Valerie Singleton will perhaps forever be a Blue Peter presenter. She joined the BBC in 1961 as a continuity announcer and in 1962 joined Blue Peter, where she stayed as a weekly presenter until 1972 (and continued to appear as a ‘roving reporter’ into the early 80s). Since then she has presented various TV shows, written for Sunday newspapers and glossy magazines, has worked on the current affairs shows Nationwide and Tonight, and at PM on Radio 4… And yet remains indelibly stamped on our collective consciousness as ‘Blue Peter’s Val Singleton’
1. What’s your relationship with the Blackmore Vale (the loose North Dorset area, not us!)?
I came down to this part of the world because I thought Sherborne was very lively (it was lively where I lived near the Fulham Road in London!), and already loved the area; I had friends I would come down to see in Holwell. It’s also close enough to London to still see my elderly Dad, and for work.
2. What was the last song you sang out loud in your car?
Unfortunately, my new car radio doesn’t play CDs so I am mostly (being a bit of a news addict) tuned to Radio 4 or Five Live. But I did join in with a few songs from someone’s Desert Island Discs the other day; My Way (who else but Sinatra?) and Alfie Boe singing from Les Mis.
3. What was the last movie you watched? Would you recommend it?
The last movie in a cinema (pre- lockdown!) was Dark Waters with Mark Ruffalo. It is a dark movie too – a true story about the awful deception by the chemical company DuPont, who produced Teflon. It’s an excellent legal thriller. Definitely a must-see.
4. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?
Well Friday night is not very different from every other night of the week in this house! Except (at the moment) it does have my favourite comedy show on BBC One – Would I Lie To You.
5. Who’s your celebrity crush?
In his heyday, the tennis player John Newcombe (image below). I thought he was absolutely gorgeous. And I did see him play once at Queens… that’s practically up close and personal!
6. What’s your comfort meal?
It has to be chocolate. I go through phases of loving a particular one, then lose my taste for it and move to another brand. But chocolate is always the answer.
7. What would you like to tell 15yr old you?
I might be a bit young to take it in at 15 but I would tell her to make sure she asks her parents – and more important, perhaps, her grandparents – about their lives. Too late I discovered what a fascinating life my paternal grandmother had led. I would so like to have known more. All those lunches I had with her in Derry & Toms Roof Gardens (now Kensington Roof Gardens) in my 20’s and I never bothered to ask. And sadly now too late!
8. The best crisps flavour?
Walkers cheese and onion! Although Sensation’s Sweet Thai Chilli probably ties with them.
9. And the best biscuit for dunking?
Definitely McVities Rich Tea. Dunked all too often.
10. Tell us about one of the best evenings you’ve ever had?
I will tell you about two. I was filming in the Peloponnese, in an empty unspoilt Greece in April in 1961. There were no major roads or motorways anywhere. I was making a promotional film about the new Classic car for the Ford Motor Company called (what else?) a Classic Holiday’ (see video below – I found the 1961 advert – Ed).
The film crew and four stars (!!) of the film went to eat one evening in a small local cafe on a fabulous beach along the coast. We didn’t speak Greek, and the Greeks having dinner in the cafe didn’t speak English. But by the end of the evening we were one wonderful party, sharing songs and dances into the early hours.
And the other would be an evening at the Sugar Mill in Grenada during the time the Americans had gone in to resolve an uprising against the government. I was staying with journalist friends covering the story. The Sugar Mill had been just that – a mill for sugar. Now it was a local place to dance; enclosed, dark, and wildly atmospheric. I am not sure what kind of music it was, I just know it was wonderful. Partnered by numerous unknown Grenadians, I had never danced like it before or since.
11. What book did you read last year that stayed with you?
I love history, and I picked up a book I had had for ages but hadn’t read; Andrew Marr’s History of The World. It’s absolutely terrific. So well written, readable and interesting. I don’t read from beginning to end but dip into it.
12. What’s your secret superpower?
Bringing people together who might get on and like each other. I refuse to call it networking as I don’t like the phrase (though one friend did call me a facilitator!). I just have the knack – it seems to work, and new friendships and useful contacts have been made.
13. Your favourite quote? Movie, book or inspirational – we won’t judge.
It’s from E.M. Forster’s ‘A Passage To India’ –
“Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.”
I have had quite a few unpunctual adventures along the way.
14. Cats or Dogs?
Always cats! I had two in London long ago, and then I adopted three kittens who had a rather dramatic start in life.
They were spotted actually on the tracks at Sherborne railway station, and rescued as a train approached by the station manager who scooped them into a bucket with a curtain hook!
My neighbour (at the station that day) took them home to catch mice on the farm, but they soon discovered they liked my duvet better than a mucky straw barn.
My neighbour moved. I kept the cats. Sadly the adventurous one wandered too far, but two are still with me. They have been utterly delightful during the pandemic. They talk to me more, follow me around and have become lap cats. I don’t even mind rescuing the mice they bring in as I like mice!
15. Chip Shop Chips or Home Baked Cake?
I’m not mad about cake so guess it would have to be chips.
But actually, best of all would be a pastry. I admit I am a bit of a pastry junky.
16. Your top three most- visited, favourite websites (excluding social media & BBC News!)?
I don’t do social media, so that’s relatively easy to avoid!
• Google – I’m always looking up people, or searching for information
• YouTube for fun clips
• Can I cheat with a different
BBC site? It would be iPlayer for missed programmes!
17. What’s your most annoying trait?
I think it’s probably interrupting. I must learn to let other people finish what they are saying before I jump in. However I asked a friend, who said it’s actually not ending my sentences!
18.Your favourite quote?
It’s from E.M. Forster’s A Passage To India: “Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.”
I have had quite a few ‘unpunctual’ adventures along the way!
19. You have the power to pass one law tomorrow, uncontested. What would you do?
Ban anyone caught driving with a mobile for driving for life. Yes, life!
Interview by Laura Hitchcock