Eamonn Andrews (1955-64)

Leslie Crowther (1964-68)

Michael Aspel (1968-74)

Ed Stewart (1975-79)

Jan Michelle (1980)

Stu Francis (1980-84)

Sam and Mark (2020-21)



Vivienne Martin (1960-61)
Pip Hinton (1961-64)
Jillian Comber (1961-70)
Valerie Walsh (1965-66)
Christine Holmes (1966-69)
Frances Barlow (1969-70)
Elaine Paige (1972)
Heather Barbour (1972)
Jacqueline Clarke (1973-74)
Jan Hunt (1975-79)
Jillianne Foot (1976-77)
Valerie Mitchell (1978-79)
Sally-Ann Triplett (1981)
Leigh Miles (1981-82)
Julie Dorne Brown (1982-83)
Sara Hollamby (1983-84)
Ling Tai (1984)

Regular Performers:

Jack Douglas (1955-57)
Joe Baker (1955-57)
Eddie Mendoza (1956-57)
Michael Derbyshire (1957-58)
Ronnie Corbett (1957-60)
Eddie Leslie (1958-59)
Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson (1958-60)
Raymond Rollett (1959-60)
Peter Glaze (1960-79)
Leslie Crowther (1961-68)
Harold Taylor (1964-65)
Rod McLennan (1968-70)
Little & Large (1972)
Elaine Paige (1972)
Stuart Sherwin (1972)
Don Maclean (1973-76)
Bernie Clifton (1977-79)
Ian & Janette Tough (The Krankies; 1980-81)
Lenny Henry (1980)
Bob Carolgees (1982)
Geoffrey Durham (The Great Soprendo; 1982-84)
Keith Harris (1983-84)
Basil Brush (1983-84)


BBC Television Service, 14 September 1955 to 21 December 1984 (451 episodes in 29 series)

CBBC, 17 January 2020 to 5 March 2021 (20 episodes in 2 series)


A behemoth of children's programming, Crackerjack marked the start of the weekend for generations of kids with its mixture of sketches, pop performances, and its games.

The show's signature game was Double Or Drop, devised by original host Eamonn Andrews. Kids had to answer questions while holding on to an ever-increasing pile of prizes. Cabbages were added to the heap for wrong answers and for dropping things - and 3 cabbages inevitably meant elimination from the game.

Ed Stewart asks a question of one contestant.

Countless different games were played down the years - there were any number of straightforward shout-out-the-answer quizzes, physical challenges, the jigsaw-based "Jig-Jak", and early computer game "Crackerball". "Young Entertainers" was a showcase for the rising stars of the future, finding a winner each year; it would later find a home on Saturday morning telly alongside Posh Paws and Gordon the Gopher.

Another fine mess for Eddie Large.

Custard pies had been a comedy staple of Crackerjack since it began, but gunge and slime and muck didn't arrive in the games until the early 1980s. "Take a Letter" was a game of questions and stunts for the children; "Take a Chance" was a game to gunge Stu Francis and star guests. "What's in the Box?" had children ferreting around in boxes of muck for tokens. Win or lose, everyone went home with the coveted Crackerjack pencil (later replaced by the Crackerjack pen).

The late 70s comedy crew of Jan Hunt, Bernie Clifton, and Peter Glaze.

The bulk of Crackerjack was its comedy performances, a mixture of bad puns, physical slapstick, silly catchphrases, song and dance. Peter Glaze was the master of the art, the stooge who served twenty years, having his pomposity burst each week by Leslie Crowther and Don MacLean and Bernie Clifton. The weekly pop performance attracted some of the biggest names of the era, whether Adam Faith, The Dave Clark Five, Mud, the Bay City Rollers, or Toyah Willcox.

Eamonn Andrews presides over a pairs game.

Crackerjack began as a fortnightly programme in the Children's Hour, Eamonn Andrews introduced a variety show for young people. Crackerjack was similar to other variety shows of the era, but while Sunday Night at the London Palladium had Beat the Clock and the biggest names in showbiz, Crackerjack had Double or Drop and the smaller talent Ronnie Corbett. Other famous names to pass through Crackerjack include host Michael Aspel, comedians Lenny Henry and the duo Little and Large, ventriloquist Keith Harris, and singer Elaine Paige.

Michael Aspel (right) and two winners of the "Jets Away" contest.

Crackerjack finished in 1984; there was a general freshening of children's television, an old-fashioned variety show was less attractive to the new generation. New producer Paul Ciani's attempts to freshen up the show (throw more pop music and gunge at it) hadn't worked. The Television Theatre, where Crackerjack was filmed, was required for the new Wogan chat show. Stu Francis went on to host the suspiciously similar Crush a Grape on ITV.

Sam, Mark, and some cabbages.

To our surprise, we heard in 2019 that Crackerjack was to be revived, hosted by CBBC's top stars Sam and Mark. The new series appeared on CBBC's in early 2020, to almost universal acclaim. The mixture of comedy, stunts, and games was similar to Johnny Downes' original recipe, and had far less pop music than the last shows in the 1980s. Amongst the games, "Take a Letter" returned, joined by a simple observation quiz "Watch It!", and "Splatterjack" to bring a celebrity or relative up so they'd be gunged by a bursting balloon. "Snap and Whack" is fun with animal heads and a buzzer, and "Stickly Come Dancing" asks players to shake coloured sticky notes off their body.

Two contenders, and 100 small sticky bits of paper.

"Double or Drop" also came back, and returned to Eamonn Andrews' original idea by increasing the prize with every right answer. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as our great-grandpa would say...


Host: It's Friday, it's five to five, and it's Crackerjack.
Studio audience, at the top of their voices: CRACK-KER-JAAAACK!!!

(Stu Francis, before the 'Take A Chance' game): "Let's have a look at the points to be won - or the penalties to pay!"

Francis's main catchphrase (not just on this show) was: "Ooh, I could crush a grape", along with others such as: "Ooh, I could test-drive a Tonka!" "Ooh, I could wrestle an Action Man!" "Ooh, I could duff a daffodil!" "Ooh, I could jump off a doll's house!" and "Ooh, I could rip a tissue!"


BBC producer John Downes, who would remain with the show until 1979.

Theme music

While we can't be entirely sure (most episodes prior to 1975 no longer exist), we don't believe there was a theme tune until 1982. In that year, Chas and Dave wrote a comedy song for the show to accompany new titles. Sam and Mark's remake kept the song, re-voiced by the new hosts.


The famed Crackerjack pencils were only given to children who actually took part in the games, and they were kept under lock and key so nobody else - even the presenters and crew - could have one. One exception was made in 1961 when the Queen visited the set and was given pencils for Prince Charles and Princess Anne. The pencils were abandoned for a short time in the early 1970s but were subsequently reintroduced, and later on there were Crackerjack pens as well. Leslie Crowther once stated in an interview that he was never given a "Crackerjack" pencil, yet people would constantly ask him for one many years after he stopped hosting the show.

Eamonn Andrews originally hosted Double or Drop as a touring show for adults in Ireland, first in cinemas (which in those days got tax breaks if they featured live entertainment as well as films) and then as a warm-up act for Joe Loss and his band, before adapting it for children. In the original version, prize money doubled at each question up to a maximum of one pound, hence the name.

When first commissioned, Crackerjack went out every second Wednesday. It shifted to Thursdays in autumn 1959, and only moved to Fridays in 1964 - at the same time as it went out every week.

Double Or Drop eventually followed Andrews to ITV, and was played on The Sooty Show in the early 1970s. The game was revived by Blue Peter in 2002. They even played it on Fridays at about 5.15, just like the original. Even the 2020 revival of Crackerjack! carried a credit to Eamonn Andrews, a third of a century after his death.

Stu Francis gets covered in cold baked beans.

In the Stu Francis years, the climax of the show was a game. The final two contestants would be teamed up with a celebrity, one male and one female, to play first "Take A Letter", a game of questions and stunts. Then they'd play a gunge-based game, "Take A Chance". (The celebs were mostly kids' presenters, sports stars and, once breakfast telly had been invented, Breakfast Time personalities.) Each celebrity would compete against Stu Francis to answer a question correctly, and whoever failed to do so would be gunged - although Stu and the male celebrity were always gunged anyway - the ladies usually (but not always) got away scot-free. Several gunged celebs deliberately blocked Francis's escape from the gunge tank, and there was nothing he could do about it, especially when strongmen Geoff Capes and Brian Jacks did so. As well as Capes and Jacks, the celebrities brave/crazy enough to put themselves through this included Ian McCaskill, Wincey Willis, David Wilkie, Brian Cant, Floella Benjamin, Emlyn Hughes, Russell Grant, Fern Britton, Sarah Greene, Les Dawson and Suzanne Dando, among many others.

The original series, from 1955 to 1984, was always billed as Crackerjack in the Radio Times and (to the best of our knowledge) on screen. The 2020 revival gained an exclamation mark, and was billed as Crackerjack!.

TV Brain tells us that almost every single episode from the Eamonn Andrews, Leslie Crowther and Michael Aspel eras have been wiped from the archives; only 8 sample episodes survived. All of the episodes from the Ed "Stewpot" Stewart and Stu Francis eras still exist in the archives.

Web links

Wikipedia entry


It's the moment you've been waiting for...
A game of Double Or Drop in progress.

See also

Weaver's Week looked at some 1970s and 1980s editions and Sam and Mark's 2020s revival.


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