Did Les Ferdinand and Dennis Wise smash up the Blue Peter garden in 1983?
Welcome, dear reader, to Betteridge’s law of headlines: ‘Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.’ Sorry to burst your bubble. But the fact the question even exists is a fascinating story of media mischief.
How and why did this urban legend exist in the first place? Might’ve we seen other cult heroes of football linked with great unsolved mysteries? Was Pele spotted around the Dyatlov Pass around February 1959?
We’ve taken a closer look into how and why Wise and Ferdinand ended up implicated in one of the great British scandals of the 1980s.
A major scandal
On Monday 21st November 1983, BBC staff discovered that intruders had gained access to the Blue Peter garden at the rear of the BBC Television Centre and wreaked havoc over the weekend.
The garden, designed by famous horticulturist Percy Thrower, was ravaged by a group of vandals. They poured fuel oil into the pond, killing a number of goldfish, smashed up a 100-year-old urn donated by a pensioner, and broke a plaque made by a disabled child.
The ensuing media storm and public appetite for vengeance and justice was akin to that episode of The Simpsons where Bart steals the head of the Jebediah Springfield statue.
“It’s very sad to think that a few people take such pleasure in harming fellow human beings and hurting animals,” responded Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis.
Thrower, teary-eyed and clearly incensed, appeared on television appealing for information about the perpetrators, who he deemed “mentally ill”.
The identity of the culprits never came to light, but in a fictionalised alternative reality it was ‘revealed’ to be DCI Gene Hunt from a 2010 episode of BBC drama Ashes To Ashes.
Who remembers the Blue Peter Garden being vandalised? pic.twitter.com/aI4qZWJyuo
— 🇬🇧📺 Classic British TV 📺🇬🇧 (@Classicbritcom) May 16, 2021
‘Blue Peter garden was trashed by soccer star Ferdinand’s gang’
When the incident in question took place, local lads Wise and Ferdinand were 16 years old, which puts them in the right sort of demographic for an act of wanton vandalism.
Ferdinand grew up at the White City estate and went on to make over 150 appearances for his local club Queens Park Rangers, having signed for the club after catching the eye for non-league sides Southall and Hayes as a youngster.
Anyone familiar with the area will be aware it’s also home to the BBC Studios, home of the Blue Peter garden.
“What I will say is I helped a few people over the wall,” Ferdinand told BBC Choice show 15 Minutes in 2000, 17 years after the incident, responding to the rumours.
“We were just kids. I didn’t do anything other than help a few people over a wall. It was just a bit of fun.”
“I’m not at liberty to say whether Dennis Wise was one of them,” he added, having been asked if his childhood friend was one of his so-called accomplices.
The Sun responded in a typically understated fashion, splashing the story with the headline: ‘Blue Peter garden was trashed by soccer star Ferdinand’s gang’ and giving the urban legend a whole new set of legs.
“At no point does anyone on the programme admit to what is suggested in The Sun,” retorted the BBC in an official statement.
“There is no question of any BBC investigation, we have better things to do with our time.”
“Dennis was certainly not involved and had nothing whatsoever to do with it,” responded Wise’s publicist.
Putting the nonsense to bed
In 2017, Ferdinand gave another BBC interview in which he did what he’d failed to do 17 years earlier and put the rumours to bed once and for all.
Speaking to former QPR team-mate Trevor Sinclair, the ex-striker explained that the answer he gave in his original interview was a joke that was taken out of context.
“He said: ‘Do you know anything about it?’ and I said no,” Ferdinand said.
“We carried on talking, the show went on and then he mentioned it again. I was like: ‘Why do you keep going on about the Blue Peter Garden?’
“I went: ‘That’s nonsense’ but he mentioned it again. So I said, as a joke: ‘I might have helped someone over the wall but I’m not at liberty to say who it was’.
“If you saw the wall and how high it was, Dennis Wise would have to be on my shoulders, your shoulders and a few other people’s to be able to get over a wall that high, so everyone laughed and it was done.
“The next day I woke up to 10 lines in the paper saying Percy Thrower went to his grave never knowing who wrecked the Blue Peter Garden, it was Les Ferdinand and his mate.”
Wise has never responded publically to the accusations, but Ferdinand went on to regret stoking the embers of the urban myth.
“It was the worst joke I had ever made in my life, but I can assure you myself and Dennis Wise had nothing to do with the BBC garden,” Ferdinand added.
“I have actually spoken to the people from the BBC and Blue Peter and they said: ‘We know you had nothing to do with it’.
“They actually know who did it but it never came out.”