So many of us over a certain age will have been saddened last week to learn of the demise of one of our childhood heroes – Blue Peter’s John Noakes. Back in the days when the telly programmes were black and white (and so was the world, or so our old photos tell us), children’s programmes were sparse, with just a couple of hours each day before the 6 o’clock news. A little later in the evenings, most of us would have been bathed and pyjamaed and ready for bed, being shushed and told to behave while our mums avidly watched Coronations Street. This was when we paid for stuff in pounds, shillings and pence, lots of families didn’t own a car and health and safety didn’t exist!
Take a look at the video of John Noakes climbing Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. He climbs up a ladder and at one point, in order to clear the overhanging plinth at the top, has to climb on a ladder that’s at a dangerous outward angle so he’s practically hanging upside down, 170 feet (52 metres) above our capital city! John Noakes was the “intrepid” member of the Blue Peter team and was often found to be scaling heights in some way, shape or form. He originally climbed to the top of Nelson’s Column in 1968 but we couldn’t find footage of that climb so here he is in 1977 (in full colour, folks), once again climbing Nelson’s Column without donning a safety harness. He then descended on a “bosun’s chair” – not the modern type, but an original one made from a small plank of wood and sturdy rope. When Connie Huq climbed Nelson’s Column some years later, there was caged scaffolding in place around the column, with a series of steel steps and she wore a hi-viz vest and hard hat. When Noakes climbed the Column without safety gear, you could see that it was pretty windy at the top by the way in which his hair is blowing.
It’s not the first time that Nelson’s Column has been featured in this way and it won’t be the last! Over the years, Nelson’s Column has become a popular landmark on which to pull publicity stunts. TV presenter Gary Wilmot climbed up there in 1989 for the Six O’ Clock Show dressed in Victorian clothing (complete with boater hat) and had tea and sandwiches at the top before coming back down. Greenpeace activists have climbed the Column on several occasions, last year putting a breathing mask on the statue of Admiral Nelson in protest at air pollution levels. It’s been climbed by free climbers and base jumpers, one of whom parachuted from the top. In December 2015, the Column was turned into a giant light sabre to promote Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which cost Disney £24,000).
Nowadays, any planned climb would need to be carefully organised with a proper risk assessment and the use of the correct access equipment and personal protective equipment. When John Noakes climbed the Column, it’s been reported that the risk assessment read “He may die”!