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Did you love Crackerjack? (‘Crack-er-jack!’)

PUBLISHED: 11:02 11 January 2020

Leslie Crowther presented Crackerjack! from 1964 to 1968. A trooper, he entertains here at a fete in Halesworth in September, 1981   Picture: ARCHANT

Leslie Crowther presented Crackerjack! from 1964 to 1968. A trooper, he entertains here at a fete in Halesworth in September, 1981 Picture: ARCHANT

With the children’s TV show dusted off after 35 years, we look back at the halcyon days of Double or Drop and pencils as prizes

Don Maclean at St Margaret's Church Centre, Ipswich, in 2004. His Crackerjack! comedy films with Peter Glaze are remembered fondly    Picture: Clifford HicksDon Maclean at St Margaret's Church Centre, Ipswich, in 2004. His Crackerjack! comedy films with Peter Glaze are remembered fondly Picture: Clifford Hicks

We "more senior" (but still mischievous at heart) staff at Archant Suffolk have a wheeze to brighten dull afternoons. We chorus "It's Friday… it's five to five… and it's Crackerjack! Crack-er-jack!" And then we relish our suspicious younger colleagues eyeing us as if we are aliens.

If they are exceptionally disdainful (which is most of the time) we tell them they've won a Crackerjack! pencil. Then they run.

Recently, one declared "I'm so happy to be a '90s baby". We feel sorry for them. They missed glam rock, punk rock, timetabled power blackouts in the 1970s (fun when you're 10), the wall-to-wall sunshine of 1976, Chopper bikes and clackers.

And Crackerjack! - the energetic BBC children's show that blended comedy skits with daft but fun games, music and a comic-play finale. Underpinning it all were solid middle-class values and civility. Ah…

Young viewers took to their hearts performers such as Eamonn Andrews, Leslie Crowther, Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, Michael Aspel, Basil Brush (!) and Stu "I could crush a grape" Francis.

Folk such as Leslie Crowther (a hard worker who also made numerous personal appearances around the country and turned on the smiles) were celebrities.

We've got lots of pictures of him in our archives - from opening a charity shop near Sudbury to appearing at a Halesworth fete. A real trouper.

Leslie Crowther presented Crackerjack! from 1964 to 1968. He was a hard-working bloke. Here he is opening a charity shop at Bures, on the Essex/Suffolk border, in August  1979   Picture: ARCHANTLeslie Crowther presented Crackerjack! from 1964 to 1968. He was a hard-working bloke. Here he is opening a charity shop at Bures, on the Essex/Suffolk border, in August 1979 Picture: ARCHANT

Peter and Don

I had the good fortune to be in short trousers during "Peak Crackerjack!" - when Don Maclean and Peter Glaze had a brilliantly-funny Laurel and Hardy-esque slot.

Peter played the bit-pompous older man who thought he was in charge yet came off worse while working with his amiable but only semi-competent accomplice.

Like Leslie Crowther, Don has made several visits to East Anglia.

The then-BBC Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday presenter was in Ipswich in 2004, for instance - appearing at St Margaret's Church Centre, Bolton Lane, to talk about his life, career and religious beliefs.

The event raised money for a church extension that would include loos.

Leslie Crowther at Youth Day 70, held at the Norfolk Showground in July, 1970   Picture: ARCHANTLeslie Crowther at Youth Day 70, held at the Norfolk Showground in July, 1970 Picture: ARCHANT

Church fundraiser Jennifer Hartley said then: "We met Don while on a pilgrimage to Israel. We sent him a church brochure and he said he'd do anything he could to help."

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He was back in Suffolk the following year - as guest speaker at the Suffolk East Federation of Women's Institutes annual meeting, held at Pontin's Holiday Centre, Pakefield.

It's back

Crackerjack! ran on the Beeb from autumn 1955 until Christmas 1984 (more or less) - and it's being revived. Co-presenters Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes (ex-Pop Idol) look to have inherited the Crackerjack! trait of "intelligent daftness".

There are new games, 35 years on (you can imagine what Stickly Come Dancing and Piedentity Parade will be like), variety acts, comedy sketches, pop bands and a big karaoke singalong to round things off.

Being of advanced years, I'm chary about some aspects - such as having a vlogger and WWE wrestlers as guests - but accept time moves on.

As long as the fundamental principles remain…

The game Double or Drop survives. Youngsters answer questions and win prizes - or cabbages if they get it wrong.

The ultimate prize is still - woohoo! - a Crackerjack! pencil. And that's the lesson I hope youngsters take from the 
reborn show: that a simple-ish writing instrument is a thing 
of beauty and value, to be cherished as much as (and perhaps more than) the £25,000 or £50,000 someone could get for winning Love Island.

Crackerjack! facts

1. The Queen visited the studios in 1961 and was given Crackerjack! pencils for Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

2. Two Ronnies star Ronnie Corbett was a regular on Crackerjack! in the 1950s.

3. Crackerjack! wasn't always on a Friday… and wasn't always shown at five to five. It originally aired on a Wednesday.

4. The longest-serving member of the original Crackerjack! cast was comic actor Peter Glaze (series six to 24).

5. Former House of Commons speaker John Bercow appeared on the programme as a schoolboy in the 1970s.

The new series of Crackerjack! launches at 6pm on Friday, January 17, on CBBC and BBC iPlayer.


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