Created by Sue Turner & Lewis Rudd ‘Magpie’ first aired on 30th July 1968, which was also was new franchisee Thames’s first day. ‘Magpie’ was ITV’s response to the BBC children’s flagship programme ‘Blue Peter’ the latter having been on the air since 1958.
Unlike its older brother Blue Peter, it started modestly at one show a week but after the first year progressed to two live transmissions, initially. Tuesdays and Thursdays but after a couple of years changing to Tuesdays and Fridays there by not clashing with the Monday and Thursday transmission of Blue Peter. The show normally came from Thames’s Teddington Studios, were Thames produced their Drama and Light entertainment output for the ITV network. (The Euston road studios were mainly used for Current Affairs, News ,Transmission and continuity.) The theme tune, performed by ‘The Murgatroyd Band’ ( aka The Spencer Davis Group’) stayed with the show throughout its life, although the title sequence went through a number of face lifts. It's played regularly on Radio Sounds Familiar.
The songs lyrics were from an old children’s nursery rhyme and went as follows:
The Original Line up Pete Brady, Susan Stranks and Tony Bastable
The original 3 presenters were Susan Stranks, an unknown actress who had appeared with Kenneth More in the Film ‘The 39 Steps’ and TV Shows such as Juke Box Jury and Emergency ward 10.
Tony Bastable who’d come from presenting children’s programmes on ATV, and ex BBC Radio one disc Jockey Pete Brady. Although aimed at the same audience as 'Blue Peter', ‘Magpie’ tried to be a more trendy and cooler show, the former being considered a bit square and possibly appealing to a more middle class viewer.
Magpie would regularly feature Pop, fashion and other youth trends. Although it did also include educational segments like at the ‘News Desk’ in every show and they would have feature items on science, history and world events.
Above the show's mascot, a magpie called Murgatroyd.
The team in 1972 , Mick Robertson, Susan Stranks and Douglas Rae
Click on Cover to see pages of the Magpie Annual 1976
Every year towards Christmas both Magpie and Blue Peter ran charity appeals for worthy causes.
Blue Peter had traditionally asked for old stamps, books and milk bottle tops which were recycled into money, but, in predictable ITV style, ‘Magpie’ just wanted your hard earned cash. The amount raised was directly reflected in a red line which would start off in the studio and propagated its way around the whole studio complex.
Like Blue Peter, Badges were awarded for exceptional achievements.
In 1972 Tony Bastable changed roles to producer and was replaced by Mick Robertson an ex teacher and more recently a researcher on the programme, he bore a stark resemblance to Marc Boland, the lead singer of the pop band T. Rex, which, at the time, were at the height of their fame. In the same year Pete Brady was replaced by Douglas Rae and in 1974 Susan Stranks was superseded by Jenny Hanley the daughter of actress Dinah Sheridan.
The 1975 Line up Douglas Rae Jenny Hanley, Mick Robertson
The Last reshuffle occurred in 1977 when Tommy Boyd replaced Douglas Rae. The final programme went out in 1980, notching up about 1000 shows.
If you were a child during that era you definitely fell into one of two camps, that aligned to the BBC’s Blue Peter or the arch rival Magpie.
But what did the presenters do next?
Susan Stranks went on to present ‘Paperplay’ a pre schools programme starring two glove puppet spiders called Itsy and Bitsy. It had a very catchy theme tune called Le Gâteau D'anniversaire performed by Janko Nilovic which also plays on Sounds Familiar.
After that she helped create ‘Fun Radio’ a digital radio station aimed at kids.
Susan Stranks with Itsy and Bitsy in midflow
Pete Brady went on to run a business that provided suitable venues for business clients. Jenny Hanley did further Televison work but after brief stint on the now defuct 'Saga Radio' and BBC Radio Berkshire she has vanished of the media radar. Tommy Boyd went on to be a successful talk radio presenter, working on stations like LBC , Talk Radio( Now TalkSport) and the BBC Five Live station.
After leaving as producer of Magpie Tony Bastable went on to to front Thames’s consumer programme Money–Go-Round. He then part devised and presented the investigative paranormal programme ‘Mind over Matter’. Eventually he formed his own production company, although through the rest of his career he was regularly in demand for television voice over work.
Tony sadly died of pneumonia on May 29th 2007.
Although long gone the show represented a major contribution to ITV’s children’s output throughout the 1970’s, attracting audiences in excess of 10 million.
Here is Jenny Hanley, Mick Robertson and Douglas Rae in the Christmas Eve 1976 edition of the show live from Teddington Lock.
Magpie Renion 2009 Jenny Hanley, Mick Robertson and Douglas Rae