a six-week experiment, and the program became an institution of the BBC, even publishing major international reports such as The Disintegration of the space shuttle Challenger. in 1986.
Barnes, who died at the age of 92 after contracting Covid-19, also made a significant and lasting contribution as one of those who could be described as the godfather of Blue Peter, which was launched in 1958 He was an occasional floor manager for the show’s first four years as it cruised rough waters with the departure of two presenters and its original producer. Interim producers tried to stabilize the ship while the search for a permanent replacement continued in 1962.
Barnes, who was then working on other BBC programs as a production assistant, was turned down for the role. Biddy Baxter, who landed the job, had to give her job as BBC radio producer three months’ notice and pushed back on the suggestion that Barnes should produce Blue Peter until she arrived, fearing he would please give way to “a girl from the radio”. Instead, Leonard Chase took on the acting role, with help from Barnes, and hired Valerie Singleton to present alongside Christopher Trace.
When Baxter took over, Barnes continued as an assistant producer and ran the program. He and Baxter’s mistrust evaporated and together – with Rosemary Gill as a researcher – they shaped Blue Peter into a program that has become staple for children.
Baxter saw viewer engagement as key to this, introducing “brands” – items created from household materials – and annual appeals, and encouraging kids to write with ideas and stories by rewarding them with the famous Blue Peter badge. Barnes believed the program should have its own distinctive logo, which is why Tony Hart was commissioned to design the emblem for the galleon, which featured on the badge.
The idea to have a Blue Peter pet came from Barnes’ wife, Dorothy, who scripted illustrated stories and other elements for the show. Sadly, the bastard chosen and presented to viewers just before Christmas 1962 died of distemper two days later.
“We’ll have to find a replacement,” Barnes said. “The puppy has only been seen once. There is no point in disturbing children unnecessarily. In the freezing snow, he and Baxter scoured London pet stores in his Mini and found a lookalike in Lewisham. Viewers voted to name her Petra, the female form of Peter, and she became the first in a long line of Blue Peter pets.
In 1964, the series went from one to two episodes per week and added John Noakes alongside Trace and Singleton. The following year, when Baxter was appointed editor of the series – a new title – Barnes and Gill became producers. Barnes was a big supporter of his boss, who had an authoritarian hold on the series. He insisted that if she was ruthless in her pursuit of perfection, it was “in the name of the public”.
Together, they also staged a response when in 1964 the BBC’s children’s television department lost its autonomy and a new ‘family department’ was formed out of children’s and children’s programming. women. “We felt betrayed by the BBC,” Barnes said, “and we thought, ‘We’re going to show them’. We wanted to give management a black eye. Blue Peter and Play School were at the forefront of the battle, and the children’s department was restored three years later.
Retaining his association with the series after his departure to become deputy director of the BBC’s children’s programs (1970-78), Barnes produced Blue Peter Royal Safari (1971), with Singleton accompanying Princess Anne on a tour of the parks animal keepers of Kenya. He also created and produced Blue Peter Special Assignment (1973-81), featuring trips to towns, islands, homes and rivers, initially as a vehicle for Singleton after he left the program.
As Monica Sims’ deputy, he created Record Breakers (1972-2001) and Go With Noakes (1976-80) and ruffled some establishment feathers by commanding Grange Hill (1978-2008), the drama of the soap producer Phil Redmond. about life in a comprehensive school. Other shows he supervised or commissioned after taking over from The Sims in 1978 included Rentaghost (1976-84), Multi-Colored Swap Shop (1976-82), Think Again (1981-85), starring Johnny Ball, Grandad (1979-84), with Clive Dunn, Postman Pat (1981-96) and Henry’s Cat (1983-93).
In 1985, after Grange Hill covered issues such as bullying, pregnancy and shoplifting, he endorsed a script about a student addicted to heroin, saying, “We have a responsibility to our own. public to warn them of the danger of hard drugs. Barnes also negotiated the rights to The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-90).
He was born in Wigan, Lancashire (now part of Greater Manchester), to Mabel (née Latham), a nurse and midwife, and Hubert Barnes, the Wigan Observer music critic and amateur actor. He left school at the age of 14 and, after having played in repertory theater, was advertiser for the British Forces Network in Vienna (1946-49), then theater manager, still playing occasionally.
He appeared on BBC television in The Passing Show: Our Marie (1953), a biopic of music hall star Marie Lloyd, and played Melchior in Away in a Manger, a children’s nursery from 1954. He then joined the BBC as an assistant stage manager in 1955, when he also briefly presented the Light Program Housewives’ Choice radio show.
After his early retirement in 1986, Barnes returned to programming, producing Treasure Houses (1987) and directing All Our Children (1990).
He and Baxter wrote the book Blue Peter: The Inside Story, published in 1989.
Dorothy (née Smith), whom Barnes married in 1950, died in 1992. He is survived by their son, Simon, and their two daughters, Rachel and Julia.
Jeremy Swan writes: Monica Sims was a tough act to follow as the BBC’s head of children’s programs. But Edward Barnes was more than capable – his early years as a manager at the Pigalle Club in London had prepared him for anything. The heads of departments on television were to be great encouragement; they continually nurtured the creative talents of workers whose temperament was often eccentric.
Edward was an excellent manager of children’s programs. He instigated and encouraged shows that he knew were good for the public, and he administered with wisdom and humor. His office in the east tower of the BBC Television Center was dominated by a tall palm tree and a large poster for the Penang Railway. He was very attached to the Far East.
His family life was as creative as his work. His wife, Dorothy, was a writer, and his children were talented in journalism and literature. Edward performed a cheerful Mephistophelic appearance – his beard, fedora hats, and flowing scarves all add to his impresario persona.
He left his post in 1986 and was replaced by Anna Home for whom he worked as a producer, a role he filled with panache and enthusiasm.