Eamonn Andrews (1955-64)
Leslie Crowther (1964-8)
Michael Aspel (1968-74)
Ed Stewart (1975-9)
Stu Francis (1980-4)
Hostesses included: Pip Hinton, Julie Dorne-Brown, Sara Hollamby, Jillian Comber, Leigh Miles, Sally-Ann Triplett and Ling Tai
Also, there were a number of resident comics over the years, such as Peter Glaze, Don Maclean, Bernie Clifton, Ronnie Corbett, The Krankies, Geoffrey Durham (aka The Great Soprendo) and Basil Brush. Leslie Crowther was also a resident comic before he became a host.
BBC Television Service, 14 September 1955 to 21 December 1984 (451 episodes in 29 series)
A behemoth of children's programming, for nearly three decades Crackerjack pretty much marked the start of the weekend with its mixture of sketches, pop performances and of course its games. Countless different games were played down the years - there were any number of straightforward on-the-buzzer quizzes, alongside other games like the jigsaw-based Jig-Jak and Hangman variant Take A Letter, but the show's signature game was Double Or Drop, devised by original host Eamonn Andrews, in which kids had to answer questions while holding on to an ever-increasing pile of prizes (with cabbages added to the heap for wrong answers). Win or lose, everyone went home with the coveted "Crackerjack pencil" (later replaced by the "Crackerjack pen").
In the Stu Francis era, the final two contestants would both be teamed up with a celebrity, one male and one female, to play first 'Take A Letter', then a gunge-based game, 'Take A Chance'. (The celebs were mostly kids' presenters, sports stars and, from 1983 onwards, 'Breakfast Time' personalities, breakfast television being a new concept at the time). Each celebrity would compete against Stu 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. The celebrities brave enough to put themselves through this included Geoff Capes, Floella Benjamin, Emlyn Hughes, Russell Grant, Fern Britton, Sarah Greene, Les Dawson and Suzanne Dando, among many others. The gunge was always given some name relevant either to some random theme or to the celebrities themselves (such as 'Johnny's Junk' for Johnny Ball and 'Black Belt Bilge' for judo-star Neil Adams). Probably the worst gunge for the celebrities to be threatened with was 'Cement', but luckily for Diana Moran (aka 'Breakfast Time's' 'Green Goddess'), she managed to answer the question correctly and thus avoid said gunge. However, Stu and the boxer Charlie Magri were covered in 'Pigswill' and 'Tractor Oil' respectively on another occasion - both pretty gruesome styles of gunge, it's probably fair to say - and yes, you've guessed it, the gunge that week had a farmyard theme.
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!"
Stu 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
A music clip is available from the TV Cream site.
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.
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.
Lostshows.com 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" Stuart and Stu Francis eras still exist in the archives.
Leslie Crowther & Peter Glaze