Wednesday, October 24, 2018

It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! by Alan Stafford

If you are a Brit of a certain age, chances are good that you are familiar with the long running children's show Crackerjack!. Crackerjack! debuted on the BBC in 1955 and ran until 1984, with the exception of a period from February 1970 to January 1972. The show was essentially a variety show for the whole family, with comedy sketches, games, music acts, and often much more. Alan Stafford has written a book looking back at the long run of Crackerjack! entitled It's Friday, It's Crackerjack!. He had previously written Too Naked for the Nazis (2016), a biography of the music hall act Wilson, Keppel and Betty. For anyone who has fond memories of Crackerjack! or who is simply interested in the history of British broadcasting, It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! is a must read.

It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! is a loving look back at the legendary children's show. It is also one that is very detailed. Mr. Stafford covers the entire run of the show, from its debut on September 14 1955 to its final edition on December 21 1984. And there is a good deal for even those familiar with the show to learn from this book. For instance, despite the famous catchphrase of Crackerjack!, "It's Friday, it's five o'clock. . . It's Crackerjack!" (the time sometimes varied), Crackerjack! originally aired on Wednesdays and on a fortnightly schedule at that. What is more, it would be some time before Crackerjack! would air each week on Friday. Similarly there would be some time before many of the show's famous catchphrases would develop. What might surprise many familiar with the original version of Crackerjack! is that there was also an Australian version of the show that ran from 1966 to 1968, to which the author devotes a chapter.

While It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! will certainly interest those grew up with the show, there is much in this book to interest anyone fascinated by the history of British broadcasting or even Anglophonic pop culture in general. Many of the people who worked on Crackerjack! over the years are familiar names even to Americans, Canadians, and Australians. Jack Douglas, later best known for his appearances in many of the Carry On... films, worked on the show in its early days. Ronnie Corbett, who would later gain fame as one half of The Two Ronnies along side Ronnie Baker, was also a regular on Crackerjack! in its early days. Jeremy Lloyd, later known as the co-creator of the classic sitcom Are You Being Served?, was a writer on the show for a time. Downtown Julie Brown, perhaps best known to Americans as a vee-jay on MTV when that channel still showed music videos, worked on the show in the Eighties. Unlike similar American children's shows, Crackerjack! featured many pop acts over the years that would be recognisable to Americans and Canadians, including The Searchers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter & Gordon, Herman's Hermits, and even The Who.

Alan Stafford clearly did his research and it shows. He interviewed many of the surviving principals from the show, including Michael Aspel, Jillian Comber, Pip Hinton, Syd Little, and many others. He also received help researching Crackerjack! from both the BBC and the British Film Institute. Mr. Stafford combed through many old newspapers and magazines for information on the show. The end result is a book with a good deal of background on a show that was beloved by multiple generations of British children.

Here I must point out that It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! is not a dry, but detailed history of the show by any stretch of the imagination. Alan Stafford writes in a light, easy-to-read style that is filled with humour. The many stories, often quite funny in and of themselves, from those who worked on Crackerjack! are more than worth the price of the book.

While It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! will primarily be of interest to those who grew up with the show in the United Kingdom, it is a delightful book that will be of interest to anyone fascinated by the history of British broadcasting, the history of children's shows around the world, or Anglophonic pop culture in general. No doubt it will bring back many fond memories for those who saw the show when it first aired.

It's Friday, It's Crackerjack! is published by Fantom Publishing and is available at fine booksellers across the United Kingdom

No comments: