Here’s one that sailed earlier … sketch that launched the Blue Peter badge

Auction reveals how Tony Hart’s work on another BBC project inspired his galleon for the children’s show

Cresting the waves for nearly 60 years, the jaunty maritime emblem of the BBC children’s television programme Blue Peter, remains one of the most recognisable vessels in Britain. Designed by the popular English television artist Tony Hart, it has always suggested adventure on the high seas to young viewers, serving as the flag ship of BBC’s flagship children’s show.

Now Hart’s original drawings, due to go under the hammer this month, have revealed that the first crew of this famous ship were in fact a band of egg-shaped pirates. The galleon, with its trademark billowing sails and streaming pennants, was initially drawn by Hart for another BBC project, according to the son of the artist’s close friend and agent, Roc Renals.

The ship Tony Hart drew for a 1952 BBC programme Saturday special
The ship Tony Hart drew for a 1952 BBC programme Saturday Special. The drawing became the inspiration for his famous Blue Peter emblem. Photograph: Picasa

“He drew those in 1952 and you only have to look at them to see how he worked up the design in the late 1950s for Blue Peter: there’s no doubt in my mind that this is where it came from,” said Nic Renals this weekend, ahead of the auction this month.

Renals, who knew Hart well as his late father’s friend and a regular visitor to their home, believes all the artworks in the sale reflect the gentle personality of the artist and television presenter, who died in 2009.

“The stuff he did in the 50s and 60s was exceptional. The characters and caricatures he created were full of charm. He really captured their personalities very nicely.”

Hart’s early drawings of the ship were commissioned to illustrate a story called Hurray for Humpty Dumpty, a feature on the show Saturday Special, and they later served as the inspiration for the Blue Peter shield logo.

The nautical theme of the logo matched the show’s title. For “Blue Peter” is actually the name of a simple naval signal flag, flown by ships as they prepare to leave port. The sight of a blue square around a white square being hoisted up the masthead alerted crew and passengers that the ship was ready to make sail.

Tony Hart presenting Hartbeat in 1991
Tony Hart presenting Hartbeat in 1991. Photograph: BBC

Hart’s little blue galleon has been plying the ocean since 1963 when editor Biddy Baxter launched the badges on the innovative children’s programme, with its sailor’s jig, Barnacle Bill, as the theme tune. Since then badges bearing the image have proudly adorned many significant guests on the show and been awarded to hundreds of thousands of children.

The single image of the lone galleon, on offer with other drawings and watercolours by Hart, is expected to fetch up to £1,200. One other sketch, showing the galleon ploughing through swelling seas, is likely to go for £1,000, as is a third image of the familiar galleon anchored in an island harbour.

Blue Peter presenters Peter Purves, Valerie Singleton and John Noakes
Veteran Blue Peter presenters, from left: Peter Purves, Valerie Singleton and John Noakes. Photograph: Rex Features

Hart was the much-loved presenter of the BBC’s Vision On, where he was companion to Aardman’s first animated superstar, Morph, and then as the host of Take Hart and Hartbeat.

The paintings and drawings up for sale at Ewbanks were given to the Resnal family by the artist and include a watercolour of Beatles’ producer George Martin’s recording studio on Montserrat, later destroyed by a hurricane in 1989.

“I’ve had a lot of soul searching on whether to sell or not over the past few months,” said Renals, whose father died in 2014, “But, while I’m reluctant in many ways, I have also been thinking about what might eventually happen to it if I don’t.”

The 55-lot sale is expected to raise up to £20,000 on 29 January.

“They are such wonderful pieces of art and they really show what an amazing talent he was,” said Resnal. “Having known him for so long, I think making these things public once more is the right tribute to him and my father’s friendship.”

• This article was amended on 12 January 2021. Biddy Baxter was not editor when Blue Peter launched as an earlier version indicated. And the badges with the famous logo were not introduced when the programme started in 1958, but rather in 1963 after Baxter had joined the show.


Vanessa Thorpe Arts and Media Correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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