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29 July 2010

Crackerjack, Don Maclean and Me

If you’re of a certain age you will definately remember the long running children’s television programme Crackerjack; go on lets all say it: "It's Friday, it's five to five... it's Crackerjack".

Don & Pete in one of thier hilerious sketches.
It ran from 1955 to 1984 and was, and still remains, in my humble opinion, one of the best children’s television programmes ever made. Over the years the show was hosted by such big names as Emmon Andrews, Michael Aspel, Ed Stewart and Leslie Crowther. The show included 'Double or Drop', the game where kid's arms were piled high with prizes if they answered questions correctly or with cabbages if they got them wrong. There was music with songs from the popular pop stars of the day and the finale was a short play that often saw the cast singing there own reworking of the current chart hits. And, of course, there were the celebrated Crackerjack pencils. But the highlight of the show, for me, were the comedy spots that were, over the years ,provided by some of the best acts in the business including: Carry on’s Jack Douglas, Ronnie Corbett, The Crankies, Bernie Clifton, The Great Soprendo (Geoffrey Durham) and my personal favourites Don Maclean and Peter Glaze.

I have fond memories of watching Crackerjack as a youngster but I never imagined that years later I would meet, be on the same bill as, and have dinner with one of the stars of that show. So how did I end up meeting and working with Don Maclean?

I was recommended - I never did find out who recommended me, but whoever it was… thank you - to perform close-up magic around the tables at a very prestigious charity fundraiser. Don Maclean had already been booked as the star turn; the big attraction that would put bums on seats and guarantee that all the tickets were sold and loads of cash was raised for the charity. I knew that this event would have an audience of wealthy, famous and influential guests, and this knowledge made me nervous. I’d been performing full-time for a few years but I was still a bit green and I had plenty to learn.

A week before the event, I received a phone call from one of the organisers asking me if I’d like to join himself, Don Maclean, the local Mayor and other notable figures on the top table. I would be treated, as their guest, to a fantastic five-course meal and would be seated next to Don. I’d like to think I was asked to be on the top table because of my incredible ability as a magician or because of my amazing popularity, but I think it was more to do with the fact that there was one seat that needed filling on the top table and as all the other guests were there with their partners and families and I was the only one on his own… I got the seat. Whatever the reason, I was very lucky and I gladly accepted the offer.

That last week flew by and suddenly the moment had arrived. The butterflies were working overtime and before I knew it I was being escorted to the top table. With the introductions over, it wasn’t long before the whole table was deep in conversation. I found Don, very easy to talk to and I felt very relaxed in his company. He was a genuinely nice and a very funny man; he had the whole table in fits of laughter and then enthralled with his anecdotes about his illustrious career.

After the dinner, which was, it has to be said—superb, it was time for me to start my tour of the tables and perform my little finger-flinging miracles. The butterflies, which had subsided over the course of the meal, had now well and truly returned; would my mixture of comedy magic, card tricks and mind-reading hit the spot? Would the audience laugh at my jokes? Would they be amazed by my magic? Or would the nerves get the better of me and ruin my performance? I needn’t have worried, everything went well. I couldn’t have wished for a better audience and I received a lot of nice complements, and I even secured several bookings off the back of that gig, too.

With my spot done, it was time for the man himself. I’d seen him on television in shows like Crackerjack, The Black and White Minstrels Show and The Good Old Days, and I’d seen him in pantomime too. Don was, and still is, one of the best pantomime Dames around. I’d also listened to his BBC Radio 2 Show, Good Morning Sunday, which he presented for an amazing fifteen years. So, I had seen many sides of this entertainer but tonight I was going to see Don Maclean, the stand-up comedian and I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

Don Maclean - Comidian & Broadcaster.
Don breezed onto to the stage with that big trade-mark smile and a confident twinkle in his eyes; I just knew we were in for a treat. His dynamic personality and his great energy along with his fast paced delivery, all insured that by the end of his spot there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. He had a wealth of topical gags and one liners and he came up with some wonderfully funny observational stuff on life, death and marriage. And he was very clever too; he knew exactly what sort of audience he had in front of him and how far he could go with-in those boundaries. He left the stage to a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

The evening, in my opinion, was a great success and was rounded off with some music and dancing. As the night drew to a close I said my goodbyes and made my way home. I don’t suppose Don Maclean will remember me from that night way back in, I think it was, 1995, but it’s a night I will always remember. I had the time of my life, I ate food that was fit for a king and saw one of the countries best and most respected stand–up comedians in sparkling form; and best bit about the whole thing is that I was paid for the privilege—now that’s magic!

2 comments:

cheryl said...

Very cool indeed!

Andy Kirk said...

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