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Crackerjack (1955-84)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Crackerjack (1955-84)
BBC, 14/09/1955-21/12/1984
around 400 x 30 min episodes in 29 series
ProducersJohnny Downes
 Peter Whitmore
 Robin Nash
 Brian Penders
 Paul Ciani

Hosts: Eamonn Andrews; Leslie Crowther; Michael Aspel; Ed Stewart; Stu Francis; Other Performers: Jack Douglas; Joe Baker; Ronnie Corbett; Peter Glaze; Jillian Comber; Pip Hinton; Christine Holmes; Don Maclean; Jacqueline Clarke; Jan Hunt; Bernie Clifton; The Krankies; Leigh Miles; The Great Soprendo (Geoffrey Durham); Basil Brush

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Games, comedy sketches and music in this long-running theatre variety series for children.

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"It's Friday. It's Five to Five. And it's Crackerjack!" While this children's variety show didn't always hold this timeslot (it was ten years before it became a Friday fixture), it undoubtedly ushered in the weekend for generations of schoolkids.

Crackerjack began as a live show broadcast from the BBC's Shepherd's Bush Theatre. Traditional children's variety acts (jugglers, magicians) were interspersed with party games involving members of the school blazer-clad audience. General knowledge quiz Double or Drop was devised by first host Eamonn Andrews - three children balanced armfuls of prizes but were 'awarded' a cabbage for a wrong answer. Two wrong answers or dropping your prizes meant you were out. The game disappeared when Andrews left but returned in the 1970s (reappearing on Blue Peter in 2002-3). Crackerjack was also an important early outlet for pop promotion - Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Tom Jones, The Small Faces, The Bee Gees, Status Quo and The Who all appeared (sadly most '60s editions were subsequently wiped).

Pun-laden comedy revue was another important element. Mainstay Peter Glaze formed double acts with Leslie Crowther, Don Maclean and Bernie Clifton over the years. A mid-70s series of short comic films by Don and Pete, aping silent greats like Chaplin, were rare pre-recorded items in the otherwise live mix. Panto-style comedy sketches included often surreal renditions of current chart hits.

Hyperactive club comic Stu Francis oversaw the programme in the 1980s, alongside Scottish husband and wife comic duo The Krankies. By the series' end, however, comedy elements had been pared down, leaving a gunge game show.

In the three decades since Crackerjack began, TV techniques had advanced so far that attempts to translate live theatre to the screen looked crude and slow. The show was axed, as bosses sought variety formats more suited to modern TV.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Pinky and Perky (6:18)
2. Ronnie Corbett sketch (1:38)
3. The Games (1:44)
4. Poor People of Paris (2:21)
Corbett, Ronnie (1930-)
Crowther, Leslie (1933-1996)
Children's Entertainment and Comedy
Children's TV in the 1960s
Children's TV in the 1970s
TV Variety