Merlin Entertainments, the theme park giant which owns attractions from Alton Towers to Legoland, is to end free entry to its venues for thousands of children possessing a Blue Peter badge.
Holders of the much-coveted badges awarded to viewers of the flagship BBC children’s television programme have benefited from the perk at Merlin attractions for at least a decade as part of a list of 200 places offering free access to those wearing the show’s famous insignia.
But Merlin, which had offered the concession at 29 of its UK attractions including Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds, has now decided to discontinue its participation in the BBC scheme starting from next January.
The end of the perk means parents will now face having to pay entrance fees, which can reach up to £45 for on-the-day tickets, for badge holders. The disclosure comes after the UK-based theme park operator, which is the world’s second largest after Disney and last year made profits of £250m, was this week fined £5m for “catastrophic failures” which led to last year’s crash on its Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers.
The company declined to comment on the reasons behind the Blue Peter badge decision, saying only that it was part of a “regular review” of its marketing arrangements to offer “fair value” to customers.
A spokesman said: “We regularly review our partnerships to ensure we are offering fair value and great benefits to our visitors of all ages.
“As part of this review, we’ve agreed with the BBC to end the long-standing relationship to give Blue Peter badge holders free access to attractions. This is not a decision we’ve taken lightly as we have been involved in the scheme for many years. We hope badge holders may take advantage of many other Merlin offers in the future.”
It is understood that among the factors taken into consideration by Merlin, which has a number of commercial tie-ups with the BBC including a newly-opened CBeebies Land hotel at Alton Towers, was the number of badge holders claiming free entry to its attractions. The Blue Peter badge scheme is increasingly popular with 140,000 holders currently eligible to take part in the free entry system.
Last year saw the highest-ever number of applications for badges. First introduced in 1963, thousands of Blue Peter badges have been awarded to viewers aged between five and 15 in return for writing into the show with evidence of their creativity or community involvement.
Children can currently apply for five types of badge alongside the classic blue and white design, originally created by television artist Tony Hart. They include a green badge for environmental issues and a sports badge for inspiring a friend to take up an activity.
The BBC has previously been forced to tighten the arrangements surrounding the use of the badges after it emerged in 2006 that they were being sold on eBay to buyers who it was feared were then taking advantage of the free entry offers.
The furore, described by one national newspaper as a “knife to the national psyche”, led to the introduction of an accompanying ID card which badge holders can now be asked to produce to obtain free entry.
In a statement, the BBC said: “Your Blue Peter badge gives you access to lots of amazing places around the UK, but this list can change from time to time, so please always check the CBBC Blue Peter website before setting off.”