Break a Leg Cheggers! Keith Chegwin Talks the Life's Too Short Special
Keith Chegwin broke into the entertainment business at a ripe young age as an actor in the Sixties swiftly going on to make quite the name for himself with appearances on the cult shows Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, Cheggers Plays Pop and Saturday Superstore. From there the larger than life presenter turned his hand to the role of roving reporter for the likes of The Big Breakfast and GMTV. He’s certainly earnt his status as a cult hero and as I chatted with him it was more than clear he is so appreciative of being considered as such. It was not surprising that Keith then went on to get an out of the blue phone call from Ricky Gervais to appear on the shows Extras and Life’s Too Short, as well as most recently competing in Dancing On Ice. Now Keith’s back with the “All Star Funtime Trio” for a Life’s Too Short Special where it appears we’ll be getting a ‘double’ helping of Keith Chegwin…
So first of all Keith, how is your leg? What happened there?
Well basically me and skating don’t get on. First I was all set to do Dancing On Ice but had an accident with Torvill and Dean and ended up with a cracked shoulder in three places and two broken ribs. Then after months of vigorous skating training I just went for a casual skate with the missus on Sunday and just tried to show her a bit of backward skating and just keeled over and twisted my ankle.
What’s funny though is that I’ve just been asked by The Imperial Ice Stars to perform in their version of The Nutcracker for a three week tour in November. Normally I wouldn’t tour as I’m not a Travel Lodge and coach trip person but I’m really up for this. I mean I’m not allowed to speak or even say wahey but It’s like being asked to appear with the Royal Ballet.
So did you manage to hobble over to last night’s screening of the Life’s Too Short Special?
Of course. Nothing was keeping me away from that. I mean I can still drive and talk. I had already broken my other leg once so I’m quite adept at crutches and I keep doing things I probably shouldn’t - to the horror of my missus.
And how did the screening go? Were you pleasantly surprised by the final cut?
It was brilliant. I mean it’s such an honour working with this team and I laughed my bloody socks off from beginning to end. That’s not to mention how much we laughed the entire week when filming it. None of us wanted it to end. Last night the boss, Charlie Hanson said it was the most fun production he’s worked on in years. And all the ad-libbing involved made it so much fun.
My hat goes off to Val Kilmer too. You want to see his performance. It’s absolutely brilliant. I said to Les “Is he improvising all that?” and Les said it was all scripted. He’s just such a bloody good actor. His performance is just so powerful. And then you’ve got Les, Shaun, Warwick and myself and we just make up a dream team. It’s all just so great.
Do you consider your part in the show to be acting? Do you find yourself having to get into character to play Keith Chegwin on screen?
It’s really quite weird actually because in Life’s Too Short I actually play two characters. The reason being is that initially when I did Extras Ricky turned round to me and asked me how I wanted to play the part. I told him I’d like to play it a bit down so in the end I play this kind of subdued thicko version of Keith Chegwin. Then in the actual Life’s Too Short series I played pretty much the same character as in Extras but now for the special episode I have to play the “wahey” version of Keith and the down version so I really did have to prepare for it this time yes.
Well, contrary to popular belief I am used to that kind of thing. Everyone asks what Keith Chegwin actually does because I’ve got no one hour show or anything but I mean I do host corporate gigs and people ask me often to come on stage to do games and competitions so it wasn’t really anything new.
Talking of this scene, Ricky was trying to put us to the test as well I think. He basically told us to just get up on stage and start telling gags. The good thing about working with Ricky and Stephen is that they are such generous performers. They want to make everyone shine. If anyone has an idea they’re open to let you try it out.
Another example of them putting us to the test was for a scene where we are in a hotel room. Ricky basically asked if we knew our lines and said right let’s just do it. There were no rehearsals or anything and in the end that’s the magic of it all.
Although I say there is a lot of ad-lib, they are great writers and when Ricky first came to me he said that he’d written a part from me and wanted to know If I could act so I said I’d give it a go and here I am now.
To be totally honest I don’t give a toss what the rest of the world think about Keith Chegwin. The reason being is because when someone as big and renowned as Ricky and Stephen give you their valuable material and trust you with it then I can’t thank them enough for it.
So how much would you say playing yourself in the series has boosted your career?
Well what I like about it is the credibility. People give you a little nod and say well done and I say thank you very much. It’s so nice when people give you little nods of credibility or turn around and say they laughed at you.
Surely there must be so much material for some sort of spin-off or theatre tour for the three of you. I’m sure a lot of people would pay good money to go and see you perform.
Oh I seriously think we’d love to do that. The funny thing was, when we did our bit on stage for the special we ended up doing a 30 minute set between the three of us so if a tour were that easy it would be a doddle. All the material is certainly there and I reckon Les and Barry, I mean Shaun, would be up for that.
In one teaser released by the BBC you are stripped down to your underwear. I know Les was asked if he wanted a bum double when he was in Extras. Were you offered a naked Cheggers double?
Well the thing is, I promised my mother that I would never take my kit off again on the telly after the Naked Jungle and I’ve kept my promise. Ricky said that he had a scene where it would look like I was naked but that I could keep my shorts on so I said that was fine. Actually, when you see it in context on Saturday you’ll see that it works quite well.
And how would you explain your exploits with Warwick and the gang in this special episode?
Well I can sum up the whole of what we do in the show with a line that Warwick says about us. He says “The three of you are z-listers. Put you all together and it makes one good D-list.”
I mean to sum it all up, working with Ricky and Stephen over the years has made me realise just what brilliant writers they are. I mean my agent has received various scripts from other writers and they were just nowhere near the same quality. Most other scripts were just not as strong and were full of expletives.
If it came up I think I would actually because I did do a lot of acting as a kid until I was about 16. I played Fleance in Macbeth and did various Black Beauty films so it is quite weird going back to acting because I have to relearn it but I guess acting is on ongoing process anyway.
The Life’s Too Short Easter Special will air on Saturday 30th March at 10 pm. We’ll leave you with the recently released trailer for the show.