Crackerjack! review – superbly silly revival brings magic back to kids’ TV

Crackerjack! review – superbly silly revival brings magic back to kids’ TV. There’s no sign of Take a Letter Or Take a Chance yet, but this is a proper teatime treat that perfectly recreates the spirit of the original. And is there gunge? Of course there is!

Oh, such a lovely word was Crackerjack! But can it be again? This is the question on all our lips – or at least the lips of those who came of age at any point during the show’s original 29-year run (1955-1984) – as the new series gets under way.

Replacing the traditional single host – Eamonn Andrews/Leslie Crowther/Michael Aspel/Ed Stewart/Stu “Ooh, I could crush a grape!” Francis (delete according to era) – are Mark Rhodes and Sam Nixon. The pair have carved out successful presenting careers together after coming second and third in Pop Idol in 2003. By the end of the first episode – broadcast, as the rest will be, at teatime on Fridays – it is clear that appointing a duo is a smart move. They banter and riff off each other, and still have plenty of attention to spare for the contestants. Plus, they work beautifully together: warmhearted and lively, never playing things for adult laughs and pitching their jokes and teasing of the competing children perfectly. They appear, as claimed at the top of the show, to be having more fun than a toad in a toga doing loads of yoga. The eight-year-old next to me and the one who, against all odds, seems to have survived somewhere inside me, laughed like drains.

The entire programme restores the spirit. The (re)creators have sidestepped the modern trap of believing that updating something means adding cynicism, snark and – when it’s aimed at children – electronic wizardry at every turn. The new Crackerjack! is unashamedly low-tech and cleaves gladly, although not slavishly, to its roots.

New games include Stickly Come Dancing and Watch It! For the former, you paper a child with sticky notes, and they must shake off as many as possible in a minute’s dancing. The one with the fewest left wins. I commend it to you all as an infallible mood-lifter.

Watch It! involves children being quizzed about a three-minute comic sketch they have just seen. Hats off to one contestant, Seren, who reckoned the protagonist rejected his breakfast marmalade because it had worms rather than bits in it. We all have our own private nightmares.

There’s no sign of Take a Letter or Take a Chance yet, but the gunging has been incorporated into Splatterjack, a nail-biting affair in which children have to scribble answers on a board to such questions as: “How tall is the Shard?” (One nine-year-old girl’s board reads: “12 metres”. “I just guessed,” she says. “Did you?” replies Sam, interested). The right answer wins three seconds of cranking time, which raises an unfortunate adult closer to the tankful of goo. When the blade above him or her pierces its membranous bottom, that’s SPLATTERJACK! It is excellent.

Bookending these delights, which are interspersed with variety acts (none of which yet threatens to trouble the Krankies’ shade) and other sketches, is the more or less untouched theme tune (“Steeplejack? No! Uncle Jack? No!”) and – yes! – Double or Drop. The traditional finale has been tweaked – children sit on stools that move back towards a ball pit until they answer the general knowledge questions or shout: “Cabbages!” to use one of their three lifelines, whereupon their arms are filled with the things – but its glorious essence remains (as do Crackerjack pencils, now in jumbo form, as consolation prizes).

It’s massive fun without being screechingly frenetic – a proper teatime treat you could watch with your children or leave them safely in front of while you go and enjoy a glass of crushed-grape liquid from the fridge. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Crackerjack!