Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 17:13 UK

Obituary: Mark Speight

Mark Speight
Mark Speight stepped down from SMart following his fiancee's death

Mark Speight was one of the most recognisable faces on children's television for more than a decade.

His spiky blonde hair, rubbery features and enthusiastic grin was seen on programmes such as Scratchy and Co, See It Saw It and SMart.

But his world fell apart in January when he found fiancee Natasha Collins dead in the couple's north London flat.

"A part of me died with her," he later told reporters. "She was my soulmate and best friend rolled into one."

Mr Speight was born in 1965 - "when TV was black and white", according to his CBBC profile - and called Trowbridge, Wiltshire, his home.

He was educated at the private Tettenhall College before transferring to the comprehensive Regis School (now King's School) in Wolverhampton at the age of 12.

Turning up for his first day in a prefect's uniform and clutching a briefcase made him an attractive prospect for bullies, he said.

I really wanted to be a cartoonist and just stumbled into TV
Mark Speight

"I was an obvious target. I didn't know how to look after myself with all these big tough kids," he told the Birmingham Evening Mail in 2005.

Like many bullied children, he learned to use humour as a defence - "I became the class joker" - but decided to leave school at 16.

Art was his favourite subject, "because the art room was warm and the teacher was attractive", so he enrolled in college, gaining a degree in commercial and graphic art.

His subsequent career on television was, he claimed, nothing more than a happy accident.

Rolf Harris and Mark Speight
Mr Speight and Rolf Harris collaborated on several occasions

"I really wanted to be a cartoonist and just stumbled into TV," he said in a recent interview.

"I was helping with a TV set and got wind of an audition for SMart."

SMart was his big break - a BBC children's programme that inherited Tony Hart's legacy of lessons in painting and handicraft.

The success of that show led Mr Speight to ITV, where he spent four years as host of the anarchic Saturday morning children's show Scratchy and Co.

Dressed in a sky-blue suit with a blonde rubber wig, Mr Speight became something of a cartoon himself, while introducing popular animated series such as Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.

"I don't mind taking the mickey out of myself - the more stupid I look, the more I like it," he told the Daily Mirror in 1998.

His popularity led to many public appearances, notably with his Mr Speight of the Art children's workshops.

He also joined Rolf Harris in London's Trafalgar Square to help recreate Constable's painting The Haywain on a gigantic scale.

Mark Speight and Natasha Collins
Mr Speight (centre) met Ms Collins (left) on the set of See It Saw It

That led to other live shows where Mr Speight helped create new versions of Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII and Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Mr Speight also became a spokesperson for ChildLine and raised money for Muscular Dystrophy.

In 1999, he was cast as the bumbling king of Much Jollity-On-The-Mirth in CBBC game show See It, Saw It.

It was on this programme that he met Natasha Collins, who played a court jester.

After he found her body in their bathroom earlier this year, Mr Speight became troubled and vulnerable, according to his family.

He was initially arrested on suspicion of murder and supplying Class A drugs, but last month Scotland Yard said he would not face any charges over the death.

An inquest into Ms Collins' death heard she had taken cocaine and sleeping tablets before apparently collapsing in the bath.

Mr Speight was reported missing a week after the coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

Presenter Kirsten O'Brien, who worked alongside Mr Speight on SMart, said he was "without doubt the funniest man I've ever known".

She said: "Filming days were a joy as Mark would often have the crew and I doubled up with laughter and I think that showed on screen.

"I'm proud to have had Mark in my life and am devastated at losing him in such a terrible way. All of his friends will miss him deeply.

"Mark could find light in the darkest situations for others. I'm only sorry he couldn't find it for himself."


SEE ALSO
In pictures: Mark Speight
14 Apr 08 |  In Pictures
TV host Mark Speight 'found dead'
13 Apr 08 |  Entertainment
Fiancee death presenter missing
08 Apr 08 |  London
Actress died after taking drugs
02 Apr 08 |  London
CBBC star leaves show over death
28 Feb 08 |  Entertainment

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