Andi Peters is a Londoner who landed his first TV job at just 18 years of age, fronting the Thames children's series Freetime. After a short stint looking after the links on Children's ITV, a switch to the BBC followed, where he spent four years on Children's BBC presenting and directing, and forming a memorable partnership with Edd The Duck in the afternoons.
Progression to Saturday mornings followed with three years on Live & Kicking alongside Emma Forbes.
He then fronted The Noise for LWT while developing a production career, producing Gladiators: Train 2 Win for CITV and creating and commissioning T4 at Channel 4. More recently he's been Executive Producer of Top Of The Pops and famously broke his ankle Dancing On Ice with Torvill and Dean on ITV1.
I caught up with Andi in London. He talks about his time on CBBC, of offending Blue Peter, of causing "a huge hoohah" in Northern Ireland and of trying to speak coherently to 12 million viewers while his Director was on the phone to Dixons, ordering a video recorder.
Can you give us a bit of an insight to your life prior to CBBC?
I first entered the world of entertainment when I worked in Top Man, at Oxford Circus. I worked in the shop and then got given a job on the in-store radio station, and that was how I got my job on Children's ITV. I did a show called Freetime, made by Thames, from August until December 1988. Then at Christmas I presented the links on Children's ITV. That was my first go at live television, apart from appearing on Motormouth to promote Freetime. Then the BBC approached me. I got a phone call from them saying that they were looking for someone, and they asked me to join Children's BBC to become one of the family of presenters, joining Andy and Simon. So I'm one of only a handful of people to ever have done Children's BBC and Children's ITV links! In fact for the first two months at the BBC I wasn't on screen at all, because they were obsessed that I'd been on ITV and they wanted me to learn the BBC way! The first week I did was Whit Week in May 1989, and then having done that week they told me that the following week I'd be doing the Broom Cupboard, which was a shock to me because I'd never envisaged getting in there, especially having only been on for a few days. That was the beginning.
You were there from 1988 to 1993 until you went to Live and Kicking. Quite a while!
Yes, but I never really left Children's BBC because of my involvement with The O Zone, which the CBBC team produced. In fact on my Live & Kicking leaving present it says "Children's BBC 1989-1996."
Didn't you once write in to Phillip, as a viewer?
I did - I wrote to Phillip saying that I'd like to be a presenter. I got a signed picture back, which I sent back with a note saying that I didn't ask for a signed picture, I wanted advice on how to become a Children's BBC presenter. Phillip then wrote on the back of the signed picture and sent it back saying "get some local radio or hospital radio experience, and I'm sure you'll make it one day." And he was right!
You wore some interesting outfits during your time in the Broom Cupboard - blazers and sports jackets with hooded tops, and you were one of the first presenters to regularly wear a baseball cap on screen. Where did your inspiration come from?
When you're on television every day of the week for a two and a hour block per day, that's five tops per week. If the truth be known, I was always wearing the same pair of jeans! I always thought Andy Crane dressed badly, and Phillip too, so I thought I'd try some different combinations. I wore waistcoats a lot, and lots of tartan. And I was one of the people who originated wearing a short sleeve t-shirt over a long sleeve one. It kind of became a trademark. Some days I even wore a tie! I quite enjoyed changing things and making it different.
Did you get a clothing allowance?
No - there was no clothing allowance at Children's BBC!
There was an obsession with tank tops towards the end of your stint in the Broom Cupboard.
Yes, we did National Tank Top day - we got everyone wearing them, even Noel Edmonds and Terry Wogan! A huge success! All the things we did were huge - theme days, getting kids singing along, whatever - they were always huge because in those days we were getting twelve million viewers. These days, even the top shows like Dancing On Ice don't get that (it gets eleven!) Of course, people were tuning into watch Neighbours, but they got us first. It's a lot of people.
You mentioned Neighbours there. You used to do the BBC1 introduction into the programme, over the BBC1 symbol. On your last day you gave Toby Anstis this advice - "Sometimes be funny, sometimes be clever, and if you can't be either just say 'This is BBC1!' Can you remember of the more memorable ones you did?
You would be given, on VHS, all the tops and tails of the programmes, including Neighbours, the day before. I'd also be able to watch the beginning of each programme on the day, while the previous programme was on. Introducing Neighbours was a funny one, because it was deemed as BBC1 time, not Children's BBC time, so we had to be careful and not to mess about too much. We'd muck about for a bit, then we'd get told off! By the way, it's "Now on BBC1" not "Nowon BBC1" - they were very fussy about it being three words, not two! But once we turned the globe upside down, once we flew Edd around it, once we stuck a Quack Circle on it, and we even zoomed in on Australia once! Any time we did anything like that we'd get in terrible trouble, and then we'd behave for a while.
On the Chris Moyles show you recently revealed how that trouble manifested itself - The Head of Presentation!
The odd thing was that Children's BBC links were not controlled by children's programmes, it came under Presentation - two completely separate departments within the BBC. Our office wasn't with children's programmes either - it was two doors away from the Managing Director of BBC Television and one door away from the Head of Presentation, quite a powerful person in television. And she had an open door policy, so on our way back from the Broom Cupborad we'd always have to walk past her door. I always remember the Head of Presentation calling my Assistant Producer in as we walked past one day. She was frogmarched in and spoken to like a small schoolgirl. She came back to our office and just said, "OK, we'd better not do that any more!" But I think they understood how successful what we were doing was, and how that in itself was making the brand more powerful.
You had lots of catchphrases in the Broom Cupboard. Which can you remember?"
"Oo-er, missus!" and "showbiz!" were the big ones. I remember "Oo-er, missus!" because when I joined Live & Kicking I was given specific instructions not to say it, because they didn't want it to transfer. That said, I might have got it in once or twice!
You often referred to Doreen and Sylvia from the Children's BBC office. Are they real people?
Oh yes! They were the backbone of Children's BBC. People used to think we had hundreds of people working on it but there were just the presenters, Doreen and Sylv the two two secretaries, an Assistant Producer and an Executive Producer who looked after the whole thing - mornings, afternoons and holidays. I don't think you could do it like that these days - you'd have researchers, runners and so on. We never used to have any of that. Doreen and Sylv used to do everything from opening the post and sending prizes out, to getting me a packet of crisps and making sure that Edd had the right jumper on! Children's BBC could never have happened without them. Doreen was there from the Phillip days and has only recently retired.
And they were on screen a lot?
We loved having them on. Any excuse. Doreen was a clasically bad actress and Sylv was not quite as bad, but still bad, and they were both very funny! I even managed to get Doreen on Top Of The Pops a couple of years ago when I was in charge of that show.
How difficult was it doing the vision mixing in the Broom Cupboard?
I got really involved in the technical side. Because I'd been a DJ I was quite happy to play on the desk a bit and even used to go one step further and use bits of equipment in other rooms and feed it through. I'd get my Assistant Producer to stand in one of these other rooms and ask them to press a particular button at a particular time. And they'd always say "Oh, I don't want to leave you alone!", and I'd say "But I'm just going to sit here with a locked off camera!" We used to push the boundaries, and I enjoyed it. Self op was fun, you had control!
What are your memories of the actual room?
What was funny about the Broom Cupboard was that because it was a real working area where the announcers used to sit, and it was quite ugly. Sometimes we'd only get a few minutes between the announcer leaving and us moving in before the start of Children's BBC and we'd have to work fast make it look magical. It was small - not much bigger than the room we are in now. People never believed how small it was. There was no camera operator, it was stuck to the wall and we used to frame and focus the shot ourselves. But it was a room I loved because it was very quiet and very private, you could only fit three people in so luckily people didn't stand about chatting. For me, it was an escape and it's where we got to talk to the nation about whatever we liked - like when unwanted marshmallows started appearing in Ricicles, or whatever. (But then Kellogg's threatened legal action against us, until they realised what great publicity it was for them!)
Let's talk about singing along to The Chipmunks and Bucky O'Hare. Was that fun? Did you rehearse?
We did rehearse, but only in the office! Singalongs were part of the Children's BBC tradition. Phillip had The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31, Andy had Around The World With Willy Fog and I had The Chipmunks. It was great for the audience because it was something that they could interact with. They could write in for the words - remember these were the days before the internet - and poor Doreen and Sylv would have to send out tens of thousands of sheets of photocopied lyrics! So yeah, singing along was great fun, and I can probably still remember most of the songs. Bucky O'Hare wasn't as popular because it was sung very fast - (sings) # In another dimension # Another time and place...
There were only 13 episodes of Bucky O'Hare.
A genius TV show - I liked it.
But you never sang Fantastic Max!
I'll sing it now. (sings) # Fantastic Max!
What were your favourite CBBC shows?
Hangar 17, Century Falls and Byker Grove. People say to me "You must have loved introducing Blue Peter" - but they hated me. I turned down working on it and I once said that a flour-less cake they'd made didn't taste very nice. It was the most gross thing I'd ever tasted. And they rang up and gave abuse to the Network Director while we were still on air! Unbelieveable!
You used to self op a visual effect into Byker Grove.
Yes, a black wipe. And if we were having an "expensive" day I'd send my producer into the other room - the auxilliary mixing area! - and get them to key it so that it appeared on top of me!
Tell us about "Goodbye Northern Ireland". Why did they go early?
Northern Ireland didn't have Neighbours at 5.35pm, they had it an hour later. At 5.35pm they had their own news programme. So they opted out of us early. I'd got bored of doing it the same way it had always been done, so I worked out a way of just leaving a pause as time for them to opt out, rather than slowing it all down and saying goodbye to them specifically. It caused a huge hoohah - they were devastated. We had so many letters asking why we'd stopped saying "Goodbye Northern Ireland", and so we had to reinstate it because they were upset. The other problem was that they were convinced we were doing the funniest stuff after they'd gone!
What would you consider to be the biggest mistake on screen?
Oh for sure it was that link into The Chipmunks. The Assistant Producer at the time thought it'd be great to play a recorded viewer's comment, which had been phoned in to Points Of View, on air. So it got put onto a quarter inch audio tape, which was laced up on a machine at the back. I'd got a remote start button for the machine, but the Assistant Producer was leaning on the machine. You see we never used it and people used to sit or lean on it. And of course he didn't realise, so I'm pressing the start button and the thing wouldn't go because he was stopping the reels from turning. I got the giggles. I got them quite often really - in fact my boss used to get quite angry with me because he thought it looked like I'd lost control. I think the viewers just thought it was equally hilarious.
Who was your favourite co-presenter? (Question suggested by Simon Parkin.)
My favourite co-presenter would have to be Simon Parkin. We became really, really good friends. He was really generous to me, and we got on really well together. I remember us getting our first mobile phones, on the same day and our numbers were only one digit apart! They were the size of a brick and we'd paid £1,000 each to get them from some shady place in Wembley because that was the only place you could get them.
What can you tell us about Edd The Duck?
Well, it was a great partnership. We achieved a lot. People to this day ask me where he is. Edd is a very nice duck - there are no shock revelations. And he really did go to Cubs on Tuesdays!
The ducks thing is interesting - because you worked with one on Freetime too!
Yes, called Webster!
Have you worked with any other ducks?
Yes, I have, but I don't want to name them because they're currently working on television!
Ha ha. What about Wilson?
Wilson was hilarious because he had a really odd personality, but odd in a lovely way. Of course he was clasically trained, from Buckingham Palace. He used to want me to eat a Twix with a knife and fork! And he had great handwriting so he used to do lovely signs for us.
Where did you get to travel to with Children's BBC?
Everywhere. I think the only place I've not been to is India! I went to America, Australia, Europe. The O Zone took us all over the world.
But you often got left behind when BFT went off filming wherever?
Yes, but they were doing minority morning programmes while I was looking after mainstream afternoon programmes! Ha ha! And I had my own shows on BFT - TNT and EEK. EEK was a good show. We broke the story about Michael Jackson's nose! We had his lawyer on the phone. And we did Children's BBC live from The Olympics in Barcelona in 1992.
What guests can you remember?
Jason Donovan was in a lot, but he was a key music artist of the time for us, especially with the Neighbours connection. Bette Midler came in once. Jeremy Paxman was in, as well as Anne Robinson, Bruce Forsyth, Take That and Terry Wogan. In fact Terry Wogan came in and didn't look in the right place - he looked at a monitor the whole time thinking it was a camera. Anybody and everybody came in.
Who was the funniest guest?
Well, it wasn't Madge and Harold from Neighbours. When they came in we asked them to appear in character and they said "we're not Madge and Harold, we're Ian and Anne and we don't just "do" it." Which was a shame. Kylie was good fun, Ant and Dec were always good fun - as PJ and Duncan of course. Often people would come miles for a 3 minute link, only for it to be cut to 1'40" or whatever and we'd have to rush to get it in. And sometimes we'd let people introduce Neighbours too.
What was a typical day at CBBC? What sort of hours did you do?
I was usually in by 11, if not earlier. I'd do signed photos and letters first. Then we'd have a meeting about the afternoon and agree the running order. You'd have lunch and then go downstairs and do it.
What can you remember about your Assistant Producers? Were some better than others?
Yes. There was one who was rubbish - and he got two goes at it! They all had different qualities. This one once said, five seconds before a link began, "I wonder what this switch does?" - pressed it, and cut all the power in the Broom Cupboard! I think he went to Australia in the end. And then there were the people next door who controlled things - the Network Directors. Some were very good and some weren't. One was fantastic - we used to call him our "Big Uncle". I remember one day he was on the phone to Dixons during a link, ordering a video recorder while counting me down to Neighbours!
Since CBBC you've done a lot of work behind the camera too. Which do you prefer?
In front - it's more fun. When you're in charge of programmes, you take your work home and worry - and I'm a born worrier. Whereas as a presenter you turn up, you do the work, and go home. There are different pressures but I think ultimately I prefer being in front of the camera.
Tell us about Dancing On Ice and ice skating!
It was a lot of fun - an amazing show to work on. To be asked to take part was fantastic. It is more demanding than all of the other reality shows because of what is asked of those who take part. You're being taught to ice skate by Torvill and Dean! Where else was I going to get a chance to do that? I had a conversation with Christopher Dean last night. (In fact that's the only reason I did the show, so that I could count Christopher Dean as one of my friends!) It's a great show - one I broke my ankle for, of course.
In our interview with Simon, he reckons you have a great instinct for what makes good television. What do you think works well at the moment?
I think there is some excellent drama these days. Sadly not too much of it comes from the UK - we just can't make 24, Heroes or Prison Break. But we make Spooks which is good - yes, drama's come a long way. We still do reality television better than anybody else, and I've watched a lot of it around the world. And good old fashioned entertainment has come back of course, - Dancing On Ice, Strictly Come Dancing and so on. And we make those shows well. Yes, they're lot of "same old, same old", but they're shows that people are watching in big numbers, as families.