Keith Chegwin may be best remembered to a generation of TV viewers for his Saturday morning stints swapping children’s unwanted toys on freezing rugby pitches in TV’s Multi-Coloured Swap Shop or hosting the long running game show Cheggers Plays Pop but as he reminds me his career goes back much further than that.
“I started when I was 10,” he says, “Basically I enjoyed copying anything Des O Connor did! I used to come out with a straw hat and a cane singing much to the annoyance of my family. We were on holiday and we went to see a seaside show. A guy got up and said “Is there anyone here who’d like to sing? We’ve got a talent competition!” I remember running down the aisle and my mother shouting “come back here!”. I got on stage and was spotted by this talent scout who got me to join a concert party and we used to sing in clubs and we eventually formed a group called The Chegwins.”
Keith’s appearance on TV’s Junior Showtime saw Keith spotted by agent June Collins (Phil Collin’s mother) who invited Keith to attend stage school in London. Numerous roles in TV series and films opposite such stars as Peter Sellers, Ronnie Barker and Clive Dunn followed.
“When I got to 18 years old, it was like what do I do now? So I wrote to the BBC suggesting a Michael Parkinson type show for kids. They wrote back and said “we don’t like the idea but pop in”. Two hours later I was at the Beeb, It was my lucky day because they turned around and said “we’ve got a new show happening have you done any presentation?” I told them a lie and said “yes”. I was on Swap Shop in parks on cold winter mornings swapping stuff with kids.
My producer in those days was Roger Gale. We turned up in Cardiff Arms Rugby Ground on November 8, 1976 and I said “no-ones going to turn up for this are they?” He looked at me and said “you haven’t presented a thing in your life have you?” I went “No,” and he went “Oh My God! I’ll teach you to be a presenter!” that man made my career everything it is.”
Keith went on to present the game show Cheggers Plays Pop concurrently with Swap Shop and later Saturday Superstore, his other presenting work has included The Big Breakfast, GMTV and more recently competed on the TV show Dancing on Ice with professional dancer Olga Sharutenko. The pair captured the nation’s hearts with their fun and energetic routines.
Keith is now recalling his earlier acting skills and returning to ice from today with Olga as he skates as Drosselmeyer with The Imperial Ice Stars in The Nutcracker On Ice at The Wales Millennium Centre. “This is the highlight of my career,” he says, “playing with 26 of the world’s top skaters. Between them they have 250 gold, silver and bronze medals for the commonwealth Olympic Games. They’ve put me through a grueling course but I’m absolutely loving it. I’m flying and doing tricks and really on the edge of the blades. It’s a real compliment to be taken seriously For this role I’ve had to drag up all the things in the past that I’ve done because I’m not allowed to talk! I’ve had to incorporate all my acting skills to make the character more believable. They tell me they’ve had the best reaction ever at the Wales Millennium Centre so I can’t wait to get on that stage.”
- A version of this article by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on November 8, 2013