IT’S hard to believe that adrenaline junkie and Blue Peter daredevil Peter Duncan is now approaching his 60th birthday.
With his boyish face and general devil-may-care attitude to life, I will forever see him as the keen young presenter of Britain’s favourite children’s show.
Of course, thinking again, that was way back in the 1980s when he was only in his 20s, but even now Peter appears forever young.
His latest role, however, as First World War sewer rat Jack Firebrace in an adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ book Birdsong, has brought his maturity to bear.
Peter will be heading the cast in a touring production of the acclaimed novel, which comes to the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham next Monday.
“To play a character such as Jack you have to draw a bit from your own experiences and perhaps some darker memories,” said Peter, 59.
Then, on a lighter note: “It’s just a play though, so a lot of it is just having to act and pretend, which is what actors do.”
It’s probably that kind of attitude that has served Peter so well in his long and varied career during which he’s tried everything from musicals and comedies to stunts and travelling the world with his family.
He started his acting career in the 1970s when he joined the National Theatre, followed by roles on television and film including Space 1999, Stardust and a famous cameo in Flash Gordon when he was killed by a tree monster.
He became a household name in 1980 when he joined Blue Peter and took over as the resident daredevil from John Noakes.
“I’ve always been up for anything and Blue Peter was a great opportunity to do lots of things that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to,” he said.
“Having said that, the thing I liked most about being on the programme was the vitality of it; the way we had deadlines to meet so everything had a sense of theatre to it.”
He went on to make Duncan Dares, a series that played on his adventurous image with stunts such as driving across the Irish Sea in a VW Beetle.
Later he filmed and produced a travel documentary series in which he, his partner Annie and their four young children backpacked their way around the world.
But it’s the theatre which he returns to time and again, playing MacDuff in a production of Macbeth, and several lead roles in musicals, including Barnum and Me and My Girl.
“I wish more people came to the theatre, particularly young people,” he said.
“There is nothing better than getting a positive reaction from them in a play. Youngsters are much more honest in their responses than adults.”
Birdsong runs from Monday to next Saturday. Tickets cost from £14 to £26 from 01242 572573.