Blue Peter: Secrets of the show's badge room

A boy with a Blue Peter badge
Image caption We can't show you pictures of "the badge room" (but it's somewhere in Salford, Greater Manchester)

For Blue Peter fans, there's a piece of plastic that can be an absolute game changer: the Blue Peter badge.

One million have been given to bring and buyers, "here's one I made earlier" makers and competition winners (yes, they still "get in free").

But you won't get anywhere near one unless you impress the "badge team" - who see everything that's sent into the show.

As Blue Peter turns 60, the badge HQ gatekeeper tells us all he can about one of its best kept secrets.

'Every letter gets an answer'

You might think that in the digital age, handwritten notes are disappearing - but Blue Peter says it's getting more letters than ever.

And the show's editor Ewan Vinnicombe calls the badge team one of Blue Peter's "key parts".

"They respond to every letter that gets sent in," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

In 2011, 40,000 letters were sent in while this year has already seen the show getting 103,286 pieces of correspondence.

In the lead up to its 60th birthday, the show is receiving 1,000 letters every two days.

To deal with that load, there's a team of eight whose sole job is to reply to fans of the show.

Image caption Blue Peter editor Ewan Vinnicombe has kept the badge team tradition alive. It was started by the first editor Biddy Baxter

"They post out the badges first thing in the morning - then the new post comes in at 11am, when they start going through all the letters."

Ewan says you can usually expect a response within about six weeks - and even with all that work to do, he says it's a "lovely job".

"They get to know the audience so quickly.

"If I had my time again I would have started on the badge team. It's a dream job.

"Every now and again, I'll write notes and do handwritten signatures on the letters of certain competition winners.

"Then often, I get thank you notes back for the badges and think: 'Do I have to reply to the thank you note or can I leave it here?'."

Not everyone gets a badge

Image caption Presenters from across the show's history will be marking the 60th birthday with a series of shows across the BBC

The badge team doesn't have a limit to the amount of badges they can give out but a simple "can I have a badge" scrawled on scrap of paper might not cut it.

"With this record level of post we're not handing out more badges," says Ewan.

And don't bother asking Ewan for one if you see him either.

"I have this every day of my life. As soon as they find out I'm the editor people always come up to me and ask for a badge.

"But you have to earn it - I'm not actually allowed to name the people I've turned down a Blue Peter badge to. But it's a wide scope of society.

"I was congratulated by a boss of mine once for saying no to a certain person who asked for it - you've got to keep the rules going."

Age might be a problem as well.

You have to be aged between six and 15 to get one unless you appear on the show or make a significant contribution on the programme.

And even though the Blue Peter badge can still get the owner into hundreds of attractions for free, you have to be within that age bracket to get the perks.

After 15, it only gives you bragging rights.

Hardly anyone gets a gold one

Image caption Steven Spielberg got his gold badge in 2016

While there's no limit to the amount of different types of badges you can get, there's one which is kept under lock and key in the badge room.

"The gold one is the pinnacle badge, it's for very special people," explains Ewan.

Image caption They don't give out gold badges to just anyone

"The Queen has a gold badge and I was responsible for giving Steven Spielberg one - there's a few people at that level who have them."

Ewan says Mary Berry is another with a gold badge because people were "obsessed" with her and kept mentioning her in letters.

"It was the same with Tim Peake as well when he was in space," he says.

Image caption Diamond badges are available in 2018 to mark the 60th birthday and are for people who apply for them and can explain their special achievements

Don't bother buying them off eBay

Even though they seem to pop up all over the internet - Ewan warns against using the second-hand badge market, as tempting as it might be.

He poses a moral argument...

"You will always know that you didn't earn it - you could be taking a bit of childhood away from someone if you do that," he says.

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