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|Joan Maureen "Biddy" Baxter|
25 May 1933 |
|Known for||Blue Peter|
Joan Maureen "Biddy" Baxter MBE (born 25 May 1933) is best known as the former editor of the long-running BBC TV children’s magazine show Blue Peter, a position she held from 1965 to 1988. As editor of the programme, Baxter devised much of the format that is still used today.
She was born Joan Maureen Baxter in Leicester to a teacher father who became the director of a sportswear company and a mother who was a pianist. She was educated at Wyggeston Girls' Grammar School, Leicester and St Mary's, a women's college at Durham University, which she attended from 1952 to 1955. At a meeting with the careers officer at her university, she noticed information about working for the BBC. "It wasn't that I was being snotty about secretarial work or teaching, I just didn't want to do either of them," she said in 2013 of the options offered to her on this occasion. "This particular teaching officer seemed to me – though maybe I was being unduly sensitive – to have this blind spot about women. All the men were going off to do these amazing things. I really should be grateful to him."
After graduating with a social sciences degree, Baxter joined the BBC as a studio manager in 1955, becoming a producer of schools' English programmes in 1958, and of Listen with Mother in 1961. After moving to a temporary post in 1962 within BBC Television owing to a staff shortage, she gained a permanent post as producer of Blue Peter from November 1962, and remained directly responsible for the programme for just over a quarter of a century.
First broadcast on 16 October 1958, Blue Peter had originally been devised by John Hunter Blair, but it was Baxter and her deputy Edward Barnes, later head of BBC children's television, who developed the format into a successful programme, initially on a budget of only £180 per edition. When they were first introduced, Barnes was told: "You'll have to look after Biddy – she doesn't know very much", to his considerable irritation.
Baxter devised and introduced the Blue Peter badge in 1963 to encourage children to send in programme ideas, pictures, letters and stories and also she introduced the now famous annual appeals. She was awarded a gold badge herself when she retired as editor from the programme. Having been disappointed as a child to receive the same reply twice to different letters that she had written to Enid Blyton, she also introduced a card index system so that Blue Peter viewers could receive more personal responses. Baxter became programme editor in April 1965 following a reorganisation, while Barnes and Rosemary Gill became producers when the programme went bi-weekly in 1964.
Baxter gained a reputation for being dictatorial, and the best known presenters of the programme do not speak warmly of her. According to Peter Purves, "This woman controlled our lives, and she didn't do it very nicely" while John Noakes has commented that Baxter "treated me like some country yokel from Yorkshire. I couldn't abide her." Valerie Singleton has said Baxter treated the presenters like children. On another occasion, Purves said: "the programme succeeded - and I've said this many times - because of her, not in spite of her. She absolutely ruled it; I didn't always agree with her views, but she was right."
Post-Blue Peter life
Her final programme in the role of editor aired on 27 June 1988. The official story is that she left the job because her husband, John Hosier, who had been a BBC Schools music producer and was a music educator, had accepted a job offer in Hong Kong. This was indeed true, but Hosier's acceptance of the job was partly motivated due to internal political pressure placed on Baxter to leave Blue Peter. Edward Barnes had been replaced as head of children's programmes by Anna Home, not a natural ally of Baxter, who wanted to effect sweeping changes in the department.
In September 2008, Baxter expressed dissatisfaction with the way Blue Peter was being run and said that she believed that the BBC was trying to close the programme down.
In the New Year Honours, 1981, Baxter was honoured with an MBE (Member of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire), in recognition of her work as editor of Blue Peter; she received her MBE from The Queen at Buckingham Palace, on 10 February 1981. She is also a fellow of the Royal Television Society, and has received honorary D. Litts from the University of Newcastle in 1988 and the University of Durham in 2012.
In 2009, Baxter published a selection of children's letters received by the Blue Peter team. Amongst them was a letter from Anthony Hollander who wanted to become a doctor: he went on to become Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at Bristol University, and said that he owes his career to Miss Baxter: "If her letter had shown any hint of ridicule or disbelief I might perhaps never have trained to become a medical scientist or been driven to achieve the impossible dream, and really make a difference to a human being's life."
In November 2013, Baxter was announced as the recipient of the Special Award at the BAFTA Children's Awards in 2013.
In June 2014 Baxter was the guest for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. Her choices were "Deo Gracias" from A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, the final chorus from the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach, "Milord" by Édith Piaf, "Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum" from the musical Carmen Jones, the "Andante quasi lento e cantabile" from the Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson, the Allegro from the String Quintet in C Major by Franz Schubert, the Allegro from the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo and the "Papageno Duet" from The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Her book choice was The Traveller's Tree by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
- Baxter, B. (ed) (2009) Dear Blue Peter: The Best Of 50 Years Of Letters To Britain's Favourite Children's Programme 1958-2008, Short Books Ltd, ISBN 978-1906021498
- "IMDb". Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- Martin Wainwright "How 1950s Durham influenced Blue Peter, and thus the world", theguardian.com (The Northerner blog), 27 June 2012
- Jane Martinson "Blue Peter's Biddy Baxter: 'I never wanted to do anything else'", The Guardian, 24 November 2013
- Alistair McGown "Baxter, Biddy (1933-)", BFI screenonline
- Asa Briggs The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume V: Competition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p.178
- Allison Pearson "Arts / The Age of Innocence", The Independent, 10 October 1993
- Bibi van der Zee "How we made Blue Peter "How we made Blue Peter", The Guardian, 25 February 2013
- Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes Obituary: Rosemary Gill, The Guardian, 18 March 2011
- Cole Morton "Blue Peter: A sinking ship", The Independent, 15 February 2009
- Lucy Cockcroft "Peter Purves, Valerie Singleton and John Noakes will host 50th anniversary Blue Peter", telegraph.co.uk, 6 October 2008
- "Obituary: John Hosier". The Guardian. 3 April 2000.
- Chris Green (5 September 2008). "Former editor Biddy Baxter reveals plot to sink Blue Peter". London: The Independent.
- Honours Records, St James' Palace, London.
- "Biddy Baxter and Jeremy Vine awarded honorary degrees by Durham University". 27 June 2012.
- Grant, Caroline (28 January 2009). "How boy, 9, wrote to Blue Peter predicting his illustrious future as top scientist.. 35 years ago". London: Daily Mail.
- "Biddy Baxter: Special Award Recipient in 2013". BAFTA. November 12, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
- "BBC Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs, Biddy Baxter". Bbc.co.uk. 2014-06-01. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
- Baxter, Biddy; Barnes, Edward (1989). Blue Peter The Inside Story. Letchworth: Ringpress Books. ISBN 0-948955-50-3.
- The Mark Lawson Interview, repeatedly broadcast on BBC 4 throughout May 2007 as part of the 'Children's Television' season.
- Biddy Baxter biography and credits at the British Film Institute's Screenonline