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‘Cookie Gate’ forces Blue Peter apology...
... and a new kitten!

THE LONG-RUNNING BBC Children’s’ magazine programme Blue Peter was plunged into controversy last week when Blue Peter presenters Konnie Huq and Zoe Salmon had to apologise to viewers about the rigging of an online poll to name the show’s cat.

Last year a Ragdoll kitten was chosen to become the ninth Blue Peter and, as with many of the previous Blue Peter pets, viewers were asked to vote on a name for the new arrival in an online poll. However, former Editor Richard Marson, together with un-named members of the production team, disliked the viewers’ top choice of ‘Coookie’ and opted instead to name the kitten ‘Socks, which was the second-choice name in the poll.

Following an internal BBC investigation into vote-rigging in phone-ins and competitions throughout the Corporation, the deception was uncovered. Richard Marson, was reportedly sacked over the poll. Mr Marson was also at the helm when Blue Peter was involved in its first and most serious deception which came to light earlier this year, in which a child visiting the studio was asked to pose as a phone-in competition winner. The BBC was fined an unprecedented £50,000 by media watchdog Ofcom over the incident.

In a damage-limitation exercise, Acting Editor Tim Levell speedily set about finding another kitten, who will appear alongside Socks and decided that the new arrival, also a Ragdoll, will be given the name originally chosen by the viewers.

When the show returned to BBC 1 after its summer break on Tuesday, September 25th, Konnie Huq held up Cookie, the children show’s new kitten, whilst Zoe Salmon stood next to her cradling Socks.

Huq told viewers that Cookie was “a brand new kitten, only 13-weeks old, and we’re all in love with him.”

Salmon said: “You may have already seen or read in the news that Cookie was the name that actually should have been given.”

The presenters gave a brief explanation of the ‘Cookiegate’ incident and said that instead of calling the animal Cookie, as viewers wanted, the production team changed the winning name to Socks.

Salmon told viewers: “So today we had to say sorry, and what better way to say sorry than with this cute thing.”

The latest BBC Internal Review also revealed another three new fakery which occurred on the BBC’s digital radio stations 6Music and the Asian Network.

An audience vote on the Film Café show on the BBC Asian Network in February was over-ruled by a member of the production team; while on the Clare McDonell Show on 6Music in September last year a member of the production team supplemented winners to a contest with fictional names.
And on the Tom Robinson show on 6Music in September last year a member of the production team invented a fictional winner for a contest after no entries were received.

It is understood that around 25 people have been disciplined as part of the internal inquiry, and despite reports to the contrary, they include “senior” people in charge of affected shows.

The disciplinary action by the BBC is expected to contested by the staff involved in a number of tribunals via broadcasting union Bectu.

The BBC has refused to name individuals involved, but it is understood that Mr Marson has been sacked, while 6Music’s head of programmes, Ric Blaxill, has left corporation of his own accord.
The latest revelations follow an earlier report by the BBC in July in which several other fakery incidents were uncovered – including the Blue Peter competition result.

In the meantime, however, blissfully unaware of the furore surrounding their appointments to the show, Socks and Cookie seem to have settled happily into the Blue Peter team, following in the pawsteps of such illustrious feline predecessors as Jason the Siamese and Jack and Jill the two ‘disappearing tabbies.

Blue Peter celebrates its 50th anniversary in October 2008.