Those were the Glaze! | Alan Stafford plays tribute to Crackerjack comedian Peter Glaze, who died 35 years ago © Jon Anton

Those were the Glaze!

Alan Stafford plays tribute to Crackerjack comedian Peter Glaze, who died 35 years ago

I’m no cartoonist but if I wanted to create a likeness of Peter Glaze I’d go straight to the kitchen  Trace around a frying pan for the body, a side plate for the head, and two egg cups for the glasses – a vital element of his stage and screen persona.  Charles Hawtrey used to wear lensless glasses for his Carry On close-ups, to avoid reflections from studio lights.  Similarly, Peter would always remove his bottle-bottom spectacles, pop in a pair of contact lenses, then don his funny round specs.  Funny round specs for a funny round man.

Peter was the perpetual short stooge to a succession of lanky comics on Crackerjack for nearly 20 years.  Crackerjack had begun in the mid-1950s.  It was the first ever children’s TV variety show, broadcast live in Children’s Hour from the BBC Television Theatre (formerly the Shepherds Bush Empire), initially on every other Wednesday.

From the word go, the resident comics were an unmatched pair – tall and short, thin and fat.  The first two series had Jack Douglas playing straight man to short chubby Joe Baker.  The next three years saw three different stooges looking down on Ronnie Corbett – a sophisticated comedian in the making but, in Crackerjack, just a face awaiting the next squirt of the soda syphon.  Too often it felt like bullying.

With the 1960s came Leslie Crowther.  And everything changed.  Suddenly the tall thin one was the comic.  What was needed was a short fat feed.  Enter Peter Glaze and a magical partnership was formed.  Leslie was brimful of energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness.  What Peter Glaze provided was the perfect foil – blustering pomposity, sometimes simmering outrage, but always the perfectly judged double-take.

Peter was a master of physical comedy.  The kind of man who could deftly dodge the custard pie a couple of times before blithely walking straight into it.  He hadn’t acquired these skills overnight.  After making his stage debut aged nine in his father’s theatre company, Peter went on to tread the boards at the Windmill Theatre, struggling to raise a response from an audience that traditionally saved its raised responses for the statuesque dancers and statue-like nudes.  

Then he joined the cast of Knights of Madness at the Victoria Palace, where he understudied the entire Crazy Gang (Flanagan et Allen et al).  Once he was called on stage at short notice to deputise for Teddy Knox, only to find Teddy standing there.  Once he rushed to the dressing room for a quick-change and discovered the drawer containing his stage makeup had been nailed shut.  He learned plenty about comedy and more than enough about practical jokes.

When he wasn’t clowning around in Crackerjack, Peter popped up on other TV shows.  Encased in rubber and unrecognisable (apart from the belly) he was a sinister Sensorite in Doctor Who.  He was the constantly yapping dog-impersonator berating Joshua Merryweather in Tony Hancock’s Archers spoof.  Killed off for constant ad-libbing and an inconstant accent, Joshua’s final words were: ‘I’d like my dear old dog to be buried alongside of me.’

When Leslie Crowther left Crackerjack, Rod McLennan (a pretty close Crowther doppelganger) forged a new comedy partnership with a Glaze singleganger.  Yes, comics came and comics went but Glaze stayed on forever.  Apart from 1972, when Little and Large came on board.  Syd and Eddie were a ready-made double-act – so Little and Large and Large was never going to be an option.

Into his second decade on Crackerjack (and his third comic) Peter felt he deserved top billing.  But when has the stooge ever been billed above the comic?  Each week the closing captions diligently swapped the names around – until the BBC finally awarded a ‘starring’ to Don Maclean and a lowly ‘with’ to Peter.  He wasn’t happy.  Neither was he happy when Don got the lion’s share of the punchlines.  For one sketch Don offered to swap roles, and still succeeded in getting all the laughs.

Crackerjack!

Every ‘Don and Pete’ show featured a speeded-up slapstick silent movie, shot with efficiency and aplomb by future Last of the Summer Wine director Alan J W Bell. 

Don Maclean did all his own stunts, risking life and limb (though fortunately losing neither) and often dividing his day between filming and trips to A&E.  Peter, having shot a scene where he fell through the floor, turned up next day with his leg in plaster.  He reclined in his chair, watching Alan Bell walk through his moves, before suddenly leaping to his feet and demonstrating what years of Crazy Gang wind-ups had taught him.

Peter’s final Crackerjack pairing was with Bernie Clifton who, once dismounted from that rampaging ostrich, couldn’t have been more easy-going.  Quite content to be the final name in the cast list, Bernie had the happiest of working relationships with Peter.  And if, midway through a song, Bernie gave him the occasional shove, it was only to get him to come in on the right beat.

Everyone remembers those Crackerjack finales.  Costume dramas peppered with current chart-toppers, levered into the plot with a hefty crowbar.  And belted out by Peter like a hefty crow that had spent all night in the bar.  But he gave every song his all, even beating Bohemian Rhapsody into submission.

As the 1970s drew to a close, children’s television was swiftly evolving and Crackerjack with it.  A light coating of custard would soon become a deluge of gunge.  A new Crackerjack team was on its way, but no-one had bothered to tell the old team.  They only found out when they opened their newspapers and read the headline: CRACKERSACK!

The end of Peter Glaze’s stage career mirrored its start.  He was back in the Crazy Gang, this time in Underneath the Arches, with Roy Hudd and Christopher Timothy as Flanagan and Allen.  In February 1983, after a year’s run in the West End, Peter completed two Saturday performances then died at home of a heart attack the following day.

Peter Glaze had never seemed particularly youthful.  So it was astonishing to read in the obituaries that he was only 58.  Even today, a quick trawl of the Internet will confirm that he was born in 1924.  However, he wouldn’t be the first showbiz performer to shave a few years off his age.  In fact, he was born in 1917, putting him in his early 40s when he first joined Crackerjack and his early 60s by the time he left.

Crackerjack comprised the vast majority of Peter Glaze’s television output.  With no major movie or sitcom role to his credit, he lives on largely in our memories – together with those distinctive David Bowie and XTC cover versions on YouTube.  But anyone who ever worked with him is swift to acknowledge the craft behind the  clowning.  Perhaps if he’d been born in a different era, in a different country?  


Director Alan Bell puts it best:‘If you told him to pick up a bottle and look at it and let it fall out of his hand, he wouldn’t just take it up and drop it – it would be a flurry of hands.  Everything he did was superbly mimed.  Had he been in America he’d be a multi-millionaire, owning studios, because he just had the gift of performing.’

• Alan Stafford is the author of It’s Friday, It’s Crackerjack!, Newly published by Fantom Films at £19.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £15.99 or here to buy a full-priced copy from the publisher.

Published: 9 Oct 2018

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