Countdown that never ends: Game show heads for 26th year

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Conundrum: three vowels, six consonants. How did a television programme about words and numbers, with a dumpy, bespectacled presenter who favours ridiculously loud jackets and ties, end up becoming one of the most popular shows on British daytime television?

Conundrum: three vowels, six consonants. How did a television programme about words and numbers, with a dumpy, bespectacled presenter who favours ridiculously loud jackets and ties, end up becoming one of the most popular shows on British daytime television?

The answer to the success of Countdown on Channel 4 is that the programme teams its presenter, Richard Whiteley, with the ever-glamorous and fiendishly clever Carol Vorderman. And together they have created the most successful partnership in game-show history.

The broadcaster announced yesterday that Countdown - the programme that launched the channel in 1982 - was to be given a new five-year contract, taking the pair to 26 unbroken years on the air.

The news will hearten students and grandmothers alike, along with the other 1.8 million people who settle down, probably with a pot of tea and a packet of ginger-nuts, to watch the show every weekday afternoon.

Countdown's peculiar place in modern British life was confirmed by the news that a reception will be held in the programme's honour today at the House of Commons, with MPs present to recognise the show's contribution to promoting literacy and numeracy.

The Tory MP Tim Collins said the event amounted to "one great British institution, the House of Commons, playing host to another, the national treasure which is Countdown."

Quite how Whiteley and Vorderman have managed to build such a chemistry is not obvious. He admits that if a programme maker tried to pitch the idea for Countdown now, they would be wasting their time. "A girl with a felt tip and a chap with glasses and a nasal voice. No prizes, a clock that only works for a few seconds and an irritating theme tune. No channel controller would even commission a pilot."

Asked about his rapport with Vorderman, the presenter was typically disrespectful. "We are becoming the Wilfred and Mabel Pickles of our time. Carol, by the end of this contract, will be the Thora Hird of British television. She will be advertising stair-lifts," he said.

Countdown has been shown more than 3,750 times, the clock music has plinkety-plonked over 27,000 times and Vorderman has picked out more than 70,000 letters on behalf of contestants. Since moving from 3.15pm to a 4pm slot last year, the programme has increased its audience share by 20 per cent.

When the show started on C4 (it originated a few months earlier on Yorkshire Television's Calendar programme, which Whiteley hosted), Vorderman was but one of four "numbers girls", as the host yesterday described them. One by one, they fell away, until it was just Carol and Richard. "We have been throwing remarks across the studio for so many years, I think she can read my mind," said Whiteley, who claimed that Countdown viewers knew everything there was to know about him, after so many shows.

Vorderman, in a reference to tabloid claims about her co- presenter, said: "I love Countdown even more today than in 1982, so even more years with 'Twice-Nightly Whiteley' will be fantastic."

STILL PRESENTING...

Patrick Moore

Now 81, began presenting The Sky At Night in 1957. Recently missed his first programme in 47 years because of food poisoning.

David Attenborough

Joined the BBC in 1952 and launched Zoo Quest two years later. Intermittently, he has presented programmes on natural history and the environment ever since, such as The Blue Planet in 2001.

David Dimbleby

First appeared on screen in 1962; he has chaired Question Time since 1994.

Melvyn Bragg

In his 40th year in broadcasting, the longest-serving presenter on ITV. He has presented The South Bank Show since 1978.

Nick Ross

Has presented Crimewatch since it began in 1984 and is one of the BBC's most experienced factual broadcasters. His best-known co-presenter was the late Jill Dando.

Comments