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Sheppey is Love Island for TV comic Don Maclean

Crackerjack comic Don Maclean is taking a trip down Memory Lane at the Criterion Theatre, Blue Town, this week.

The veteran funnyman who performed with Peter Glaze and Michael Aspel on the children's TV programme met his wife Toni on the Isle of Sheppey 56 years ago.

Former Crackerjack comic Don Maclean and his wife Toni at the Criterion Theatre, Blue Town, Sheerness on Tuesday. Picture: Chris Davey. (23910890)
Former Crackerjack comic Don Maclean and his wife Toni at the Criterion Theatre, Blue Town, Sheerness on Tuesday. Picture: Chris Davey. (23910890)

Don, now 76, was learning the ropes as a Greencoat at Warners Holiday Camp, Minster, and Toni was on holiday with her parents and sister.

He recalled: "I was at drama school but working Warners for 18 weeks over the summer of 1962.

"My duties included organising sports days, swimming galas, knobbly knee contests and hosting the glamorous grandma competition. I also had to wave the guests home on Saturday mornings.

"On the last week in August I spotted Toni. She was beautiful.

"We chatted long enough for me to know she had been a Butlin's Redcoat at Ayr and then she was gone."

Back then: when comedian Don Maclean, then a Warners' Greencoat, met his wife Toni on the Isle of Sheppey in 1963 (23614369)
Back then: when comedian Don Maclean, then a Warners' Greencoat, met his wife Toni on the Isle of Sheppey in 1963 (23614369)

Incredibly, Toni returned with her family the following year.

Don recalled: "I saw her on a stool in the ballroom and went over and said I recognised her from the previous year. She seemed a bit shocked."

This time the pair kept in touch and carried on a long distance courtship with Don living in Birmingham and Toni in London with her parents.

They married in February 1967 and now have two children, Rory and Rachel, and three grandchildren, one of which, Gracie, is following in her grandad's footsteps touring with Disney's Lion King.

Don, who also became a top panto dame, said: "Toni and I have been together ever since. She would stay with me with the children while I was in summer season or panto. She still comes to gigs."

Don Maclean in hot water with Peter Glaze and the rest of the Crackerjack crew. Picture: BBC
Don Maclean in hot water with Peter Glaze and the rest of the Crackerjack crew. Picture: BBC

The couple returned to Sheppey in 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of them getting together.

Don said: "I organised it as a surprise. We attended Sunday morning mass in Sheerness and had lunch with the priest.

"We returned to Warners but it was no longer there. Hopefully we will have longer to look around the Island this time."

Don is starring in a Christmas variety show this afternoon (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday) at 2.30pm alongside Sheppey funnyman Paul Harris.

Paul, also 76, who is making his final stage appearance before he retires. Also on the bill are singing duo Opera-Lele ( Amanda Harkett and George Bartle),entertainer Jo Godman and pianist Carol Anne Wells. Tickets are £25.

Owner Jenny Hurkett, retiring comic Paul Harris, former Crackerjack comic Don Maclean and show director Dean Caston celebrate the opening of new doors at the Criterion Theatre, Blue Town, Sheerness on Tuesday. Picture: Chris Davey. (23910327)
Owner Jenny Hurkett, retiring comic Paul Harris, former Crackerjack comic Don Maclean and show director Dean Caston celebrate the opening of new doors at the Criterion Theatre, Blue Town, Sheerness on Tuesday. Picture: Chris Davey. (23910327)

Crackerjack Revival

Don Maclean makes a cameo appearance when Crackerjack returns to television in January after an absence of 35 years.

He said: "I make a token appearance in the first show. I've already recorded it in Manchester.

"It still has a Crackerjack pen and pencil and the Double or Drop quiz game but it no longer uses real cabbages. The new ones are just props."

Contestants have to hold their prizes for the duration of the competition without dropping them.

The show, which originally ran from 1955 until 1984, is being made in Salford by the BBC Children’s in-house production team. It will air on CBBC and iPlayer.

Crackerjack title 2020. Picture: BBC (23932840)
Crackerjack title 2020. Picture: BBC (23932840)

The programme was introduced every week with the phrase “It’s Friday, it’s five to five… It’s Crackerjack!” and was originally filmed in front of an audience of children in London.

It included teams of youngsters competing in games as well as comedy and music acts.

The BBC says the 10-part show has been updated for “today’s connected generation."

It is presented by Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes who are following in the footsteps of Eamonn Andrews (who later presented This Is Your Life), Leslie Crowther, Michael Aspel, Ed Stewart and Stu Francis.

Read more: All the latest news from the Isle of Sheppey

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