Naked Jungle

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Without question, Channel 5’s nude gameshow, Naked Jungle, is one of the most infamous programs ever broadcast. You’ll find it cited at or near the top of every article or clip show about Britain’s Worst Television, but like a lot of things on those lists, outside of brief snippets, few have actually seen it, especially since its initial broadcast. At this point, it almost exists as pure folklore, with the mere knowledge that Keith Chegwin got his cock out enough to condemn it to cultural Hell. As such, it’s long been on my list of Holy Grails to cover, and I’m both happy and distressed to report that I’ve finally acquired a full copy.

The rip I’m watching is taken from the commercial VHS — certificate 15 — which existed, and somebody paid actual money for, stood holding it in the queue at Woolworths; “Would you like a bag, sir, for this video whose cover features a naked Keith Chegwin and the quote ‘IT’S A GREAT CRACK!‘?” If you want a damning indictment of the new millennium, it reached number 4 in the best seller chart, and likely ruined many a Christmas. For something which earned such a lurid reputation, Naked Jungle was (unlike all the penises) surprisingly tucked away, airing on Tuesday the 6th of June 2000, at 11pm, as part of Channel 5’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of naturism. I guess nobody took their clothes off until 1950? Also part of this thoughtful and definitely-not-exploitive series was a program titled Showgirls 2000; a contest to find the year’s best table dancer.

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We open with pounding jungle drums, and a pan up the entirely unclothed body of Keith Chegwin, welcoming us to “a gameshow with a difference,” as he runs from camera with a trademark “wahey!” clicking his heels mid-air, and giving us a nice long freeze frame of his arse. On the day of shooting, Cheggers was given the option of wearing a pair of shorts, but figured he’d just go for it. The vibe is very much that ‘cheeky’ British attitude to nudity that we’re supposed to have — nothing sexual, just a bit of fun; haha willies! — though the opening titles have arty pans and zooms on athletic model types, bending themselves into letters spelling the word NAKED. These peak specimens are decidedly not the bodies we’ll be seeing.

The set is absolutely enormous; a huge map of bamboo structures, rock faces and bubbling pools, housed in an aircraft hanger, and on loan from ITV’s children’s gameshow, Jungle Run. I hope they hosed it down after. The studio was kept at a temperature of over 30 degrees throughout filming, leaving the clothed camera crew sweating profusely, but the ten contestants feeling nice and cosy. Keith informs us they’ve got people “from all walks of life and all age groups,” but it’s a collection of the exact people who’d pop in your head when hearing the word ‘naturist’. I’m not about to start body-shaming; God knows, some months into lockdown, I’m starting to resemble a melted candle, but it’s an interesting document of evolving standards over the last couple of decades.

02

I’ve talked about this before, the way that gym culture has really changed the types of people we see onscreen. Someone who looked like Die Hard‘s John McClane — a guy in good shape — would never be allowed to be an action hero now, when even comedians like Kumail Nanjiani are having to get outrageously ripped to play in the genre. Having recently survived Y2K, the men of Naked Jungle have moustaches and pot bellies, with not a single ab or bicep between them. They’ve skipped every leg day — plus chest, shoulders and back day — and think a squat is where a trustafarian lives. None of these very regular chaps would get on a dating show in 2020; even one where the clothes stay on. Weirdly, it’s less jarring with the women’s bodies, but maybe that’s just me being a basic hetero and not being able to see past the fannies and boobs. On all contestants, the lack of tattoos really stands out today.

The group of players are less varied than Keith promised, as the oldest contestant, his elderly status really played up throughout, “looks good on it at 48,” and everyone’s white. Though they’ve entered as five couples, the show’s split into two, with the men going first, whittling down to one winner in a series of games, before the women’s turn in the second half. The surviving pair will team up for the final game, where there’s £5,000 to be won in The Temple of the Body, so it’s like Fun House, if Pat Sharp had got his bell-end out.

03

I’m fascinated by this choice to have the men play first, leaving the women literally watching from the sidelines for twenty-five minutes. Are they holding the ladies back until later, as the ‘main event’ for viewers turning in for a grotty wank? Or did they not want men and women running around, bumping into each other in such close proximity, in case any of the lads got some blood in it? It’s weird to finally get the full picture, after two decades of seeing nothing but that solitary screencap that gets used for every Top 10 Shit Telly post, and as it turns out, Naked Jungle is a hybrid of It’s a Knockout, Crystal Maze, and coming home a day early to find your parents hosting a horrible swingers party. The Crystal Maze vibe is the strongest, everyone running off to each game as a bouncing pink caterpillar, with a nude Keith Chegwin at the head. “C’mon, keep up with Cheggers!” he yells, with his genitals out.

It’s here that it really hits you what you’re dealing with, all the men stood in a line, their flaccid dicks hanging. Chegwin’s is sat above his balls like a strawberry, and everyone’s acting like this is perfectly fine. Beholden to the layout of Jungle Run‘s set, which resembles a papier mache Willy Wonka factory, the games themselves are excruciatingly childish. In Pool of Death, they flail about on lily pads across a bubbling pool, grabbing fig leaves from a washing line; Cave of Lost Souls is an assault course; Chasm of Doom has them collecting more fig leaves from a rope swing. Visualise how you’d swing across a rope, then imagine it’s two ropes shared between four naked men. There’s a very European feel about it all, the kind of thing Eurotrash or Clive James would show as an example of what those crazy Germans class as entertainment.

04

Remember that episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry’s hot girlfriend is naked all the time, which is fun until he catches all the ‘bad nudity’ from unflattering angles? There is no dignity in Naked Jungle; no perfect lighting, no good angles. Nothing emphasises the gracelessness of the human form as naked men scrambling up and down polystyrene boulders, their cocks ‘n sacks bobbling, before falling onto a climbing net. With all the gross wet arses shining under the studio lights, amplifying the whole ordeal is the way Cheggers carries on like it’s normal, maintaining eye contact at all times, and using his regular presenter’s body language, throwing a matey arm around nude contestants.

One of the worst moments is a post-game interview, Keith asking “what went wrong?” and leaning down from the pool edge with his mic, one knee up, his balls poking out from the back. Even as a viewer, trying to keep your eyeline above Keith’s shoulders, you’re aware of a constant jiggling in the bottom third of frame, his chewing gum foreskin flapping about like an old plaster. It’s never not weird, cutting back to him watching and laughing, with a massive boob right next to his head. The camera struggles to find contestants as they run and jump about the set, with fleeting close-ups of bare bodies; a pit of dark pubes, an anus, a prick hanging like a mouldy banana, slapping against thighs as its owner pelts down a flight of steps. Everyone’s bent right over, all the time. Consequently, it’s been almost impossible to illustrate this piece with stills, as every split-second of screen time’s filled with dongers, muffs, and great gaping rickers winking at the lens.

05

As we move into the ladies section, I wonder if Keith’s demeanour will change, but no, he’s right there, mic in hand, squatting dick-level with their faces. While gesticulating, he accidentally hits and squishes a bare breast, though it’s not acknowledged, and when one of them slips and falls, he rushes to interview, leaning down into her space as she sits splayed on the floor. The ladies games are slightly amended, having to root around in cauldrons of slime, in what I must presume was an attempt to capture the gunge-fetish audience, while the rope swinging’s changed to a spear-throwing contest. At first I figured “yes, it would be too undignified having nude women swinging on ropes, you are correct,” but it’s just that patronising gameshow thing of the big, strong men’s physical tasks being changed to something a delicate female could manage.

Instead of a game where the fellas were knocking opponents off a cliff-face by shooting a hose right up each other’s holes, the women compete in an abseiling and swimming race, but descending from above in a harness, it’s a stark reminder of internet 1.0, when everyone was sending each other that Goatse.cx picture for a laugh. However, it’s not all fun, as the slip of a wobbly prop ladder leaves one naked woman suddenly disappearing offscreen in a brutal fall. “Oh dear, is she alright?” asks Cheggers, as it cuts to a shot of her crouched alone in the green-lit cavern, looking incredibly vulnerable, before being casually eliminated by default. Somehow naked people look even more naked with elbow and knee pads, and the relentless footage of wildly bouncing tits and nobs is all under the sound of Um Bongo style jungle music, and Keith giving live commentary while pissing himself like Stuart Hall.

06

Chegwin is a huge proponent of that ‘contrived chaos’ presenting style we see so often on here, as perfected by Noel Edmonds, where he can barely hold it together because it’s all so hilarious. His usual (ironically?) awful banter is further soiled by his clotheslessness, like when he looks down the lens with a Brucie impression — “good game, good game!” — or calls a Danish contestant “Mr. Bacon,” before immediately having to explain the joke. These would be bad on The Big Breakfast, but at least there he didn’t have his bell and bollocks on display. With no voiceover, we’re left with Keith’s observations, shrieking with excitement, but making little-to-no reference to the fact that everyone is fucking naked.

Most peculiar of all is that, for this show only, he’s adopted a new catchphrase, with frequent cries of “Yo!” said in the tone of a middle-aged white man putting on a baseball cap sideways, right before folding their arms like a 1980’s breakdancer. He just keeps saying it, sometimes celebratory, sometimes drawn out with concern during a tricky juncture — “Yooooo!” — occasionally like Tarzan passing by on a vine; but rarely with any relevance to what’s happening. By the last twenty minutes, he’s become addicted, letting fly a constant stream of proud and confident yo‘s; at every point scored, every clock stopped; “Yo!

When it gets down to the final two, it’s the most Crystal Maze thing of all, racing through the entire set to collect yet more fig leaves, each worth a second in the Crystal Do– sorry, Temple of the Body. They start by scaling down a wall adorned with the Cerne Abbas Giant, and for all their grandstanding, C5 demonstrate their prudishness, by redrawing his massive stonker into a sad little softy. It’s important to note that, while the contestants are made up of couples, the winning pair aren’t a couple, gifting us the awkwardness of having to physically help each other clamber up ledges without giving a supportive push on the bare arse. They end up winning £3,000, and as Keith wishes us goodbye “and happy sunbathing,” that’s it. I’ve survived. It’s over. But is it? No, because we then cut to this.

07

TOO HOT FOR TV! The VHS cover, of course, had a fig leaf boasting INCLUDES PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN FOOTAGE!, which suggests your man in Woolworths figured “cor, if that’s what they did show, imagine what they couldn’t… probably a great big stiffy with all spunk coming out!” Sorry pal, the first thing we hear is Keith Chegwin saying “Yo! Let’s meet our contestants. Yo!” It’s just stuff that was cut for time, with little pre-game interviews, which they already used in the intros that did air. He asks insightful questions like “how long have you been, sort of like, whipping your kit off?” and if their wives are bad at cooking, while one bloke forgets how many kids he has. As a reminder, because I can’t reiterate this enough, everyone, including Keith Chegwin off the telly, is extremely naked. Fittingly, the final word as Cheggers waves goodbye is another hearty “Yo!” followed by credits that reveal Naked Jungle shared a game designer with Gladiators, and a producer with The Krypton Factor and ITV’s adaptation of Cluedo.

Despite (or perhaps, because of) how penisy it was, Naked Jungle set then-record viewing figures for Channel 5, with two million tuning in on the night, which is pretty incredible for its timeslot. While only garnering a single complaint to the ITC, headlines followed like “CHEGGERS PLAYS FLOP,” the brilliant “IT’S A KNOBOUT” and a Daily Mail front page decrying it as “the moment TV plumbed new depths of degradation.” The culture secretary even raised questions about it in the House of Commons, noting “considerable concern” about the content of television.

08

Cheggers himself looked back on his involvement with regret, calling it the worst career move he ever made, and it was certainly the most infamous, getting a mention in virtually every obituary when he died, 17 years later. So, is this deserving of its Worst Ever label? Christ, absolutely. Scan through at random, and you’ll always land on one of the most terrible things you’ve ever seen; a man traversing a ledge as the camera gives a double-feature of anus and the underside of his bag; Keith Chegwin chirpily telling an eliminated contestant, stood there with his wanger out, to wave goodbye to his kids; and countless shots of exhausted naturists struggling to heave themselves out of a rock pool; all of which made me seal my own (beautiful) penis in a block of cement, and vow to never, ever be naked again.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi.

~ by Stuart on July 26, 2020.

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