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Posted by Big Boo on May 16th, 2008

CrackerjackIt’s Friday, it’s five to five, it’s…

Love it or hate it, Crackerjack (Crackerjack!) managed to notch up almost 30 years on the old goggle box. It originally started way back in 1955 in glorious monochrome, hosted by none other than the late Eamonn Andrews, who you will more likely remember as the man with the red book who surprised celebrities on This Is Your Life. Perhaps your parents watched it too?

Crackerjack (Crackerjack!) was a kids variety show featuring comedy sketches, music and competitions. As the years went by it featured many stars who became household names in the UK. Max Bygraves, Leslie Crowther, Michael Aspel and Ed “Stewpot” Stewart all hosted, whilst comedians such as Don Maclean (no, not the singer), Ronnie Corbett and Bernie Clifton (the guy who was always “riding” a fake ostrich) plied their trade in front of the kids. Most of these names featured before the 1980’s, but I felt they were worth a mention in order to demonstrate the long history of the show.

In the 1980’s we were treated (if that is the right word) to the hosting skills of Stu Francis, a slightly camp comedian who seemed to have come straight from being a children’s entertainer at a holiday camp. Stu played on his general lack of butchness with his seemingly endless stream of catchphrases ranging from “Ooh! I could wrestle an Action Man!” through to the most famous example of “Ooh! I could crush a grape!“. Catchphrases were always a big part of Crackerjack’s (Crackerjack!) appeal though, as all the kids in the studio audience were expected to shout out the name of the show whenever anybody said it. OK, I know it’s a lame joke to do this in the written word, but that’s not going to stop me!

Crackerjack’s (CrackerJack!) budget was obviously beginning to be reigned in towards the end of it’s run, as the special guests started to rotate between three regular acts, these being Basil Brush (oh, how the mighty have fallen), husband and wife comedy duo The Krankies (Fan Dabby Dozy! – Hmm, dozy is probably about right) and “Spanish” magician The Great Suprendo (better known these days as the husband of Victoria Wood). At least I think The Great Suprendo was meant to be Spanish, or possible Italian? He quite obviously wasn’t either though.

The highlight of the show was always the competition “Double or Drop” at the end of the show (I believe it may also have been called “Cabbages and Kings” at one point). This involved three lucky members of the audience standing on podiums answering questions. For every correct answer they were allowed to choose a gift from the selection on the prize table, which was then handed to them there and then. If they got the question wrong they were given a cabbage to hold. As the game went on the kids stood there with piles of stuff in their arms, but they were out of the game if they dropped anything or ended up with three cabbages. Apparently the idea for this game came from original host Eamonn Andrews, who when he left took the idea with him (he’d copyrighted it to himself apparently). It wasn’t until the 1970’s that a deal was done and the competition returned.

Of course, the real reason why any kid strived to be on the show was so they could win that most coveted of items (after the Blue Peter badge), the Crackerjack (Crackerjack!) pen – or pencil if you go back far enough!

Update 25/11/08 – Thanks to Matjames for letting me know about the clips of Stu Francis era Crackerjack on YouTube.  I’ve popped one on below of Take A Chance, the game where Stu and guests get gunged at the end of the show…