The Den Of Geek interview: Keith Chegwin (Part One)

In this, the first of our three-part exclusive interview with Keith Chegwin, Cheggers talks about his new quiz game, Ocean Software and a little bit of bingo...

Keith Chegwin. Legend.

Haymarket Hotel, London. Thursday 8th November, 2007.

Keith Chegwin is in town to talk about his new computer game, Cheggers Party Quiz. But he’s also granted us a good half hour to talk about all things Cheggers. So that’s just what we did. In this first part, we talk about the game, and his love of technology…It seems logical, as you’re here promoting your game, to start with computer games. How much are you a fan of gaming?

I’m just into video games in general, I can’t tell you. And I’ve always been a fan. God, I started off years ago with an Atari and we played Ping Pong and did a bit of tennis.Because you did that Ocean Software interview on TV in the 1980s didn’t you?

My gosh yeah, it was me who was quite insistent on doing it, because I wanted to find out how these young kids who were 15 years of age in Manchester were earning so much money, and what happened to them when they were 18. And they were basically burnt out by then.

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So did you choose to go to Ocean – you chose that company specifically?

Oh yeah, I did a series about things for kids, and the idea was to introduce them into politics, and explain a bit about that, explain about fears, and one fear was technology in the future. So I found Ocean Software, who were literally pumping out so many games at the time and it was quite interesting to see where these kids were working and what kind of environment they were in.Are you a Nintendo man?

I haven’t got a Nintendo! I’ve got a Playstation 3 and Playstation 2…

Have you told them? Surely a man of your clout!

I know! I know!So can you tell us about the Cheggers Party Quiz game?

Well, I didn’t know whether to do it or not. But the most interesting thing for me is a lot of people turned round to me and said about doing a Cheggers thing, a quiz, and they said about doing a quiz book and what have you. I was approached about doing a DVD as well, but I’m not a fan of that technology, because it’s crap. It’s so slow, pedantic and boring.

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Have you told Noel, with his Deal or no Deal DVDs?

Well, I should do really! He’s made quite a lot of money out of it I think!

I’m sure he has.

But they ask you a question and then ten minutes later you get the answer and that’s not interactivity for me.

So you turned that down?

I did, yeah. Zoo Technology and everybody. But when they [Oxygen Games] said about putting it on Nintendo, I thought ‘oh my God, fantastic!, because the interactivity is so quick, and that’s the way I like to play games.So when did they approach you?

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This is going back about six or seven months now, and what had happened was I’d turned down a DVD offer, and also the other thing is, I think it’s very insular and boring just doing the pop music quiz on Nintendo. So what? Everybody can do that. So I wanted to make it broader – I’m a great fan of family orientated games. You know, the only reason I say it is that I’m one of those sad people who sits in the corner playing Tomb Raider until three o’clock in the morning.

Any good at it?

I’m bloody great! But I haven’t cheated. I’ve not completed any of them – I’ve got three of them, and haven’t completed one. I’ve not found all the hidden treasures, as yet! My mate said go on the bloody web and get the cheat, but I’d won’t do it!

It’s a point of principle?

Yes, a point of principle! I’ve got to get through the whole lot and find everything! I’ve still not managed to do it, but you know what, my little boy is 9, my daughter’s 19 and I’ve got my wife…

Can they all beat you at games?

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No, no, no! We all get together and play things like Shrek or Pirates of the Caribbean or Crash Bandicoot, and we have prizes for each round. Chocolates and stuff. And I’m a great fan. It’s like the olden days when people used to get round the piano and have a sing song, now we get round the Playstation or Nintendo and do the same.

So what do your kids think of your game?

Oh, do you know what, I didn’t tell my boy or daughter too much about it. Because the proof of the pudding is in the eating isn’t it, so I said oh look I’ve got this game out. And my daughter went “Oh my God, daddy’s a caricature!”

She was laughing at it. My little boy? I can’t tell you how chuffed I am, because you know, you work on a project like this and, I insisted that I didn’t want it pop music, I wanted it to encompass all aspects of the media, so to encompass film and TV. And also I wanted questions that my nine year old could answer, and questions my grandmother could answer too. And me!

My little boy absolutely loves it, and it’s quite fascinating as I went away one day, and I phone up my missus and asked what he was up to, and she said “He’s playing your game!”

I’m really chuffed. And also the little character, I’m really happy with as well.

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I was going to ask you about that. How involved were you in your likeness?

Well, I left it to them, you know, because people always say when I do a piece to camera, what do you think? And I say I don’t know, I wasn’t watching it. I always think it’s best to let somebody outside do it, they can give their impression of you, and she’s probably a bit more accurate than you doing it yourself.

You’ve come out of it quite well…

Yeah, I’ve come out a bit tubby round the middle, but that’s quite accurate I think. But I’m really chuffed.

So going back six months, when they approached you to do the game. How long did you then take recording all the questions? That must have been the most mind-boggling thing?

No. Do you know what? I’ve got my own Cheggers’ Bingo site, and I call all the numbers. But it took me longer – I’ve got my own studio at home – to record all the voiceovers for the bingo site than it did to record them for this.

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Did you do the recording for the game from home, then?

No, we did them in a studio in London and it took three and a half hours, which is a record breaking time!

Really?

I can’t tell you. It was such a laugh doing it. Sometimes you feel like you’re going to work, but this we just had a laugh. And they were videoing us at the same time so that they could sort out the caricature, taking pictures at the same time as well, but I’ve never been involved in such an exciting project where, at the end of the day, the rough script that they’d done for the one liners just went out the window and we made up our own.

My guess is that 20% of it stayed on script?

Yes! That’s all.[At this point, Keith’s lunch of burger and chips arrives. He leaves it on the side and lets it go cold rather than stop the interview. What a man]If you had to pinpoint a favourite memory from making the game…

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I think it’s just having a laugh. I’ve worked on a lot of projects – I mean, I had my own Sony Walkman out years ago and I’ve had my own annuals and written books and loads of other bits and pieces – but I can honestly say that after 40 years of being in this business this is one I’m one of the most proud of. If it doesn’t sell, I don’t care! It was such a laugh doing it!

And if it does sell?

If it does sell of course…

Would you do more?

Yeah.

And in terms of general gaming itself – are you sticking with Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot?

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Yeah, all the fun interactive ones. Do you know what? I love James Bond, the 007 game.Heck, why?!

I just like coming home after doing a corporate gig or something, and I literally come home and think, ooh, fancy a bit of Tomb Raider tonight, or a bit of 007 will be quite nice. I do love it!

I think it’s fair to say that with most of the projects you’ve done over the years, you come to it with this air of enthusiasm.

I enjoy going to work. I think I’m the luckiest guy alive, really. You know, I have such variety in the work that I do, you know a lot of people in my business always moan and bloody complain, and it drives me up the sodding wall. I can’t tell you how angry I get with people in show business, they go I have to do five shows a day, I have to do this. Well, you’re getting a lot of money for it, you know, when you work in an office, nobody brings you a cup of coffee, or asks you what you want for lunch, or where do you want your car to take you at the end of the day? You don’t get that, we’re very privileged people.

Do you have a favourite memory from the recording of the game, or perhaps a blooper?

Yeah, I think there’s some from the studio floor that’ll never see the light of day, or maybe…. There’s a director’s cut somewhere that you’ll probably find on MySpace or YouTube.

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Which leads me on to one of the things we wanted to talk to you about. Because you’re into MySpace, you had the Cheggers Bedroom website before that…

Yeah, I did do that a while back.

You seem quite keen to embrace the Internet…

I am such a fan of the Internet. I mean, I won’t bore you, but I did launch TV on a PC years ago, and built a five camera outside broadcast unit in my own home myself, and then broadcast on the web.And this is your own studio at home?

Oh yeah, I built it in my bedroom in my house. Because I’m really technically organised, I built my studio, I’ve got an Avid suite, installed the lot myself.

Because you’ve hinted in some of your stuff that you take a lot of uncredited work and that you’re effectively producing some of the stuff that you do, but you don’t tend to take the producer credit?

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Well, yeah, I enjoy it. It’s like the bingo site, you know. I basically went to every sort of company there was, like Gala, the lot, and they all said we don’t want Keith Chegwin. So I though “Sod it, I’ll do it myself”. And I have.

And it’s entirely your own?

Yes, entirely my own. I mean, okay, for the mechanics of it I had to team up with people to run it, but when you go onto the website itself and see the videos, I produced them all myself. I upload them, and sit there with my camera in my hotel room recording things, I go into the chatroom regularly…

It’s built up quite good numbers hasn’t it?

We give £250,000 a day out now, not that we make that, because we give it a way. But yeah, the numbers are good.

Have Gala come knocking on the door since?

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Hey, I’ve had a few approaches from other bingo companies who want to buy us out, but no. I’m still enjoying it.

And I like the technical side of things. All the voiceovers I do for TV I do from home, editing I do from home.

And this is entirely self-funded?

Yes. I just think I’ve always been in charge of my own destiny and what I want to do. And also, what’s the word, nowadays you can’t just be a television presenter, you have to have a lot more to you. And luckily over the years I’ve always been technically minded, but I think in the future you’ll find that presenters won’t just be presenters, and people who are presenters won’t get booked again, you have to be a presenter, director, cameraman, editor, the lot, to actually work in the future. We’ll all have our own networks eventually. That’s what we’ll all be doing as presenters.

Part two of this interview can be found right here, where Keith Chegwin talks Roman Polanski, the first episode of Open All Hours and working with Ginger Rogers…

Cheggers Party Quiz is published by Oxygen Games – www.oxygengames.net – and is available on PC, Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii.

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Keith Chegwin’s own website can be found at www.keithchegwin.com