Blue Peter is a British children's television programme which combines facts, fun and activities. It's been going nearly 50 years. To help publicize the brand new BBC TV series of The Roman Mysteries, Blue Peter kindly agreed to do a Roman-themed feature. Producer Andy Clarke asked if I would be a consultant and of course I agreed! The emails whizzed back and forth, sometimes as many as ten a day. I bombarded Andy with information on gladiators, slaves, highborn Romans and food. After a few days of this, Andy put it all together in a great script. As his 'thank you' to me for sending info, Andy told me I could have a bit part in their Roman Day. I was going to be Zoe's slave-girl. Euge! Yay!
Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of the Blue Peter studio converted into a Roman set! Art director Claire and props genius Julian (AKA Jules) had done amazing things. Andy had invited my old friend Draco the gladiator from the re-enactment group Britannia. But my first sight was of Gethin dressed up as a gladiator. Mecastor! He makes a fine gladiator. In the background, Draco and his pals were hacking about. They don't hold back. By the end of three rehearsals and as many takes, they were pouring with sweat.
Konnie was hilarious as a sassy slave-girl on the auctioneer's block: You wouldn't catch me in the gladiator ring. Oh no! In fact you wouldn't catch me anywhere in these chains. I've already been caught! Hence the writing that's been branded on my arm using hot metal, TENE ME NE FUGIA FUGIO: hold me lest I flee in flight!
Then came my part of the programme. I had to stand meekly behind Zoe and act suitably servile. I provided her with strigil (scraper) and spongia (poo-stick) but the best bit was when she gargled with her own urine to make her teeth white! Ewww! David aka Anakin of Britannia came in after we finished filming to ask for her autograph. He didn't seem to mind that she had just gargled with pee. (You can see me scrape Zoe and watch her drinking urine at the May 3rd Blue Peter Video Podcast)
Last but not least, Andy played the part of Servius, a fast-food seller. Jules the props-master had spared no expense. There were baskets of cabbage and fennel, clay bowls of honey, papyrus cones of olives and pistachios, as well as spices like cloves, pepper and turmeric. (The Blue Peter dogs, Lucy and Mabel, were beside themselves with excitement at all these exotic smells.) Here's a picture of Andy with one of his highborn customers! I got to be a random helper at the stall, shaking out coloured cloth. A very useful job.
I brought some copies of my books to give away, thinking there would be about 20 cast and crew on the set. There must have been at least 50 people there! And every one of them put so much work into making the day special. I must also mention the set designer Tracey, Laura the props buyer, Debbie in costumes and Julian the stage manager. Also the ladies in make-up! And all the 'extras' were great, too, like this senator and his wife. We enjoyed eating pistachio nuts from the papyrus cones on the food stall.
We finally finished filming at 7.00: a long day, (especially for Andy, who has to stay several more hours and edit it!) But it was so much fun. I wish every day could be a Roman Blue Peter Day. Thanks, Andy, for letting me be part of it. Oh, and thanks for promoting the TV series! [The Roman Mysteries TV series begins on Tuesday 8 May at 4.30 on BBC1, right before Blue Peter!]