`Countdown' is faked, says Parris

MATTHEW PARRIS, the man who "outed" Peter Mandelson, has exposed another beloved national institution, the cult Channel 4 show Countdown.

The former Conservative MP yesterday unravelled the mystery of why the celebrity guest and resident sidekick in Dictionary Corner almost always unearth longer, more exotic words than any contestant. Obviously the dictionary helps, but so, Mr Parris reveals, does an earpiece connected to two wordsmiths off-camera.

Although principally worn to receive direction from the programme's production control box, the earpiece is also handy for relaying some of the English language's more extravagant flourishes to grateful celebrities unable to think beyond four-letter words.

"They put in an earpiece," explained Mr Parris, "and from some control room somewhere suggested words are dictated to you. You can pick your own words if you want but I found the suggestion from the control came much faster. I was pleased with the help, as I would have been struggling without it. I used to wonder why the celebrities were so clever - and now I know."

On hand to bale out the celebrity are four people: Mark Nyman, a former world Scrabble champion and Countdown champion of champions; Michael Wylie, a former Countdown winner; Damien Eadie, another former Countdown champion of champions; and Susie Dent, of the Oxford University Press.

One sits at the guest's side, while the rest play the game in the control box and "prompt" the celebrity. The programme's main contestants, of course, play unaided, as does Carol Vorderman in the mathematical segment of the show.

Mr Parris said he was not minded to raise the assistance with the show's producers afterwards. "Good heavens, no," he said, "it saved me from humiliation." A parliamentary sketch-writer for The Times, he is campaigning against TV producers he believes are misleading the public. It follows rows over faked documentaries and confessional talkshows on daytime TV that booked actors instead of real guests.

Mr Parris disclosed on BBC2's Newsnight that Mr Mandelson, former trade and industry secretary, was gay.

However, his disclosure about Countdown, which opened Channel 4's transmissions 17 years ago, marks his most daring outburst. Countdown is the network's most popular programme after Brookside, the combination of Ms Vorderman's arithmetical gymnastics and Mr Whiteley's bad jokes making it must-watch for students and pensioners.

"The point is that I don't think that it would ruin the show if the viewers were told about the help (celebrity) guests get," Mr Parris said. "It would be useful to let the audience know the difference between the really clever people and the apparently clever people. Overall though, Countdown was less rigged than some of the shows I have been on." A spokeswoman for the programme insisted there was no deception involved.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - £17,000 Basic, OTE Uncapped

£17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate