The secret of my success: Richard Whiteley

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Richard Whiteley is the presenter of the cult quiz show Countdown, now in its 17th year.

My first big break was getting to Cambridge University and I feel I have my two English teachers to thank for that. They had very different styles. One, John Dean, was very old school and the other, Russell Harty, was most definitely not. Between them they gave me a wonderful start.

I had always wanted to work in television so at Cambridge I took the traditional route of becoming editor of Varsity, the university newspaper, which really helped. Then in 1965 I was recruited into the ITN graduate scheme. That was the next big step.

I have had only two employers, really, throughout my whole career, so my big breaks are probably down to two people. Sir Geoffrey Cox for taking me on at ITN in the first place and Paul Fox at Yorkshire TV who made me an anchorman and put me on Countdown. I did, after all, have an English degree. I am very grateful to them both for having faith in me.

We approached Channel 4 with a very naive version of today's Countdown just as the channel was starting up. I was the first face on Channel 4 when it started with the now rather prophetic words: "As the countdown ends, so a brand new Countdown begins." That was 17 years ago.

I have been on TV for more than 30 years and have probably made more appearances than anyone else because of all my years as a newscaster. And if I have learned one thing it is that you can't get away with trying to be anything that you are not. You have got to be yourself - you can't pretend. I have always just done it my own way and that has paid off. In the end people either appreciate it or they don't. I think they realise that Richard Whiteley is the same on-screen as off.

Being in the right place at the right time is also important, of course, but it is not enough alone. Not letting things get stale is also crucial. I've always treated every night of the show as the first night. That is what keeps it fresh and why I still enjoy Countdown. The format might stay the same over the years but it always has different guests and situations.

My advice to the next Richard Whiteley? Wait another 10 years please - I'm having too much fun.

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