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Obituary: Keith Chegwin

Keith Chegwin in 1980. Photo: Roger Dryden

For more than a decade, Keith Chegwin was one of the biggest stars of children’s television, stamping his chirpy and infectiously carefree personality on Saturday morning hits Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Saturday Superstar.

In Swap Shop, which began in 1976, Cheggers, as he quickly came to be known, was usually to be found roaming the country interviewing young viewers and acting as go-between in exchanges of items offered up for swapping. His popularity earned him his own show, Cheggers Plays Pop, which ran for nine series between 1978 and 1986.

When Swap Shop ended in 1982, he was a mainstay of its replacement, Saturday Superstore, throughout its five-year run.

Chegwin was already a veteran entertainer before television fame beckoned. Born in Walton, Liverpool to a dockworker father, he showed a precocious interest in performing. After winning a seaside pier summer talent show, he joined the juvenile concert party The Happy Wanderers to tour throughout the North West.

An appearance on ITV children’s variety show Junior Showtime in 1969 persuaded June Collins (talent agent for the Barbara Speake Stage School and mother of future pop star Phil) to arrange an audition for the London premiere of Mame starring Ginger Rogers. Although successful, when licensing laws prevented Chegwin from taking up the role Collins instead offered him a place at the Speake school.

As a child actor, he made several screen appearances with the Children’s Film Foundation and played Fleance in Roman Polanski’s 1971 film version of Macbeth.

Early stage appearances included the Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley musical The Good Old Bad Old Days at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1972 and as cabin-boy Tom in John Kennett’s Captain Pugwash at the King’s Road Theatre the following year.

Chegwin’s return to the theatre was side-tracked by the increasing demands of television. When it came, it was on the back of his small-screen success in tours of Cheggers Bumper Beano Revue (1978) and Keith Chegwin’s Road Show (1984).

More recent stage appearances included Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker on Ice at the London Palladium in 2013 and he was a popular pantomime dame in seasonal productions around the country, most recently in Beauty and the Beast in Bolton in the 2016/17 pantomime season.

On television, he appeared in the pilot episode of Roy Clarke’s Open All Hours (1973), but found wider exposure as the feckless son Raymond in Vince Powell’s Liverpudlian family comedy The Wackers (1975).

He was seen alongside Tom Courtenay’s Jesus and Michael Hordern’s God in a 1976 adaptation of the Chester Mystery Cycle.

In 1992, he appeared on the Richard and Judy Show to announce that he was an alcoholic. The confession revivified his television career, the latter part of which was spent in a variety of guises. He mercilessly lampooned himself in Ricky Gervais’ Extras (2006) and Life’s Too Short (2011-13) and in the comedy-horror Quentin Tarantino film parody Kill Keith (2011). As an ever-amiable presenter, he became a regular on Channel Four’s The Big Breakfast and GMTV and hosted the return of It’s a Knockout (1999) on Channel Five, where he also appeared, controversially nude, in Naked Jungle (2000).

He appeared in several reality shows, including Celebrity Big Brother (finishing in fourth position in 2015), Celebrity MasterChef and Dancing on Ice.

A brief, never successful pop career saw him releasing a number of singles in the late 1970s although he enjoyed a top 20 hit in 1981 with I Wanna Be a Winner, in the novelty band Brown Sauce, which featured fellow Swap Shop presenters Noel Edmonds and Maggie Philbin (his first wife, from 1982 to 1993).

He published an autobiography, Shaken But Not Stirred, in 1995.

Keith Chegwin was born on January 17, 1957 and died on December 11 aged 60.  He is survived by his ex-wife, Philbin, their daughter, and his second wife, Maria, and their son. His sister is the radio DJ Janice Long.

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