Noakes with Shep
John W. Bottomley
6 March 1934
|Died||28 May 2017 (aged 83)|
|Occupation||Actor, presenter, television personality|
(m. 1965; his death 2017)
John Noakes (born John W. Bottomley; 6 March 1934 – 28 May 2017) was an English television presenter and personality, best known for co-presenting the BBC children's magazine programme Blue Peter in the 1960s and 1970s. He was the show's longest-serving presenter, with a tenure that lasted 12 years and 6 months.
Early life and career
Noakes was born John Bottomley, in Shelf near Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire, to Sallie Hinchcliffe (née Hampson) and Arthur W. Bottomley. He was educated at Rishworth School where he excelled in cross country running and gymnastics. His parents divorced when he was nine and he went to live with his grandmother. At 16 he joined the RAF as a mechanic. The following year, his mother married Canadian trumpeter Alfie Noakes and John took his surname.
In the RAF Noakes trained as an aircraft engine fitter and subsequently worked for BOAC, before deciding to become an actor. He trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and made his stage debut as a dog and a clown in a summer show with Cyril Fletcher. In 1964 he appeared in one episode of the television military police drama series Redcap.
He spent six months in the Broadway production of Arnold Wesker's Chips with Everything, before moving back to work in rep in Surrey where he met his wife, Vicky. Noakes recreated his role as Whitey Richardson in the 1963 BBC television adaptation of Chips with Everything. He followed this with the role of Anselme Popinot in mini-series The Rise and Fall of César Birotteau on BBC2, a four-part dramatisation broadcast in June 1965. His last dramatic role on television before joining Blue Peter was in an episode of the crime series Mogul, starring Barry Foster and Geoffrey Keen, broadcast on BBC1 in August 1965.
Blue Peter was planned to go from a weekly to bi-weekly show and producer Biddy Baxter needed a third presenter to join Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton. Baxter spotted Noakes at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester where he was playing Willie Mossop in the play Hobson's Choice. Noakes joined Blue Peter as a presenter on 30 December 1965. Trace left the programme in 1967, and was replaced by Peter Purves, creating the 'Val, John and Pete' line-up which lasted until 1972. When Singleton began to diversify her television career, former Young Generation dancer Lesley Judd joined the team. At a time when most BBC presenters spoke with Received Pronunciation (RP), Noakes's broad Yorkshire accent was a novelty.
Noakes usually fulfilled the role of action man in the series. Highlights included free-fall parachuting with the RAF's Flying Falcons display team and bobsleighing (his sled hit a hole in the ice and turned over, injuring him). After his five-mile-high free-fall with the RAF in 1973, he held the record for the longest free-fall parachute jump by a British civilian for a time.
Noakes was encouraged to take special responsibility for one of the show's pets. His original dog was Patch, the son of Petra, the first Blue Peter dog. After Patch's sudden death in 1971 he was given another pet dog, a Border Collie puppy, named Shep by viewers. Noakes's attempts to control the excitable Shep led to his catchphrase "Get down, Shep!".
Other television work
In 1971, together with his Blue Peter colleagues, Noakes presented the BBC's Christmas edition of Disney Time on December 27, 1971. He returned to host the show solo at Easter 1979. In August 1972, he hosted four editions of BBC Radio 1's Junior Choice. Overlapping with his period on Blue Peter, Noakes and Shep appeared in another factual series, Go With Noakes, in which they travelled around the country getting involved in diverse activities like motor racing, rowing, aerobatics and painting. In each series Noakes was featured travelling around Britain in a particular mode, e.g. sailing, narrow boat, walking, open top car. Go With Noakes began on 28 March 1976, and would run for six series and 31 episodes, finishing its original run on 21 December 1980.
Noakes left Blue Peter on 26 June 1978. and the BBC offered to let him keep Shep, as the dog had lived with him since his TV debut. Despite Shep living with Noakes, the dog was always legally owned by the BBC and in rules that also applied to himself whilst under contract to the BBC, he could not use Shep for advertising or commercial purposes. Noakes was paid a stipend to cover all Shep's costs from the Blue Peter budget (as was Peter Purves for 'Petra' and later Simon Groom for 'Goldie') and as part of the agreement to keep Shep after leaving the show, Noakes agreed that the no-advertising condition should remain. However, shortly after leaving the show, Noakes was furious to discover that what he called his "dog money" ceased to be paid and he confronted Biddy Baxter in a phone call. Baxter was adamant that since Shep had left Blue Peter, the programme should no longer be responsible for any of Shep's costs, although she did sympathise with some of his argument and felt that the BBC should pay Noakes for Shep to appear in Go With Noakes or for 'personal appearances' the dog made. Regardless, she later wrote that Noakes was too angry to discuss the matter and the two rarely spoke again. Soon after this angry confrontation, Noakes relinquished Shep, who went to live with Edith Menzies. Noakes subsequently appeared in a series of television advertisements for Spillers "Choice Cuts" dog food, using a dog that was indistinguishable from Shep but named Skip. The clear subterfuge led to a deeper rift between him and Baxter. Noakes called her a "stupid woman" in a televised 2008 documentary celebrating the show's 50th anniversary. Because of his poor relationship with Baxter, Noakes refused to appear on an edition of Blue Peter to celebrate its twentieth birthday in October 1978 and had to be persuaded to pre-film a message for the programme by Alex Leger, otherwise Noakes would have been the only regular presenter not appearing (other than Anita West who at the time was not acknowledged as a former presenter). The filmed message was shot whilst Noakes was on location filming the Go With Noakes episode "Around The Cheshire Ring". This minor subterfuge also allowed the show to explain his absence in a positive manner for the viewers. He did not appear at all for the silver anniversary programme in 1983.
After Blue Peter
In 1979, Noakes wrote a children's book, The Flight of the Magic Clog, published by Lion with illustrations by Toni Goffe. In the book, Mr. Brooks takes John, Mickey the clever one, June the talkative one, Barbara the pretty one and Eric the clumsy one on an adventure against the international villain Baron Wilhelm Doppleganger and his secret arms factory, using a giant magic flying clog.
In 1982, Noakes and his wife made an unsuccessful attempt to sail around the world; they abandoned the attempt when their boat was damaged in a hurricane. In a second attempt in 1984, the couple stopped in Majorca, Spain, where they initially planned a three-day stop, but instead settled at Andratx and ran a boat rental business. In 1983 Noakes presented The Dinosaur Trail, a seven-part documentary for Children's ITV.
Between 1986 and 1988, the BBC's programme Fax! answered questions posed by viewers. On 20 January 1987, the question "Whatever happened to John Noakes and Shep?" was posed. Noakes appeared on the show with his wife and revealed what he had been doing since retiring from television. During the course of the interview, Noakes tearfully revealed that Shep had died three days before.
Noakes was bitter about his experiences on Blue Peter. Despite having come across as a natural presenter, he claimed his television personality was falsified, and he was merely acting a role who he once called Idiot Noakes. He said of him “Idiot Noakes has an extrovert personality, is light-hearted and jokey. A bit of a buffoon who would do anything for a laugh or a few pence.” He also complained about what he regarded as his low salary during his time on Blue Peter, and complained that he had been uninsured for many of the stunts he had undertaken, Programme editor "Biddy Baxter was an awful woman," he said in 1999. "I don't want to talk about her". Baxter, for her part, has denied Noakes's claims about the lack of insurance for his stunts. The Singleton/Noakes/Purves team was reunited in October 1998 for a programme celebrating 40 years of Blue Peter and again in January 2000 for the disinterment of the time capsule that they had buried in 1971.
In the 2000s, Noakes trained in the Michel Thomas method of language tuition, and then became a language tutor, specialising in Romance languages. In 1999, Noakes co-hosted an ITV series entitled Mad About Pets and in 2004, he took part in the Living TV reality TV show I'm Famous and Frightened!. A year later, he appeared in the Channel 5 programme Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver. On 14 June 2008, he appeared in a Blue Peter-themed edition of the Weakest Link, being voted off second. On 7 September 2013, he appeared with Peter Purves in Pointless Celebrities.
He married his wife, Vicky, in 1965 and the couple moved to Majorca in 1982.
On 30 June 2015, Noakes was reported missing from his home in Andratx, Majorca: he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease some years before. He was found the same day, close to his home, having fallen into grass in a storm drain.
Noakes died on 28 May 2017 at the Son Espases Hospital in Palma. On 28 October half of his ashes were scattered from a firework rocket at the playing field of his former school Rishworth School. It was his wish that half his ashes were scattered at the school and the other half in Majorca.
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