Are you sitting comfortably? Then it’s time for Crackanory. An updated version of the classic BBC storytelling series Jackanory will feature Harry Enfield reading dark, twisted tales for an audience of grown-up children.
Originally aired between 1965 on 1996, Jackanory’s format of well-known actors reading children’s novels and folk tales entranced generations of young viewers.
Guest readers on the tea-time favourite included Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Peter Sellers and the Prince of Wales.
Now the UKTV channel comedy Dave has created a new post-watershed series Crackanory, described as “a satirical and twisted grown-up spin on story time”.
Each episode features two stories, read by guest readers including Enfield, Jack Dee, Richard Hammond and comedy actress Sally Phillips, punctuated by a mix of live action and animation.
But the tales are penned by comedy writers including Jeremy Dyson, of the League of Gentlemen, and Kevin Eldon, who have been given a brief to let the darkest recesses of their imaginations run riot.
At a UKTV showcase ahead of the November series launch, Enfield treated guests to a reading from The Teacup Has Landed, written by Nico Tatarowicz, a writer for the Armstrong & Miller Show.
Littered with the f-word, it tells the story of Olly, an office drone whose tea-making ability is so lauded that he eventually becomes a threat to the evil US high-street coffee chain “Starbeams”, which kidnaps him and tries to chop out his brain.
The language is markedly different to viewers’ fond remembrance of Jackanory. The characters include “f***-witted car salesmen” and the faceless corporate board of Starbeams who “if they had faces would have looked a lot like Adrian Chiles.”
At one point hero Olly describes co-worker Nicola as having legs like “Spanish hams”, which he imagines hanging in a delicatessen and being bought “slice by slice by poncey types, while she was still alive.”
The Crackanory guests include Charlie Higson, the novelist and comedy writer, who reads Dyson’s tale of a woman who may be in mortal danger from the man who offers help when her car breaks down. The chilling tale is set on Walpurgisnacht, the date in the German calendar where witches are reputed to revel with the gods.
“We hope parents who grew up with Jackanory will watch but there’s now a generation who never had the experience of someone reading a book to them on television,” said Higson, who said his favourite Jackanory reader was Rik Mayall.
Higson, who now writes horror novels for teenagers, added: “Crackanory is supposed to be adult and edgy and writers like Jeremy Dyson bring a love of traditional horror stories. There’s also a little bit of adult language to reassure teenagers that this is something cool to watch.”
The BBC revived Jackanory in 2006, with John Sessions and Sir Ben Kingsley reading a Lord of the Rings parody. A version for younger children, Jackanory Junior, runs on the CBeebies channel.
But Higson, star of The Fast Show and a longstanding screen partner of Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, said: “You wonder whether a show like Crackanory would end up being placed on the BBC.”
Produced by Tiger Aspect, Crackanory is the first original scripted comedy show on Dave, best known for repeats of QI and Top Gear. “It’s great that cable channels are offering an alternative to the main broadcasters and are trying new things out,” Higson said.
“The art of storytelling is far from dead; in fact Dave’s bringing it back bigger and better”, said Steve North, Dave’s General Manager. “Crackanory gives it a brand new, contemporary twist, in what could be described as an ingenious adult adaptation of well-loved children’s programme Jackanory.”