1 9 5 5 – 1 9 8 4 (UK)
400 x 30 minute episodes
“It’s Friday, it’s five to five . . . It’s Crackerjack – CRACK – ER – JACK!!”
BBC children’s programme Crackerjack first appeared on Wednesday 14 September 1955. It was filmed live with an audience mainly consisting of cubs, scouts, girl guides and brownies in full uniform (and usually good voice) and energetic kiddies all crammed into a Shepherd’s Bush theatre.
The show was meant for eight to ten-year-olds, but one of the great strengths of the show was that it never played down to the audience just because they were young. As a result, Crackerjack appealed to an audience of all ages.
The format rarely varied; Some comedic banter, a game, a sketch, a five-minute silent movie (made earlier in the week), another game and the big finale.
Originally introduced by ex-boxing commentator Eamonn Andrews (later to host This Is Your Life), but perhaps best remembered for it’s golden era when co-hosts Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze would perform comedy routines, introduce the guest pop act, and host the weekly quiz ‘Double or Drop’ (devised by Andrews in the show’s early days), in which contestants were given a prize for a correct answer or a cabbage for a wrong one, and then had to hold as many as they could without dropping them.
Win or lose everyone went home with a Crackerjack pencil, which became probably the most coveted and adored prize in Britain at the time (along with the Blue Peter badge).
When Eamonn Andrews left the show he took the rights to the game with him (in case he needed to play it on any of his subsequent TV shows).
Leslie Crowther was involved with the show for eight years from 1960 – first as resident comic, then as compere. Don McLean and Jan Hunt hosted along with comedian Peter Glaze (an old favourite since the very early days) following the departure of Crowther.
The comedians on the show have included Rod McLennan, Bernie Clifton, Little and Large and Ronnie Corbett.
Unfortunately, in the 70s, kids began to be bombarded by cartoons and children’s shows and Crackerjack started to seem a little old-fashioned to them. It was the end of a golden innocent age of television.
You can tell the age of a British adult by who they best remember presenting the show. The younger ones remember Stu Francis, the ones who now have children themselves recall Ed Stewart or Michael Aspel, and if you remember Leslie Crowther or Eamonn Andrews, you were there at the beginning!
Crackerjack survived until 1984, with some changes to its basic formula: ‘gunge’ was introduced, and the Crackerjack pencil became a pen.
Julie Dawn Cole