Jackanory is a BBC children’s television series originally broadcast between 1965 and 1996, as a way of bringing children’s fiction to television when there was no budget for more lavish drama productions. The show began transmission on 13 December 1965, and the first story was the fairy-tale “Cap-o’-Rushes” read by Lee Montague; about 3,500 episodes of Jackanory were produced during its 30-year run. The programme concluded with Alan Bennet’s reading of the final episode of A. A Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, which was broadcast on 24 March 1996. Jackanory was briefly revived on 27 November 2006 for two one-off stories, and the format was revived as Jackanory Junior on CBeebies between 2007 and 2009.
The show’s format, which varied little over the decades, involved an actor reading from children’s novels or folk tales, usually while seated in an armchair. The most prolific contributors were Kenneth Williams with 69 appearances and Bernard Cribbins with 111; from time to time the scene being read would be accompanied by static illustrations. Usually a single book would occupy five daily fifteen-minute episodes, from Monday to Friday. The format was very popular with actors, as it required very little rehearsal time and no need to memorise lines, as they were read from an autocue.
The show’s title comes from an old English nursery rhyme:
Given that the aim of Jackanory was to introduce children to literature, it is perhaps ironic that the nursery rhyme that gave the show its title was sometimes used by parents to avoid having to tell their children a bedtime story.