IWITOT 2020: Blue Peter Totalis­er and TV appeals

Exhibited by
Joe Nicholson
October 08, 2020
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This case study from I Wish I’d Thought of That (IWITOT) 2020 does showcase how weird British television was back in the day, but it also shows what can be achieved when a TV show taps into the collective consciousness. Joe Nicholson amusingly takes us through the history of the UK’s once-unmissable Blue Peter children’s programme. He highlights the amazing work they achieved and the phenomenal sums of money they raised for charities by engaging with people up and down the country. As he says, this was the first time many Brits did fundraising and its impact continues to be felt in the nation’s psyche.


Blue Peter has been running since 1958 and it’s an eclectic old thing – it’s all about getting children doing activities, whether that’s making things, baking, or helping in their communities… and an iconic badge was sent out as a reward.

Summary / objectives

Blue Peter was a totally unique TV show in that, for more than fifty years, it did an annual appeal – getting children across the UK to raise money for that year’s chosen charity.

For whole generations of Brits, the Blue Peter Appeal was the first time they did fundraising. 

And each year, you’d be asked to collect something different – paperback books, old toys, etc. – and they’d be sold and used to fund something amazing. For example, I vividly remember gathering up fizzy drink cans for the 1998 appeal, to raise money to build schools in Mozambique.

Summary / objectives

There’s something else I remember so vividly. And that’s the Blue Peter Totaliser. I wish I’d thought of the Totaliser. It was the heart of the appeal – tracking how much money has been raised as the weeks go on.

Beneath the beautiful, elegant exterior of the Blue Peter Totaliser, there is some rock-solid behavioural science. 

Firstly, it’s a textbook example of social proof. By watching the Totaliser on TV every week, you got to see how many kids just like you were taking part.

And it was great at anchoring. By which I mean that it gave kids a really clear fundraising goal and it visualised progress against that goal in an accessible way (you don’t need to be an excellent reader to get a sense of the money stacking up).

Yet the Totaliser has something magical to it, which I don’t think can be explained away by nudges alone.

Once a week, on TV, you’d see your efforts collecting or selling transformed into a new row on the thermometer, or a flashing light. You’d see yourself as part of that new total.

The Totaliser brought that so close to home – it brought that progress right into your living room. 

And the Blue Peter presenters played a really important role here – because they were so familiar to the kids watching. They were like friends, you knew them by name. And they made sure you felt intimately part of the progress that Totaliser was showing.

They helped you see yourself as part of a much bigger community – you knew you were on a team with other children from all over the country.


Even though Blue Peter appeals started way before the internet was invented, I think the Totaliser created something rather like a virtual community.

And being connected to so many people like you made raising money urgent – and exciting.

When the total was reached, it would explode ­– shooting glitter and confetti everywhere, and the Blue Peter presenters would, well, they’d do what Blue Peter presenters do best, and that’s make utter fools of themselves.

What is so great about this moment is that it sort of rips up the rulebook for fundraising altogether – especially the kind of fundraising that I’m used to.

Our mantra seems to be ask, ask, ask – and occasionally to throw in a thank you to show our supporters how eternally grateful we are.

We rarely pause for breath to look at our achievements and say ‘well done’.

Blue Peter Appeals did that though. They made proper time for celebration.

When you saw that Totaliser explode you felt your heart soar in the purest, childlike way – you wanted to join those presenters and dance around like mad.


The BBC estimates that since the first appeal started Blue Peter has raised over £100 million (inflation adjusted figure to 2008 value) by appeals.

Blue Peter has been running appeals for nearly fifty years.
The iconic Blue Peter badge.
Joe can remember gathering fizzy drink cans for the 1998 appeal.
A classic gaudy Blue Peter Totaliser. Photo courtesy of the Guardian.
When a total was achieved, the Totaliser would explode.