Richard Bacon puts Blue Peter shame behind him with new book
- Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images
Presenter tells Tony Padman about the young, fun years and how he is a changed man since fatherhood
Richard Bacon greets me at the door to his Belsize Park home cradling his bonny one-year-old son, Arthur, in his arms. Bacon has dedicated his amusing new book, A Series of Unrelated Events to Arthur, but a footnote at the bottom of the page reads: “Arthur, please don’t read this book.”
After introducing me to his wife, Rebecca and a tour of the house – including the basement, which he has been renovating – the genuinely hospitable Mr Bacon makes me tea and we retreat to the garden.
But at some point during our conversation, I’m going to have to open up an old wound concerning the time he had the plum job as presenter on the BBC’s flagship children’s programme, Blue Peter – and then got sacked.
Fortunately, he mentions it himself while telling me why, at 37, he decided to write the book now.
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He explains: “When a publisher asked me, I thought I’ve got a selection of funny stories that have happened to me in my life, so I wrote them in no particular order.
“What you learn from my book is that I’ve led a fairly chaotic professional existence. I could not comfortably write about these events – especially what happened on Blue Peter – in my 40s, so now was the time to do it.”
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He refers to his Blue Peter dismissal as “irrespective of whatever else I achieve in my life, I’ll always be known as the only presenter ever to be sacked from Blue Peter”.
Born in Mansfield, Bacon worked as a radio reporter for BBC Radio Nottingham and then with the short-lived LIVE TV before getting his big television break as a Blue Peter presenter in 1997.
With a huge audience, Blue Peter was the making of Bacon, but 18 months later, he found himself staring deep down into the abyss.
His best friend had turned out to be a stiletto-heeled assassin who had decided to serve Bacon on a plate for £20,000 to a red-top newspaper, which splashed on a story that Bacon had been taking drugs.
The lethal combination of drugs and the nation’s most popular children’s television programme was a tabloid editor’s dream and it made front page headlines to coincide with the show’s 40th anniversary celebrations.
For a few moments, Bacon changes from upbeat and animated to slow motion and he takes his time to quietly think about how to sum up the effect his public sacking and the subsequent media storm had on his parents.
“The last thing I ever wanted to do was to bring shame upon my parents. I come from a good middle class family with proud parents.
“When it happened, my mother told me that my father hid away in the shower and sobbed. It was the first time in their long and happy marriage that she’d ever heard him cry.
It didn’t stop there: after being hounded by the Fleet Street flotilla, his parents were paraded on News at Ten as Trevor McDonald’s voice boomed: “Sacked Blue Peter presenter’s parents speak out.”
“It’s personal,” he confesses. “In my head, I was nervous and worried about how to write this; how my father would feel about this revelation; and how it would come across to readers because it’s hard to get a perspective on it.”
Among the lesser known misfortunes that Bacon comically relates to in the book, there’s a stint at McDonald’s where his heart was broken; how he became a film reviewer for a Sunday newspaper without ever seeing the films and what happened when he found himself sitting next to Hugh Grant at a Bafta screening.
But that was then and this is now, and the distinct and overwhelming impression is that Bacon realises that he was immature at the time.
“I messed around and rebelled at school and that carried on into my twenties when I moved to London. It was simply consistent with my nature then.”
It wasn’t too long after Blue Peter that Bacon returned to broadcasting, this time as a reporter on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, followed by Capital FM, XFM London, BBC Radio 6 Music and then a multitude of light entertainment television shows.
He is also pleased with some of the programmes he has made recently such as Young Voters’ Question Time and the series Hidden Talent, which revealed talents the public didn’t know they had.
In particular, he’s most proud of a hard-hitting BBC documentary he presented last year called The Anti-Social Network about online bullying, which he himself has experienced.
Another highlight for him is BBC Radio 5 Live where he always wanted to work. Bacon previously presented the late-night show before moving to mid-afternoons in January 2010 when the first guest on his first show was David Cameron.
In addition to conversing with people like Tony Blair for his memoirs, Ann Widdecombe and the big Hollywood stars, he’s interviewed high profile local celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross, people making the news, while at the same time reporting breaking stories as they happen.
He’s clearly progressed and made the change from the “fun side“ of his 20s to being in a “good place” in his 30s where he wants to spend more time with Rebecca and Arthur.
Any remaining time will be reserved for quality work such as a good factual entertainment show format, continuing to make programmes with his production company for the BBC’s global television channels and maybe spending some time in New York.
But the biggest change for Richard Bacon has been fatherhood for the first time. “Arthur – it’s my grandfather’s name – is terrific and becoming a father has changed me,” he admits.
And if one day Arthur does read his book, what does his father think he will make of it?
“He’ll know that he’s got fun-loving liberal parents – one of whom has a bit of a past. I will talk to Arthur about my life including the bad parts.” There’s a long pause for thought before he adds: “Arthur will be fine.”
n A Series of Unrelated Events by Richard Bacon is out now, published by Century, £12.99. Richard Bacon broadcasts on BBC Radio 5 Live every Monday to Thursday from 2pm to 4pm.