1970s glory days of kids’ TV: Crackerjack, Rentaghost, Runaround & The Double Deckers

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It’s funny how some television shows stick in the memory while others fade into obscurity.

The death of actress Gudrun Ure at the age of 98 sparked warm affection for Supergran, arguably her most famous role, but the kids’ TV show ran for just two years between 1985 and 1987, and yet, many of us can still recall Billy Connolly’s theme tune, the opening graphics and the engaging daftness of it.

Supergran came after my own childhood, but it has a place in that golden era of children’s television of the 1970s and 80s.

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Nostalgia is a powerful drug, for sure, but maybe we were spoiled because we had less choice. In the 70s we had three channels, and daytime telly consisted of the test card. I’d argue it was more interesting than the slew of brain dead chat shows that now turn our brains to mulch.

Were you a Blue Peter or a Magpie fan in the 1970s? (Pic: Evening Standard/Getty Images)Were you a Blue Peter or a Magpie fan in the 1970s? (Pic: Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Were you a Blue Peter or a Magpie fan in the 1970s? (Pic: Evening Standard/Getty Images)

In my childhood – and we were Grattan catalogue kids – the television was switched off simply because there was nothing on - unless you hung in there to watch an Open University broadcast which featured a dull academic pointing to a blackboard while talking in a monotone about nuclear physics.

Children’s television also had a clearly defined time slot up until the tea-time news when the adults gathered on the sofa, but, in that 90 minutes, it created more magic than Netflix will manage in a decade.

Back then you were either an ITV or BBC person - a bit like you either went to Jackie O or Bentleys, but never both - but, whichever you chose, there were gems to be savoured every afternoon. ITV had Magpie and How!, the latter an amazing wee show which explained stuff without ever patronising its young audience. I can still picture Jack Hargreaves in his shed putting things together. He was the granddad we all wanted - wise and patient.

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We were a Beeb household, and that meant a treasure trove of great programmes. I loved the Banana Splits and Rentaghost, while Michael Rodd’s Screen Test was quintessential BBC, just as Runaround with Mike Read fitted perfectly into ITV’s schedules.

I never got, and still don’t get The Clangers, but I can still sing the theme tune to Roy Castle’s Record Breakers, and Roobarb and Custard, while Mary, Mungo & Midge were the only others I knew who lived in a multi-storey tower block. Not sure they had lifts where folk had a pee after a few pints though …

But the jewel in the crown was Crackerjack. If you are my age, you just yelled “CRACKERJACK!” in your head, didn’t you?

A variety show for kids broadcast live in front of a studio audience that was fuelled by Smarties and fizzy pop, it crackled with fun and daftness. Peter Glaze and Don Maclean were masters of their craft - “Maclean! Yes, I had a bath this morning” - while the songs, sketches and silly games flew past at breakneck speed. This was our Tiswas. Everyone knew what Friday at five o’clock meant.

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But, if I had to pick one show that has stuck with me it’s Here Come the Double Deckers about a bunch of bairns - remember Brains, Billie, and Tiger? - whose gang hut was a London red bus in a scrapyard. Their adventures were fun, but it left me with a lifelong yearning to buy and convert a double decker bus into the coolest mobile home. I just need to find somewhere to park it …

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