Monday, July 23, 2007

In my blog on 6 June 2007 I mentioned Michael Sundin.

Last week's newspaper headlines were an indictment of the Corporation as a whole after a culture of deception was unearthed. Newsround wasn't one of the programmes directly criticised, but BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has, according to The Telegraph, initiated a compulsory training scheme for all of his 16,500 programmes and content staff which will focus "on the issue of honesty with audiences". The initiative is called 'Safeguarding Trust.'

One of the programmes which was directly criticised is Blue Peter, because of a faked phone-in competition winner last year.

Blue Peter was, for many years, run by Biddy Baxter, and as its editor she was responsible for deceiving viewers. In a recent interview with Mark Lawson she laughed off the "Two Petras" incident: Mark, it was a little puppy, it had made about a thirty second appearance at the end of one programme - in those days the programme was once a week. We were not going to break the hearts of very small children by saying "the puppy's died." That was perfectly okay - I'd stand by that, and I'd do the same again.

Soon the BBC will be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on integrity training. If the training course doesn't cover the unacceptability of incidents like this, it will be licence-payers money down the drain. Biddy Baxter exemplifies the outdated 'Auntie Knows Best' ethos, and that is where the rot set in.

Later in the Mark Lawson interview Biddy Baxter claimed that Michael Sundin wasn't sacked from Blue Peter for being gay, but because he was "hugely unpopular" and said "his leaving the programme was to do with the fact that children didn't like him, nothing to do with his sexual proclivities."

In April 1985, about a month before Michael Sundin's contract was due to be reviewed/renewed, BBC Children's Programmes, Television asked the Broadcasting Research Department to carry out an urgent study of children's TV presenters. The work needed to be undertaken rapidly, ostensibly for the purpose of helping decisions on the "deployment" of children's TV presenters that Autumn. Results of the research were conveyed back in early May.

Approximately 200 children between the ages of 8 and 13 took part in a telephone survey to assess the presenters from five different Children's programmes: Blue Peter, Newsround, Screen Test, Beat the Teacher and Saturday Superstore. They were asked to rate presenters as follows:

Like as a person: 2 = Like a lot, 1 = Like a little, 0 = Dislike

Rate as a presenter: 2 = Very good, 1 = All right, 0 = Not very good

The survey found that John Craven was considered best presenter (rated 1.69 on Newsround), and Michael Sundin was considered the worst presenter (rated 1.06 on Blue Peter). However Sundin's rating in terms of likability as a person (1.17) was not quite the lowest - that position went to Mark Curry (rated 1.15 on Screen Test).

Michael Sundin's last appearance on Blue Peter as a presenter was on 24 June 1985. One year later Mark Curry, despite the findings of the internal research, became a Blue Peter presenter and remained on the programme for three years.

Excerpt from Mark Lawson's interview with Biddy Baxter

Excerpts from Blue Peter: the inside story by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes


Anonymous said...

Have stumbled on your blog and while I admire the effort - as a gay woman, I'm slightly bemused by your obsession with Newsround. I find the so called 'adult' news suitably unenlightened when it comes to gay issues so I'm intrigued to know why you choose to focus on a programme for children?? In my own case, I was an avid Newsround watcher long before I realised I was gay. I don't think Newsround is the issue here. Your thoughts....?

dave said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. I'll reply in my next blog

Anonymous said...

Sadly, we will never hear Michael Sundin's account of why Biddy Baxter sacked him. She has told the public that it was because he was unpopular with the viewers. This isn't the case, her distain for the homosexual lifestyle was common knowledge in the 80s. Someone told her that he was seen out clubbing at gay club "the Rooftop" and she sacked him. How dredful, to lie about it when he cannot defend himself.