A war of words as 'Countdown' fans turn on Vorderman

She has an IQ of 154 and has juggled consonants, vowels and numbers for nearly a quarter of a century, but fans of Channel 4's Countdown are insisting that Carol Vorderman should stick to being an "assistant".

Incensed that the teatime quiz show's co-host appears to be trying to expand her role and take on the mantle of the late punning presenter Richard Whiteley, viewers have complained to Channel 4 and made their disapproval known on internet chat rooms. They believe she should leave the chummy humour to Des Lynam, the veteran sports presenter chosen as Whiteley's successor.

One message on a popular web forum dedicated to the show said: "There is only one host on Countdown and that is Des. The others are there simply as assistants. I do feel Carol was trying to do too much of 'a Richard' today with the puns ... While I'm all in favour of the 'Richard-isms' perhaps it would be best to leave them to Des."

Another said: "Carol again introduced the guest using the same style of cringe-making puns that Richard used to use. Is someone contracted to write this stuff, so they feel they've got to use it occasionally, or is it Carol just building up her role? Either way, I'm not keen. Leave it to Des, please."

A third said: "I ... was rather surprised to see Carol doing the 'Whiteley' puns. I feel if she is going to do this, she should at least make reference to the late host of the show."

When the much-loved Whiteley died last year, the future of Countdown looked uncertain, with many people believing him to be irreplaceable. But Lynam, the former BBC Grandstand presenter who defected to ITV, has pulled off a feat few thought possible, quickly winning over the show's diehard fans. Under his aegis, Countdown regularly attracts more than two million viewers, with peak audiences of up to 2.7 million.

Vorderman, 45, who has two children, has co-presented Countdown since its inception more than 23 years ago. Born in Rhyl, Wales, she graduated with a third-class honours degree in engineering from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. At university she was a member of the "Nines Club", so named because members achieved a third in each of their three years of study.

When she made her debut on Countdown in 1982 her image was more "reserved schoolteacher" than glamorous celebrity, but gradually her confidence and profile increased. She has carved out a successful career as a television presenter in her own right and is the author of detox diet books, as well as campaigning to protect children from the dangers of the internet.

Her dress sense has also become more daring, attracting headlines in 2000 when she sported a particularly revealing number at the Bafta awards.

Channel 4 admitted they had complaints about Vorderman, but said it was not a matter for concern, because all shows and presenters attract both positive and negative comments.

A spokeswoman said: "Carol is much loved by many viewers and has played an integral part in the programme's success. "

The broadcaster also denied rumours, rife on the internet message boards, that Countdown, now made in Leeds by Yorkshire Television, would move to London, where Lynam and Vorderman live. Vorderman's agent, John Miles, said the latest batch of complaints should be viewed in the context of the history of the show, which will celebrate its 24th birthday this year. He said: "When they changed the colour of the set, 6,000 people phoned or e-mailed on the first day. When they changed the arrangement of the music, 35,000 people complained." He added: "Countdown viewers are very loyal, the Countdown family, as Carol always says. If there's a change in any way, they respond pretty dramatically. We have been inundated with e-mails, lots which say how fantastic the show is now. You're obviously always going to get some people who don't like change. It's a little bit like a second marriage: it's never going to be the same as the first marriage, but that doesn't mean to say it's not successful and happy."

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