When I was five, my uncle took me to Television Centre in London to see them make Blue Peter. We sat in the gallery and watched the backs of John, Val and Peter’s heads as the programme went out live. We also took us to see them do Z Cars, but all I saw were rather disappointing cardboard sets and Brian Blessed doing his vocal warmups, a sight that is enough to put anyone off a career in the arts.
Little did I know, that bribed with the chance of a coveted Blue Peter badge, by the time I was twelve I would have the chance of appearing on Britain’s premier children’s television show. Of course, nothing could go wrong, could it?
Noakes and Shep in rare "up" position
In 1977, we got a dog. He was a beagle-cross-mentallist, imaginatively named Snoopy. The fact that he was originally called “Shep” when we rescued him from the RSPCA shelter will to nothing but amaze the coincidence fans among you, and perhaps go some way to explain the twisted events that were to follow.
Snoop was, well, barking mad. His entire raison d’etre revolved around escaping from the house or garden. The front gate, at one point, was raised to over ten feet in height, and he still managed to get out. It was like Colditz. He would spend long hours tunnelling, or carving keys out of soap, but it was always the same end product. He would make it out into the street, and at a loss as to what to do next, would sit patiently waiting to be let back in.
This easy-going tolerance of Snoop’s escape fixation couldn’t last. It was when I was playing in the District Cub Scouts five-a-side football finals in the school field behind our house that things took a bit of a turn. Minto was on the verge of scoring the decisive goal that was to mean our pack’s first ever victory in any tournament ever, when Snoop wriggled through a gap in the hedge, and galloped onto the pitch, spittle-coated tongue lolling from his mouth like a mad thing. A dog on the pitch. My dog. My dog taking a piss against the goalpost, and trying to sniff the opposition goalie’s arse. The ground steadfastly refused to open up and swallow me and my embarrassment.
It was over. The mutt had to go to obedience classes.
In six weeks, Snoop learned a) how to sit on command b) not to sniff the other dogs’ arses and c) very little else. It was clear that he was less than a model student.
Then it was announced that for the following week’s class, there would be a Very Special Guest. John Noakes, Shep and a Blue Peter camera crew would be coming down to Twyford to film a doggy obedience class. We were to be on best behaviour, and arse-sniffing would not be tolerated.
Come the big day, half of Twyford turned up for the filming. Those of us taking part in the filming were greeted like Wonka Golden Ticket holders, with a mixture of wild applause and thinly veiled envy. Then Noakes turned up with Shep in an open-topped Triumph Stag. He was, at this time, at the height of his powers as the coolest guy on Earth, and he was hailed with a deafening ovation.
After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting the filming finally started. It was clear from the start that this lesson (which we were still paying for, by the way) would involve very little actual learning and rather a lot of faking it for the cameras. The famous Shep was a Border Collie who ran a sideline as a sheepdog, and didn’t exactly need obedience classes. We got the feeling that all that “Get down Shep” business was a bit of a front.
Shep may have been behaving himself and acting the consummate TV professional, but the other dogs in the class certainly weren’t. The TV cameras, the lights, the crew, the disruption, and not to mention half the village hammering on the windows made for very twitchy canines. My sixth Scary-sense was twitching. Something unusual was about to happen.
“Get down Shep!” shouted Noakes
“Get down Snoop!” I countered, closely followed by “BUGGER!” as the little sod slipped his collar and set off on a grand tour of the hall sniffing arses as I floundered in his wake.
You will need to understand one thing. A dog without a collar is one slippery individual. There’s nothing to hang on to, as you dive hell for leather, shouting and screaming at the uncomprehending mutt, trying to stop him from embarrassing you on national television there’s only one result. You look the world’s biggest twat. For the spectator it’s laughs-a-go-go and all rather akin to mud wrestling. Without the half-naked chicks, obviously.
Flailing several yards behind my quarry, I could only watch with horror as Snoop’s nose connected with Shep’s superstar dog’s arse while the masses outside could only howl with laughter. Then, his arse-sniffing duties complete, Snoop went for the master. The red mist was down. Noakes was in his sights. I couldn’t look. I looked.
This time Snoop ignored the celebrity arse and went for the leg. John Noakes’s leg. The leg that had jumped out of airplanes, climbed Nelson’s Column, had plummetted down a bobsleigh track at ninety miles per hour. The leg that had quite possibly nestled against Valerie Singleton every Monday and Thursday on the Blue Peter sofa. My dog was screwing John Noakes’s leg. John. Noakes's. Leg.
Fair play to the four-legged pervert, he clung on for dear life, a determined look on his face, while TV production people tried to separate randy dog from the talent. Once again, in the face of complete embarrassment and ultimate social exclusion, the ground failed to open up and swallow me. Instead, we were asked to leave.
We went and sat in the youth club upstairs, watching the proceedings from the big plate glass window. None of the other dogs tried to shag Noakes’s leg, the bloody traitors. It was hours before they finished filming and the crowds out outside melted away so the pair of us could leg it home.
School for the next week was predictably hellish, especially when the item on dog training was shown on Thursday’s edition of Blue Peter. Virtually all of my friends had managed to get on TV as part of the crowd peeering in through the windows, while I was edited out completely, and didn’t even get a Blue Peter badge for my pains. My humiliation was complete.
I’ve got a lesbian mentallist cat now. OK, she’s got issues, but at least she doesn’t screw around with celebrities.
Post Script: Twenty years later, the self same hall where the Noakes-shagging debacle took place became the venue for the now infamous Wedding from Hell fight. I get the message. I’m never going back there again. The results could be fatal.