He was born John Arthur Rae in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1922. Rae began performing at the age of three with his brother and sister on the vaudeville circuit in Canada. Rae flew Spitfires as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the 1950s, he was the host of The Jackie Rae Show, a variety show on CBC Television. Rae later moved to London where he performed on television for the BBC, ATV and Granada Television where he compered the popular show Spot The Tune for two years (1959–60) with singer Marion Ryan, and was subsequently the host of the first series of The Golden Shot. He formed a dance band known as the Spitfire Band in 1981 which toured across Canada. In 2002, he was named as a Member of the Order of Canada and was entitled to place the letters 'CM' after his name.
Rae was married to British actress Janette Scott from 1959 to 1965.