Crackerjack is back, and news that the classic kids’ TV show is returning to our screens will have millions of us wallowing in nostalgia.
Madcap presenting duo Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes will be the hosts for the next generation of Crackerjack fans.
But every generation has different memories of the show, which ran on Fridays at five to five.
So, with help from expert Alan Stafford, author of It’s Friday, It’s Crackerjack, we take a look at 500 episodes spanning 29 years from 1955 to 1984 to pick out the stars, scandals and secrets.
The First show
Crackerjack burst on to our screens on September 14, 1955.
It wasn’t Friday, it was Wednesday.
And it wasn’t five to five, it was quarter past.
This Is Your Life legend Eamonn Andrews, then 32 and the BBC’s hottest property, was the first host.
By the third series, most of his words were unscripted.
The first ever contestants were schoolboys Victor Pond and Bill Wake, who took part in a banana-eating contest with the winner going on to compete in Double or Drop.
Prizes were stacked up in their arms for correct answers.
Wrong answers or dropped prizes earned them a cabbage.
Three cabbages meant elimination.
Prizes were chosen for unwieldiness and included tinned fish, buckets and sombreros. The cabbages were made of cloth and surprisingly heavy.
Trevor Little, aka The Balloon Man, did a sketch on the first episode and had to be warned not to do his favourite gag about sausage-shaped balloons – “If you find any, please pick them up, only they do upset the cleaners” – as it was unsuitable for children.
A fun tradition that lasted for decades saw the live audience shout ‘Crackerjack!’ when anyone mentioned the word.
It started spontaneously in the first episode.
In the 1957 BBC Children’s Annual, Eamonn Andrews said: “From the first day Crackerjack was born, it came back at us with a bang.
One audience yelled back ‘Crackerjack!’ every time we said it, and from there on, that was the custom.
“In fact, it was often very funny to see somebody by mistake mention the word Crackerjack then see them jump almost a couple of feet off the ground when the audience suddenly picked it up and yelled it right back at them.”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot”: A highlight of the show were theDon and Peter sketches with Peter Glaze and Don Maclean with
their catchphrases “Don’t get your knickers ina knot” or “Don’t get your tights in a twist”.
"Ooh, I could crush a grape”: Stu Francis, who appeared on the show from 1979 to 1984, had honed this catchphrase in working men’s club.
Ronnie Corbett was just 26 and had only a few minor film roles to his name when he joined Crackerjack, fitting it in around his job as a barman. He stayed for three series.
But as he confessed to Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs in 1971, he hadn’t been happy on Crackerjack for some time: “I always had the feeling it never quite worked. I’m not extremely fond of having flour put over my head, or falling a lot, or things like that.”
Other regulars who went on to achieve fame included comedians Little and Large, The Krankies, Basil Brush, and the late Victoria Wood’s husband Geoffrey Durham, appearing as his magician act The Great Soprendo with his catchphrase “Piff Paff Poof”.
Crackerjack also launched Bernie Clifton’s career.
Crackerjack hostess Suzette St Clair caused outrage when she appeared in a top shelf magazine wearing platform shoes, stockings, a fur coat and not a lot else. She did not appear on the show again.
In January 1964, the Mirror broke the story of Eamonn Andrews leaving the BBC for ITV after 14 years on the channel. His £120,000 a year fee made him the highest-paid TV personality.
After a few too many drinks, producer Robin Nash told a Mirror journalist Crackerjack was replacing presenter Ed Stewart. But the producer hadn’t yet told Ed.
In his autobiography, Ed told how he learned the news in a late-night phone call: “‘Hello … Ed Stewart?’ I could just make out a crackly and slightly inebriated voice.
“‘It’s the Mirror here. I’m just calling to tell you that you won’t be presenting Crackerjack any more …’
“I distinctly heard a loud cry of ‘CRACK-ER-JAAACK’ in the background. ‘How do you know that?’ I asked in a shaky voice. ‘Robin Nash, your producer, just told me. We’re all at the Montreux Film Festival. Just a moment, I’ll pass him on to you’.
“Robin’s unmistakeable voice confirmed everything. ‘Yessh, darling Ed. You’re all too old and we’re putting some new blood in’.”
Off screen Peter Glaze wore glasses with thick lenses. On TV, lenses reflect the studio lights so his round-framed specs had no lenses.
Jan Michelle, who joined Crackerjack as a co-host in 1978, was asked to ramp up her Scouse accent.
She said: “I’m from a normal council estate in Liverpool. And when somebody says to you, ‘Can you make your accent stronger?’ it’s really difficult.”
Commons Speaker John Bercow made his TV debut as a Crackerjack contestant in 1975, aged 12.
Highly prized prizes
Every child who competed was given a Crackerjack pencil. If you own a wooden pencil with Crackerjack on the side, it is a worthless forgery.
The genuine article is an elegant Burnham propelling pencil with a green marbled design and the word Crackerjack in gold lettering.
It came with its own case. In time it would be superseded by the Crackerjack pen.
In 1961, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first BBC broadcast, the Queen visited the Crackerjack set.
Eamonn Andrews reached into the Double or Drop prizes and gave the Queen two silver Crackerjack pencils, one for Prince Charles and one for Princess Anne, and an Andy Pandy doll for Prince Andrew.
The Queen told Eamonn she and her children were regular viewers: “I watch it. It moves quickly, I enjoy it.”
Let’s just hope the new show gets the royal seal of approval, too.
It’s Friday, It’s Crackerjack by Alan Stafford, £19.99, published by Fantom. fantompublishing.co.uk
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