HE’S spent years threatening to crush grapes, pop balloons and wrestle action men.

But Crackerjack legend Stu Francis has revealed that his career-defining catchphrase was actually a bit of an accident.

The comic, aged 65 – but barely looks much different to when he hit our screens on the kids’ variety show in 1980 – lives in Smithills and works in Bolton every Christmas for the pantomime at The Albert Halls, and still loves the warmth of the theatre.

Bolton Wanderers fan Stu admits that he misses TV variety shows and would love to take part in that kind of programming if it ever came back again – but he promises you will NOT be seeing him on I’m a Celebrity...
The grandfather-of-two said: “I’m born, bread and buttered in Bolton and I still love living here.

IfI had 50p for every time someone came up to me and says ‘I could crush a grape’ I’d be very well off. But it goes with the territory.
“It’s funny – people still can’t remember my name but they remember my catchphrase.”

Stu attended Browlow Fold primary and Smithills School, and like any other boy from the area he just wanted to play for Bolton Wanderers.

He said: “Looking back I never thought I was funny, I just thought I was a regular lad but friends said I was quite cheeky and cocky and up for a laugh. I wanted to play for Wanderers of course, but didn’t every boy?

“I put my toe in the water of performing in 1966 when I got a job in Pontins holiday camp near Chichester aged 17.

“From there I came up through club land and in the 70’s I did cabaret clubs. I did a couple of TV appearances too, such as Live at Her Majesty’s and The Comedians.”

Although Stu’s performances went down well, his best-known catchphrase came from banter he was having with the crowd at a show in Stoke.

He said: “I was on stage and the club was full. There was a big table of women of all ages sat at the front. They were all laughing and one of them laughed and said I was a fool, in a nice way, and said she was really excited to be there.

“To which I said, ‘Ooh I’m so excited I could.. I could..’ and I stood there whilst everybody was looking at me, wondering what I was going to say. In a millisecond I just came out with: ‘I could crush a grape.’

“The audience all laughed and it carried on from there. I remember going to the bar afterwards and this guy came over and said ‘I could crush a grape’ at me. I couldn’t believe it, but I used it again.”

Little did Stu know that his appearances on TV had caught the attention of a producer at kids’ TV show Crackerjack, which was about to have a complete makeover and needed a new host.

Stu said: “One of the producers said they knew just the guy to host it, explaining that he has lots of different characters and faces that the kids will jump on. That person was me.

“They came to see me without me knowing and sat at the back of the audience. I then got a phone call and they said they wanted me to front the show – and the rest as they say is history.”

Of course Stu’s famous catchphrase was brought onto the show, which featured music, comedy and acting as well as the dreaded gunge – but he thought up a different one each week to keep it fresh until he had enough to write a song ‘Ooh I could Crush a Grape’ for the show, which was released as a single.

The next job that Stu is looking forward to is his annual appearance at The Albert Halls for this year’s panto Jack and the Beanstalk, and admits that although he misses working in TV, it was the variety shows that he loved doing.

He said: “I’m the village idiot. It’s very typecast but I love it. I’d never be the one to get the girl. There’s nothing like the warmth of the theatre. It’s not you versus them, you’re in it together.

“If they brought back variety shows I’d go back to TV. But I certainly would never do anything like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

“If I was on TV now it would be so different. Fashions change and the children’s shows that I did were variety shows and they’re not around now – it’s all about computer graphics as opposed to hand puppets in a broom cupboard.

“I think looking back I was definitely on TV at the right time.”