Crackerjack

Crackerjack

[krak-er-jak]

Crackerjack was a British children's comedy/variety BBC television series. It started on 12 September 1955 and ran for 400 shows in B&W and later colour until 1984. Through its long run it featured Eamonn Andrews, Max Bygraves, Leslie Crowther, Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, Stu Francis, Peter Glaze, Don Maclean, Michael Aspel, Jan Hunt, The Krankies, Bernie Clifton, Rod McLennan and Ronnie Corbett amongst many others. Among the women who appeared as singers/dancers, assisting the host with games, were Julie Dorne-Brown (later MTV VJ "Downtown" Julie Brown); Sally Ann Triplett (who as a member of the duo Bardo represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 1982); Leigh Miles (also a popular "Hills Angel" in the Benny Hill show); and Sarah Hollamby (now a television news and travel reporter).

The shows were filmed in front of an audience of mainly children at the BBC Television Theatre (now the Shepherds Bush Empire) and were quite frantic. The format of the programme included competitive games for teams of children, a music spot, a comedy double act, and a finale in which the cast performed a short comic play, adapting popular songs of the day and incorporating them into the action. One of the highlights of the show was called Don and Pete, being Don Maclean and Peter Glaze in a silent comedy style section lasting maybe five minutes. Shows had them fishing, as sweepers, barbers, at a riding school, on a building site, on a farm, at a circus, window cleaners, bellboys, removals, etc.

One of the most memorable games was a quiz called "Double or Drop", where each contestant was given a prize to hold for each question answered correctly, but given a cabbage if they answered incorrectly. They were out of the game if they dropped any of the items they were holding or received a third cabbage.

It was an accepted unwritten rule that whenever a presenter spoke the word 'Crackerjack', the audience would shout "Crack-er-jack!" loudly. This custom has passed into popular culture.

A standard consolation prize to children who appeared on the show was the Crackerjack Pencil (later upgraded to a Crackerjack pen). These were kept in a special locked cabinet and only handed out to people who had won them and when an official asked for one once, he was refused.

The show was introduced with the phrase "It's Friday, it's five o'clock. . . It's Crackerjack!", and sometimes with "It's Friday, it's five to five. . . It's Crackerjack!".

In the mid to late seventies (c.1977) a talent contest element was added to the show. The strand was called "Crackerjack Young Entertainer of The Year" and featured children from throughout the UK who had successfully passed audition stages, get their shot at stardom on the small screen.

In 1982, in a bid to try and boost flagging ratings, Crackerjack introduced gunge into its games and launched a new game called 'Take a Chance' in which the celebrity guests could score extra points for the contestant they had teamed up with. Failure to answer questions correctly led to Stu Francis and/or the celebrity guest being covered in gunge.

Crackerjack was cancelled in 1984 at the same time as many other long running series. In 1987 Stu Francis hosted Crush a Grape on ITV, a remake of his era of Crackerjack in all but name. It lasted a single series.

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