THIS is the time of year we start to appreciate that Bolton comedian Stu Francis is actually a regional treasure.

He’s a Christmas panto stalwart and this week started a run as Wishee Washee in Aladdin at the Macron Stadium. Over many years, he has been a regular in Bolton Town Hall’s panto.

Stu came to real prominence in the late 1970s when he hosted children’s TV favourite Crackerjack. He stayed in this role from 1979 to 1984 and spawned a host of catchphrases, notably “I could crush a grape” which probably follows him around to this day.

He appeared in plenty of other, mostly children’s, TV roles after that and his cheery personality and sharp wit has endeared him to audiences of all ages. Children in particular “get” Stu’s sense of humour.

He’s a massive Wanderers’ fan so playing at the Macron, even as a Chinese washerwoman, is probably a huge thrill.

Best of all, he’s a local lad proud of his roots and who still lives in Bolton.