Born: January 17th, 1957
Died: December 11th, 2017
Keith Chegwin, who has died aged 60 after suffering from the lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, was a child actor whose boyish looks and infectious enthusiasm were the perfect ingredients for children's television. He was first seen as a presenter playing up his persona as a cheeky Scouser alongside Noel Edmonds in the Saturday-morning show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, which ran for six series from 1976 to 1982.
He was invited to join the programme after having his idea for a children’s chatshow turned down by the BBC. In a live broadcast, Edmonds presented a mix of cartoons, celebrity interviews and a children’s phone-in to swap their toys, while Chegwin honed his interviewing style by leaving the studio to chat with the public in the Swaparama element of the show.
Within two years, he had landed his own programme, Cheggers Plays Pop (1978-86), in which two schools competed against each other. Questions about contemporary music were interspersed with physical It's a Knockout-style tasks involving balls and inflatables, plus a studio performance by a chart act. Chegwin would sign off with a chirpy "Ta-ra!" before also leaping on to an inflatable.
In 1992, he revealed that he was an alcoholic. He said that making the confession made him stop drinking and turn his life around
Becoming a perennial of children's TV, he also cohosted Saturday SuperStore (1982-87), a replacement for Swap Shop following Edmonds's move to peak-time shows. Chegwin answered viewers' letters and went on location with his "Delivery Van" roadshow.
However, his long run at the BBC then came to an end and, in 1992, he revealed to Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan on This Morning that he was an alcoholic. He said that making the confession made him stop drinking and turn his life around. He was soon back on screen doing his well-honed vox pops with the public, turning up unannounced for the Down Your Doorstep feature on Channel 4's The Big Breakfast in the mid-1990s. "Wake up you beggars – it's Cheggers!" was his greeting.
Keith was born in the Walton district of Liverpool, to Margaret (nee Wells) and Colin Chegwin, the brother of Janice Long, who became a DJ, and Jeffrey, his twin. He sang in working men's clubs with the Happy Wanderers concert party from the age of 11 and, on appearing in the children's TV variety show Junior Showtime, was spotted by June Collins – mother of the pop star Phil – who was an agent for the Barbara Speake Stage School in Acton, west London. She invited him to audition for the West End musical Mame (1969), starring Ginger Rogers; he was hired but unable to appear because of licensing laws for child performers, so he trained at the school instead.
Chegwin appeared on TV as a child in episodes of The Liver Birds and The Adventures of Black Beauty (both 1972), as well as the 1973 pilot of Open All Hours, and had a regular role as Raymond Clarkson in the 1975 sitcom The Wackers. Roman Polanski directed him as Fleance in the 1971 film Macbeth. Chegwin also sang in the band Kenny.
He made headlines for presenting – nude, apart from wearing a pith helmet – The Naked Jungle
After presenting the talent show Sky Star Search (1989-91), Chegwin hosted revivals of two game shows – Sale of the Century, in 1997, and It's a Knockout, from 1999 to 2001. Then, he made headlines for presenting – nude, apart from wearing a pith helmet – The Naked Jungle (2000), a one-off show with naturist couples collecting fig leaves as they competed against each other. The series triggered Chris Smith, the culture secretary, to say in parliament: "We have noted in recent days considerable concern about some of the content on television, particularly in relation to Channel 5."
Chegwin was knocking on people's doors again at breakfasttime for a stint on GMTV (2000-7) and took part in Dancing on Ice (2013) and Celebrity Big Brother (2015). In 2006 he was happy to make a fool of himself on the Ricky Gervais show Extras. His autobiography, Shaken But Not Stirred, came out in 1995.
Chegwin and his first wife, the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Tomorrow's World presenter Maggie Philbin, whom he married in 1982, were seen as a golden showbiz couple. But the marriage ended in divorce in 1993 after Chegwin fell for the family nanny, Maria Fielden, whom he married in 2000.
He is survived by Maria and their son, Ted, as well as Rose, the daughter from his first marriage. – Guardian