Countdown (game show)

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Countdown
Countdown titles 2012.png
Created by Armand Jammot
Presented by Nick Hewer (2012–)
Jeff Stelling (2009–2011)
Des O'Connor (2007–2008)
Des Lynam (2005–2006)
Richard Whiteley (1982–2005)
Starring Susie Dent (1992–)
Rachel Riley (2009–)
Carol Vorderman (1982–2008)
Theme music composer Alan Hawkshaw
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 71 (Regular series)
2 (Countdown Masters)
1 (Celebrity series)
No. of episodes 6013 (as of 16th October 2014) (inc. 36 specials)[1]
104 (Countdown Masters)
8 (Celebrity series)
6135 (overall)
Production
Location(s) MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester (2013–)
Granada Studios, Manchester (2009–2012)
The Leeds Studios, Leeds (1982–2009)
Camera setup Multiple-camera setup
Running time 36 mins (excluding adverts)
45 mins (including, 2001–)
24 mins (excluding adverts)
30 mins (including, 1982–2001)
Production company(s) ITV Studios (2009–)
Granada Productions (2003–2009)
Yorkshire Television (1982–2005)
Broadcast
Original channel Channel 4
S4C (1982–2010) (Wales)
Picture format HD 1080i (2013–)
16:9 (1999–)
4:3 (1982–1999)
Original run 2 November 1982 (1982-11-02) – present
Chronology
Related shows 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown
External links
Website

Countdown is a British game show involving word and number puzzles. It is produced by ITV Studios and broadcast on Channel 4. It is presented by Nick Hewer, assisted by Rachel Riley, with regular lexicographer Susie Dent. It was the first programme to be aired on Channel 4, and 70 series have been broadcast since its debut on 2 November 1982. With over 6,000 episodes, Countdown is one of the longest-running game shows in the world, along with the original French version, Des chiffres et des lettres, which has been running on French television continuously since 1965. Countdown was initially recorded at The Leeds Studios for 27 years, before moving to Granada Studios in 2009, and then over to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays in 2013.

The programme was presented by Richard Whiteley for over 20 years, until his death in June 2005. It was then presented by Des Lynam until the end of 2006, Des O'Connor until the end of 2008, and Jeff Stelling until the end of 2011. The current presenter is Nick Hewer.[2]

Carol Vorderman, the show's co-host, who had been on the programme since it began, left the show in December 2008, at the same time as O'Connor. She was replaced by Rachel Riley. Cathy Hytner originally placed letters on the board for the letters games before this was taken over by Vorderman.

A celebrity guest features in every programme, and provides a brief interlude mid-way between the two advertisement breaks. The two contestants in each episode compete in three disciplines: ten letters rounds, in which the contestants attempt to make the longest word possible from nine randomly chosen letters; four numbers rounds, in which the contestants must use arithmetic to reach a random target number from six other numbers; and the conundrum, a buzzer round in which the contestants compete to solve a nine-letter anagram. During the series heats, the winning contestant returns the next day until he or she loses or has accumulated eight wins (known as an Octochamp). The best contestants are invited back for the series finals, which are decided in knockout format. Contestants of exceptional skill have received national media coverage, and the programme as a whole is widely recognised and parodied within British culture.

History[edit]

Origin[edit]

Countdown is based on the French game show Des chiffres et des lettres (Numbers and Letters), created by Armand Jammot. The format was brought to Britain by Marcel Stellman, a Belgian record executive, who had watched the French show and believed it could be popular overseas. Yorkshire Television purchased the format and commissioned a series of eight shows under the title Calendar Countdown, which were to be a spin-off of their regional news programme Calendar. As the presenter of Calendar, Richard Whiteley was the natural choice to present Calendar Countdown—his daily appearances on both shows earned him the nickname "Twice Nightly".[3] These shows were only broadcast in the Yorkshire area.[4]

Richard "Twice Nightly" Whiteley, Countdown's original presenter.

An additional pilot episode was made, with a refined format, although it was never broadcast.[5] A new British television channel, Channel 4, was due to launch in November 1982, and bought the newly renamed Countdown on the strength of this additional episode.[5] Countdown was the first programme to be broadcast on the new channel.[6]

Richard Whiteley introducing the first Channel 4 episode of Countdown.[7]

Junior Countdown[edit]

Channel 4 originally planned a parallel Junior Countdown in which the contestants were children. The pilot episode was filmed on 26 November 1982, less than a month after the first adult version was broadcast.[8] The presenter was Gyles Brandreth, with Ted Moult in Dictionary Corner. The format mirrored that of the adult version. No further episodes were filmed, and the pilot episode was never broadcast. Brandreth, speaking on Countdown in November 2012, stated that the concept had proved disastrous, and was abandoned.

Presenters[edit]

Jeff Stelling presented the series from 2009 to 2011.

Calendar Countdown was presented by Richard Whiteley, with Cathy Hytner and Denise McFarland-Cruickshanks managing the numbers and letters rounds respectively.[9] When Countdown was commissioned for Channel 4 the number of hostesses expanded further: Cathy Hytner and Beverley Isherwood selected the letters and numbers tiles respectively, and calculations in the numbers rounds were checked by Linda Barrett or Carol Vorderman. Vorderman, a Cambridge graduate and member of Mensa,[10] was appointed as one of the numbers experts after responding to an advertisement in a national newspaper which asked for a young woman who would like to become a game show hostess; unlike almost any other game show hostess of the time, however, the advertisement also made it clear that the applicants' appearance would be less important than their being a talented mathematician.[11] Gradually the tasks performed by the extra presenters were taken over by Carol Vorderman, whose role within the show essentially became that of co-presenter.[12]

Whiteley fell ill with septicaemia in 2005, and as a result he was no longer able to record Countdown and several specials with celebrities hosting were filmed in his stead (which never made it to air). Although Whiteley made a slow recovery from his illness he died on 26 June 2005 after a failed operation to correct a problem with his heart that had been detected. Channel 4 took the following show off the air as a mark of respect, and the following programme was preceded by a tearful tribute from Carol Vorderman. The final five shows Whiteley had filmed (the conclusion of Series 53) were aired after which the show was placed on hiatus before returning in October 2005 with Des Lynam (who had featured on Celebrity Countdown in 1998) as the main presenter.[13] On 30 September 2006, Lynam said that he had decided to leave the programme after Christmas 2006.[14]

Lynam's departure was due to travel requirements for the demanding filming schedule, with the show recorded in Leeds and Lynam living 250 miles away in Worthing, West Sussex. Channel 4 had tried an extra programme on Saturday in early 2006 which Lynam had agreed to, subject to part of the filming schedule being moved nearer to his home. However, viewers reacted angrily to the idea of the show leaving Leeds[14] and, when Lynam found out that a move would cause considerable disruption for many of the programme's camera crew, he decided to leave.[15]

On 7 November 2006, it was announced that Des O'Connor would succeed Lynam as host.[16] Lynam's final show as Countdown presenter was broadcast on 22 December 2006. O'Connor first presented Countdown on 2 January 2007.

The other studio mainstay is Dictionary Corner, which houses a lexicographer and that week's celebrity guest (a.k.a. "GoD" or "Guardian of the Dictionaries"). Initially farmer & broadcaster Ted Moult was on hand for verification. The role of the lexicographer is to verify the words offered by the contestants (see Letters round rules) and point out any longer or otherwise interesting words available. The lexicographer is aided in finding these words by the show's producers, Michael Wylie (until his death in November 2008) and Damian Eadie.[17] The production team is insistent that no computer program is used in this role, and that the words suggested in Dictionary Corner have been found manually.

Many lexicographers have appeared over the years, but since her debut in 1992, Susie Dent has become synonymous with the role, and has made over three thousand appearances.[18] The celebrity guest, sometimes known as the "Dictionary Dweller", also contributes words, and provides a short interlude half way through the second section of the show. These guests have included Nigel Rees, Jo Brand, Martin Jarvis, Richard Digance, Geoffrey Durham, Gyles Brandreth, Ken Bruce, Pam Ayres, Paul Zenon and John Sergeant providing poems, anecdotes, puzzles and magic tricks.[19]Alison Heard replaced Susie Dent over the winter of 2007–08, whilst Dent was on maternity leave; Dent returned to the series on 6 February 2008.

It was announced in July 2008 that Des O'Connor would be stepping down as host in December 2008. In the same month, it became apparent that long-serving presenter and number-cruncher Carol Vorderman would also leave the gameshow at the same time.[20]

On 21 November 2008, Jeff Stelling was confirmed as the new host, with Oxford graduate Rachel Riley in the Vorderman role.[21] Riley has since become known for her stylish outfits worn on the show. It was announced on 24 May 2011 that Stelling would be leaving the programme, and he presented his final show on 16 December 2011.[22]

On 16 November 2011, it was announced that Nick Hewer would be taking over as host, with his first show broadcast on 9 January 2012.[2]

Character[edit]

A Countdown teapot is awarded to any contestant who wins a game.
The former studio before the start of the game
The current studio after the end of the game

Countdown quickly established cult status within British television[23] – an image which it maintains today,[24] despite numerous changes of rules and personnel. The programme's audience comprises mainly students, housewives and pensioners,[23] owing to the "teatime" broadcast slot and inclusive appeal of its format and presentation.[24] Countdown has been one of Channel 4's most-watched programmes for over twenty years, but has never won a major television award.[25] When Des Lynam became the new presenter after Whiteley's death in 2005, the show regularly drew an average 1.7 million viewers every day—which was around half a million more than in the last few years of Richard Whiteley presenting[26]—and the Series 54 final, on 26 May 2006, attracted 2.5 million viewers.[27] From 3–4 million viewers had watched the show daily in its previous 4:15 pm slot. The drop in viewers following the scheduling change, coupled with the show's perceived educational benefits, even caused Labour MP Jonathan Shaw to table a motion in the UK Parliament, requesting that the show be returned to its later time.[28] Minor scheduling changes have subsequently seen the show move from 3:15 to 3:30, to 3:45 to 3:25, and 3:10.

In keeping with the show's friendly nature, contestants compete not for money but the Countdown winner's teapot (first introduced in December 1998), which is custom-made and can only be obtained by winning a game on the programme.[29] Until 2009, the prize for the series winner was a leather-bound copy of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary, worth £4,000.[30] Since then, the prize consists of ordinary hardback twenty-one volume dictionaries, a laptop computer and a lifetime subscription to Oxford Online. David Acton, winner of Series 31, opted for a CD-ROM version of the dictionaries, not wanting to accept leather-bound books owing to his strict veganism, and he donated the monetary difference to charity.[31]

Since 2006, the series champion also receives the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, in memory of the show's original presenter.

Though the style and colour scheme of the set have changed many times (and the show itself moved to Manchester, after more than 25 years in Leeds) the clock has always provided the centrepiece and, like the clock music composed by Alan Hawkshaw, is an enduring and well-recognised feature of Countdown. Executive producer John Meade once commissioned Hawkshaw to revise the music for extra intensity; after hundreds of complaints from viewers, the old tune was reinstated.[32] The original clock featured until September 2013, when it was replaced.

Celebrations[edit]

The first episode of Countdown was repeated on 1 October 2007 on More4 and on 2 November 2007 on Channel 4, as part of Channel 4 at 25, a season of celebratory Channel 4 programmes as it celebrated its 25th birthday.

On 2 November 2007, Countdown celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary and aired a special 'birthday episode'. The two players were 2006 winner Conor Travers and 2002 winner Chris Wills. However, for the rounds, VIP guests selected the letters and numbers.[citation needed] Guests included Gordon Brown, Amir Khan and Richard Attenborough. A statement from the French TV network France Télévisions was read out on air by Carol Vorderman to commend Channel 4 on its success of Countdown.

On 26 March 2010, Queen Elizabeth II congratulated Countdown for amassing 5,000 episodes.

Departures of Vorderman and O'Connor[edit]

On 23 July 2008, it was announced that O'Connor would be leaving the show at the end of the 59th series in December 2008 to concentrate on other projects.[33]

ITV Studios announced on 25 July 2008 that Carol Vorderman would also be leaving at the end of the same series.[20]

Vorderman had been willing to accept a 33% salary decrease in line with a 33% budget cut being imposed on the show, but felt she was 'forced' to leave after being asked to accept a 90% pay cut. Her agent, John Miles, claims Vorderman had been told the show had survived the death of host Richard Whiteley in 2005 and could "easily survive without you."[34]

The early favourite in the betting to replace Des O'Connor, Rory Bremner, ruled himself out. Later reports suggested Alexander Armstrong[35] and Jeff Stelling[36] as potential hosts, although Armstrong later revealed he had refused the job.[37] Anthea Turner, Ulrika Jonsson, and Myleene Klass were all linked with Vorderman's job;[38] however, Channel 4 then began to search for a previously unknown male or female arithmetician with "charm and charisma". Eventually, on 21 November 2008, after O'Connor and Vorderman had finished filming, it was confirmed that Stelling and Oxford maths graduate Rachel Riley would join the show,[39] with Susie Dent continuing as resident lexicographer.

Format[edit]

Countdown has occupied a tea-time broadcast slot since its inception. Currently an episode lasts around 45 minutes including advertising breaks. During the normal series, the winner of each game returns for the next day's show. A player who wins eight games is declared an "octochamp" and retires until the series finals. At the end of the series, the eight players with most wins (or the highest total score in the event of a tie) are invited back to compete in the series finals. They are seeded in a knockout tournament, with the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, and so on. The winner of this knockout, which culminates in the Grand Final, becomes the series champion. Each series lasts around six months, with about 125 episodes.[40]

Approximately every four series, a Champion of Champions tournament takes place. For this, sixteen of the best players to have appeared since the previous Championship are invited back for another knockout tournament. The producer, former contestant Damian Eadie, decides which players to include, but typically the tournament includes the series winners and other noteworthy contestants.[41] Series 33 was designated a "Supreme Championship", in which 56 of the best contestants from all the previous series returned for another knockout tournament. Series 10 champion Harvey Freeman was declared Supreme Champion after beating Allan Saldanha in the final.[42] There are also occasional special episodes, in which past contestants return for themed matches. For example, David Acton and Kenneth Michie returned for a rematch of their Series 31 final, while brothers and former contestants Sanjay and Sandeep Mazumder played off against each other on 20 December 2004.[43]

The game is split into three sections, separated by advertising breaks. The first section contains two letters rounds and a numbers round, the second has four letters rounds and two numbers rounds, while the last section has four letters rounds, a numbers round and a final "Conundrum". At the end of the first two sections, Hewer poses an anagram with a cryptic clue for the viewers, called the Teatime Teaser—the solution is revealed at the start of the next section. When the Teatime Teaser was first introduced, the anagrams were seven letters long, but they have since been extended to eight.

Letters round[edit]

Letter tiles are arranged face-down in two piles; one all consonants, the other vowels. The contestant picks a pile, and Riley reveals the top tile from that pile and places it on the board. A selection of nine tiles is generated in this way, and must contain at least three vowels and four consonants.[44] Then the clock is started and both contestants have thirty seconds to come up with the longest word they can make from the available letters. Each letter may be used only as often as it appears in the selection.[44] The frequencies of the letters within each pile are weighted according to their frequency in natural English, in the same manner as Scrabble. For example, there are many Ns and Rs in the consonant pile, but only one Q. The letter frequencies are altered by the producers from time to time, so any published list does not necessarily reflect the letters used in any particular programme.[45]

Contestants write down the words they have found during the round, in case they both have the same one. After the thirty seconds are up, the players declare the length of their chosen word, with the player who selected the letters declaring first. If either player has not written their word down in time, he or she must declare this also. The words are then revealed, shorter word first. If the two declarations are of the same length, the player selecting the letters reveals first, unless one player has not written his or her word down, in which case that contestant reveals first. Only the contestant with the longer word scores points; both score in the event of a tie. One point is scored per letter, except for nine-letter words, which score double points. If a contestant offers an invalid word then they score no points. If the second player reveals the same word as the first, this must be proved by showing the word to the other contestant. Finally, Dictionary Corner reveals the best words they could find from the selection, aided by the production team.[46]

Any word which appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English is allowable,[47] as well as some inflections. Standard inflections of nouns and verbs—for example, escapes, escaped and escaping—are accepted even though not explicitly shown in the dictionary. Comparative and superlative forms of monosyllabic adjectives—for example, greater and greatest—are valid although these too are not explicitly shown. For longer adjectives, the inflections must be stated explicitly.[48] However, some words given in the dictionary are not permitted: proper nouns (Kurdistan), hyphenated words (re-embark), some plurals of mass nouns (mankinds), and words that occur only in combination—for example, mistle is invalid as it is used only in mistle thrush. Also, only British spelling is permitted—American spellings and inflections, such as flavor and signaled, are invalid.[44]

Example:
Contestant One chooses five consonants, then three vowels, then another consonant.
Selection is:
G Y H D N O E U R
Contestant One declares 7, while Contestant Two declares 8.
Contestant One reveals younger, but Contestant Two has hydrogen and scores eight points. Contestant One receives no points for this round.
Dictionary Corner notes greyhound, which would have scored eighteen points, since nine letter words score double.

Numbers round[edit]

One contestant selects six of twenty-four shuffled tiles. The tiles are arranged into two groups: four "large numbers" (25, 50, 75 and 100) (12, 37, 62, 87 in some special episodes) and the remainder "small numbers", which comprise two each of the numbers 1 to 10. The contestant chooses how many large numbers are in the selection; anywhere from none to all four. A random three-digit target is generated by an electronic machine, affectionately known as "CECIL" (which stands for Countdown Electronic Computer In Leeds).[49] The contestants then have thirty seconds to get as near to the target as possible by combining the six numbers selected using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.[44] Not all numbers need to be used. A number can be used as many times as it appears. Fractions are not allowed—only positive integers may be used at any stage of the calculation.[44]

Carol / Rachel can also choose the numbers if any of these occurs. (Their selections are picking at least 1 Large number)

  • The contestant in his/her turn decides not to pick the numbers (which rarely happens)
  • Before gameplay, it would be told by the host that neither contestants could choose the numbers

Points are awarded for the closest solution, and again both contestants score if the solutions are equally close.

  • 10 points are given for an exact answer
  • 7 points for a non-exact solution up to 5 from the target
  • 5 points for a solution between 6 and 10 from the target.

If neither contestant can get within 10, no points are awarded.

Example:
Contestant One requests two large numbers and four small numbers.
Selection is:
75 50 2 3 8 7
Randomly generated target is:
812
Contestant One declares 813, while Contestant Two declares 815.
Contestant One is closer and so reveals: 75 + 50 – 8 = 117, and 117 × 7 – (3 × 2) = 813, which scores seven points.
Rachel Riley notes: 50 + 8 = 58, and 7 × 2 × 58 = 812, which would have scored ten points.

In some games, there are many ways to reach the target exactly—the example target above could also be reached by 7 × (75 + 50 + 2 – 8 – 3) = 812. Not all games are solvable, and for a few selections it is impossible even to get within 10, most commonly when a contestant picks six small numbers and the target number is quite large.[citation needed]. There is a tactical element in selecting how many large numbers to include. One large and five small numbers is the most popular selection,[50] despite two large numbers giving the best chance of the game being solvable exactly.[51] Selections with zero or four large numbers are generally considered the hardest.[51]

The numbers are usually placed from right to left. Starting with the small numbers and then the large numbers. In some episodes, the small and large numbers were placed and displayed in disorder.

Example:
Contestant (from an episode in June 2005) requested One from the top, two from the 2nd row, & (by tricking) three more from the top.
Selection is (in disorder):
50 10 6 25 100 75

There are some other popular & numbers selections mostly used in the history of the game.

  • Inverted T (A letter "T" displayed upside down ; One each from the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Rows, then three from the 4th Row ; 1 Large & 5 Small)
  • 1,2,1,2 (One from the 1st & 3rd rows, then two from the 2nd & 4th rows ; 1 Large & 5 Small)
  • 4 Large & Opposite Corners (The two Small Numbers are selected in both of the corners from the 4th Row)

The very first numbers game with Richard & Carol was a selection of six small (1, 3, 10, 7, 6, 4) with a target of 493.

On Carol and Des's last show, the last numbers game was Charlie Reams's selection of all large, two small, 100, 75, 50, 25, 6, and 4, with a target of 297. Both contestants met the target in the same way; 50 × 6 - 75 / 25.

On Rachel's first show, she started with the selection of four large (100, 75, 25, & 50, and 10 & 3), but with an easy target of 503.

A special edition, broadcast on 15 March 2010, for two previous series champions, Kirk Bevins and Chris Davies, used instead of the usual four large numbers, the numbers 12, 37 and two numbers unrevealed for the duration of the show. In a further special broadcast on 16 August 2010 between the Series 59 finalists Charlie Reams and Junaid Mubeen, the other two numbers were revealed to be 62 and 87.

Conundrum[edit]

The final round of the game is the "Countdown Conundrum". A board revolves to reveal the "conundrum"—a nine-letter anagram, usually arranged in the form of two condensed words (see example). The contestants have thirty seconds to find the nine-letter word. The first contestant to buzz with the correct answer (the champion rings in with a bell, while the challenger rings in with a buzzer) is awarded ten points, but each contestant may guess only once. If neither contestant guesses correctly, the presenter asks if anyone in the audience knows the word, and if so, chooses someone to shout it out. (This was stopped temporarily in 2009, because of difficulties with camera angles in the new studio layout.) Once a contestant guesses correctly or the time expires, a second board rotates to reveal the answer. Each conundrum is designed to have only one solution but if, unintentionally, the conundrum has two answers (e.g. CARTHORSE and ORCHESTRA) then either is accepted.[52]

A "crucial Countdown conundrum" occurs if, before the conundrum, both contestants have scores which are within ten points of each other. The first contestant to answer correctly wins the game. If the scores are level after the conundrum, additional conundrums are used until the match is decided.[53] There have been several games where two conundrums were used at the end of the show, but only a handful of games containing three tie-break conundrums.

Example:
Conundrum is revealed:
C H I N A L U N G
Contestant One buzzes, and says launching, which scores 10 points.

Evolution[edit]

The rules of Countdown are derived from those of Des chiffres et des lettres. Perhaps the biggest difference is the length of the round; DCedL's number rounds are each 45 seconds long to Countdown's 30. DCedL also feature "duels", in which players compete in short tasks such as mental arithmetic problems, extracting two themed words from another, or being asked to spell a word correctly. Other minor differences include a different numbers scoring system (9 points for an exact solution, or 6 points for the closest inexact solution in DCedL) and the proportion of letters to numbers rounds (10 to 4 in Countdown, 8 to 4 in DCedL).[54]

The pilot episode followed significantly different rules from the current ones. Most noticeably, only eight letters were selected for each letters round. If two contestants offered a word of the same length, or an equally close solution to a numbers game, then only the contestant who made the selection for that round was awarded points. Also, only five points were given for an exact numbers solution, three for a solution within 5, and one point for the closer solution, no matter how far away.[55]

Until the end of Series 21, if the two contestants had equal scores after the first conundrum, the match was considered a draw and they both returned for the next show.[56] A significant change in the format occurred in September 2001, when the show was expanded from nine rounds and 30 minutes to the current fifteen rounds and 45 minutes.[57] The older format was split into two halves, each having three letters and one numbers game, with the conundrum at the end of the second half. When the format was expanded to fifteen rounds, Richard Whiteley continued to refer jokingly to the three segments of the show as "halves". Under the old format, Grand Finals were specially extended shows of fourteen rounds,[58] but now all shows use a fifteen round format.[59]

The rules regarding which words are permitted have changed with time. American spelling was allowed until 2002,[60] and more unspecified inflections were assumed to be valid.[61]

In September 2007, a new feature was added to the show in which Susie Dent explains the origin of a word or phrase which she has been researching. This Origin of Words spot currently follows the eighth letters round, almost mid way through the third section of the programme. For the short time Susie was on maternity leave this addition was not continued; however, when she returned on Wednesday 6 February 2008, it was reinstated.

When the fifteen round format was first introduced in September 2001, the composition of the rounds was different from that used by the programme today. The three sections each had five rounds, four letters rounds and one numbers round in each of the first two sections, with three letters rounds, one numbers round and the conundrum in the third section. This meant that there was a slight imbalance, whereby one contestant made the letters sections for six rounds, but had the choice of the numbers selection just once, whereas the other contestant chose letters five times and numbers twice. The dictionary corner guest's spot was immediately before the first advertising break, and Susie Dent's Origin of Words spot preceded the second numbers game shortly before the second break. The change to the present format was made on 25 March 2013, three weeks into the second section of Series 68, to comply with Channel 4's decision to increase the amount of adverts and alter the times when they occur during the programme, therefore reducing Countdown's actual show length from 36 to 35 minutes.

Notable contestants[edit]

Since Countdown's debut in 1982, there have been over 5,900 televised games and 70 complete series. There have also been thirteen Champion of Champions tournaments, with the most recent starting in January 2013 as a special 30th Birthday Championship.

Several of Countdown's most successful contestants have received national media coverage. Teenager Julian Fell set a record score of 146 in December 2002.[62] In 2006, 14-year-old Conor Travers became the youngest series champion in the show's history,[63][64][65] and 11-year old Kai Laddiman became the youngest octochamp for 20 years. Conor Travers went on to win the 30th Anniversary Champion of Champions series in March 2013 with a record equalling top score of 146.

At eight years old, Tanmay Dixit was one of the youngest players ever to appear on the show when he achieved two wins in March 2005.[66] He also received press attention for his offerings in the letters round, which included fannies and farted.[67]

In April 2013, Giles Hutchings, a student at Royal Grammar School, Guildford broke the record for the highest octochamp score, amassing 965 points over 8 games. He went on to win series 68.[68] Three former contestants have returned to Countdown as part of the production team: Michael Wylie, Mark Nyman (as producer, and occasional lexicographer in Dictionary Corner) and Damian Eadie (the current series producer).

In 1998, sixteen celebrities were invited to play Celebrity Countdown, a series of eight games broadcast every Thursday evening over the course of eight weeks.[69] The celebrities included Whiteley's successor Des Lynam, who beat Siân Lloyd.[70] The highest and lowest scores were posted in the same game when TV's Geoffrey Munn beat glamour model Jodie Marsh 47–9.[70]

Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman competed in another special episode on Christmas Day 1997. For this game, the presenter's chair was taken by William G. Stewart, the host of fellow Channel 4 game show Fifteen to One. Susie Dent took over Vorderman's duties, and Mark Nyman occupied Dictionary Corner, accompanied by Magnus Magnusson.[70] The game was close-fought, and decided only by the crucial Countdown conundrum mistletoe which Vorderman solved in two seconds, after Whiteley had inadvertently buzzed after one second, because when he regularly hosted the show, he hit the button to reveal the conundrum and kept his old habit up.[71]

Contestants who have or had become notable for other reasons include Nuts magazine editor-at-large Pete Cashmore, rugby player Ayoola Erinle, footballer Neil MacKenzie, musician Jon Marsh, musician Nick Saloman, comedian Alex Horne and footballer Clarke Carlisle.

In popular culture[edit]

The letters of the infamous round during a 1991 episode in which both contestants declared the word wankers.

Countdown is often referenced and parodied in British culture.

Assorted allusions[edit]

The Doctor Who episode "Bad Wolf" (2005) mentions a futuristic version of Countdown, in which the goal is to stop a bomb from exploding in 30 seconds. Countdown was referenced again in a later series in "Last of the Time Lords" (2007), where Professor Docherty expresses a keen fondness for the show and how it "hasn't been the same since Des took over—Both Des's".

In the 2002 film About a Boy, protagonist Will Freeman is a regular viewer of Countdown.[72]

Fairport Convention guitarist Simon Nicol named one of his solo records Consonant Please, Carol, echoing one of the show's most famous catchphrases.

Outtakes[edit]

Countdown has also generated a number of popular outtakes, with the letters occasionally producing a word that was deemed unsuitable for the original broadcast. A round in which Dictionary Corner offered the word gobshite featured in TV's Finest Failures in 2001,[73] and in one episode, contestants Gino Corr and Lawrence Pearse both declared the word wankers. This was edited out of the programme but has since appeared on many outtakes shows.[74][75] When contestant Charlie Reams declared "wankers" on 21 October 2008 edition, the declaration was kept in but the word itself was bleeped. Other incidents with only marginally rude words (including wanker, singular) have made it into the programme as they appeared, such as those with Tanmay Dixit referenced above, a clip from a 2001 episode in which the word fart appeared as the first four letters on the board (which also featured on 100 Greatest TV Moments from Hell),[76] and a round where an anagram of the word fucked appeared on the board in the string "A U O D F C K E G", although neither player chose to use the word, and Dictionary Corner was able to find two seven-letter words that could have been made from the board's offerings.[77] In an episode from spring 2011, the Blackpool supporting producer of the show arranged the conundrum PNECRISIS ("priciness"), poking fun at their local rivals Preston North End's relegation from the Championship in the 2010–11 season.[78]

Humour[edit]

The programme is mentioned in an episode of Irish sitcom Father Ted entitled "The Old Grey Whistle Theft",[79] Still Game (in the episode "Wireless") and is also referenced in the very first episode of Little Britain from 2003.[80] BBC impression sketch show, Dead Ringers, parodies Countdown numerous times, and another television programme, The Big Breakfast, parodied Countdown in a feature called "Countdown Under".[81] In a sketch "Countdown to Hell" from the comedy show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Stephen Fry lampooned Richard Whiteley's punning style and Hugh Laurie played one of the contestants, while Gyles Brandreth (played by Steve Steen), presented with the letters "bollocsk", got the (non-)word "sloblock" (supposedly meaning exactly the same as "bollocks").[82] The show also has a fleeting reference in British sitcom The Office when Chris 'Finchy' Finch attempts to insult temporary worker Ricky when he explains he had a job to pay for his studies. Finchy states that it probably was 'professor in charge of watching Countdown every day', commenting on its student audience, and referring to the fact anyone watching Countdown during its 'hometime' time slot cannot be out at work.

In the BBC sitcom My Family, Nick is a fan of Countdown. In the 2003 Christmas special, Richard Whiteley even made a special guest appearance, which amuses Nick. In another episode, Nick is taken aback when he thinks that bad news about his father is really about a cancellation of Countdown.

The format of the show has been parodied on Have I Got News for You. In 1999, when Richard was a guest, the numbers game was copied along with the famous clock music and at the end of the show was a conundrum, the conundrum was "PHANIOILS", to which the answer was IAN HISLOP. In 2004, when Carol was a guest one of the usual rounds was replaced with a conundrum round based on the week's news. When Carol hosted the show in 2006, one of the rounds was the "Spinning Conundrum Numbers Round", altering the "Spinning Headlines" round, by adding a number to a picture relating to the week's news, then at the end of the round the 6 numbers from the picture were used for a numbers game.

Richard Whiteley was the victim of a practical joke while presenting the show. The contestants and rounds had been planted as part of a "Gotcha!", a regular prank feature on the light entertainment show Noel's House Party. In the prank, both the two contestants and Dictionary Corner missed the word "something" from the letters OMETHINGS, and from another selection, both of the contestants declared "I've got diarrhoea" referring to the selection. In the numbers round that followed, the male contestant "answered" the puzzle by reading out the numbers. Whiteley did not uncover the joke until House Party presenter Noel Edmonds appeared on the set, having revealed the unusually short conundrum of HOGCAT to be "gotcha" at the end of the programme.[83]

In a 2003 episode of Top Gear, Richard Whitely participated in the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment. Before Whiteley's lap was shown, presenter Jeremy Clarkson played a game of Countdown with Whitely, using words such as IMIN, SEXUL, NEVOR LARD, I MUSHI BITS, and PIANOS SHIAZU.

It was also referred to on Harry Hill's TV Burp twice. The first time it was referred to was when "Dev" (Coronation Street) made a sound like the countdown end of thirty seconds time. The second time was when the competition "Where Has The Knitted Character Been This Week?" had the answer: On Rachel Riley's chair.

On 2 July 2010, the game was featured in the episode "The Final Countdown" of The IT Crowd. Moss stuns everyone by declaring that the 9 letter string TNETENNBA is in fact a word. Later, Moss becomes an octochamp and is consequently invited into an underground club named "8+", where he competes in a game of "Street Countdown" as part of a spoof of Boogie Town (as mentioned on writer Graham Linehan's blog). British entertainer Stevie Riks has also parodied the show on one of his many YouTube comedy videos.[84]

Non-canon games[edit]

The game has also been played on a number of different programmes, notably as the first challenge in "What's Next" on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, featuring the pair versus one of the duo's old head teachers. In 2010, it was played as a shopping task on the final Channel 4 series of Celebrity Big Brother, with a team of housemates competing in the house against the-then current champion, Chris Davies, in the Countdown studio via satellite. The housemates failed this task.

Internet community[edit]

There is a strong Internet Countdown community, which is mainly centred around the forum C4Countdown and the training website Apterous – indeed, since the website's inception all the series winners have used the website to train, as have many of the other finalists.

Transmissions[edit]

Regular series[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes Notes
Series Cumulative
1 2 November 1982[85] 16 December 1982[86] 27[86] 27[86]
2 5 April 1983[87] 2 July 1983[88] 53[88] 80[88]
3 19 September 1983[89] 15 December 1983[90] 52[90] 132[90]
4 2 April 1984[91] 28 June 1984[92] 52[92] 184[92]
5 15 October 1984[93] 21 December 1984[94] 50[94] 234[94] Champion of Champions I aired from 15[93] to 23 October.[95]
6 7 January 1985[96] 21 March 1985[97] 54[97] 288[97]
7 14 October 1985[98] 20 December 1985[99] 50[99] 338[99]
8 6 January 1986[100] 27 March 1986[101] 59[101] 397[101]
9 31 March 1986[102] 3 June 1986[103] 47[103] 444[103] Champion of Champions II aired from 31 March[102] to 8 April.[104]
10 13 October 1986[105] 19 December 1986[106] 50[106] 494[106] Champion of Champions I & II aired on 13 October.[105]
11 2 February 1987[107] 10 April 1987[108] 50[108] 544[108] 500th Show aired on 2 February.[107]
12 13 April 1987[109] 19 June 1987[110] 50[110] 594[110]
13 22 June 1987[111] 28 August 1987[112] 50[112] 644[112] Champion of Champions III aired from 22[111] to 30 June.[113]
14 5 October 1987[114] 25 December 1987[115] 63[115] 707[115]
15 11 April 1988[116] 17 June 1988[117] 50[117] 757[117]
16 20 June 1988[118] 2 September 1988[119] 55[119] 812[119]
17 2 January 1989[120] 17 March 1989[121] 55[121] 867[121] Champion of Champions IV aired from 2[120] to 10 January.[122]
18 10 July 1989[123] 13 October 1989[124] 70[124] 937[124]
19 1 January 1990[125] 30 March 1990[126] 65[126] 1,002[126]
20 2 July 1990[127] 28 September 1990[128] 65[128] 1,067[128] 1,000th Show aired on 2 July.[127]
21 31 December 1990[129] 29 March 1991[130] 65[130] 1,132[130] Champion of Champions V aired from 31 December[129] to 8 January.[131]
22 1 July 1991[132] 27 September 1991[133] 65[133] 1,197[133]
23 30 December 1991[134] 27 March 1992[135] 65[135] 1,262[135]
24 29 June 1992[136] 25 September 1992[137] 65[137] 1,327[137]
25 4 January 1993[138] 2 April 1993[139] 65[139] 1,392[139] Champion of Champions VI aired from 4[138] to 12 January.[140]
26 5 July 1993[141] 1 October 1993[142] 65[142] 1,457[142]
27 3 January 1994[143] 1 April 1994[144] 65[144] 1,522[144]
28 4 July 1994[145] 30 September 1994[146] 65[146] 1,587[146] 1,500th Show aired on 4 July.[145]
29 2 January 1995[147] 31 March 1995[148] 65[148] 1,652[148] Champion of Champions VII aired from 2[147] to 10 January.[149]
30 3 July 1995[150] 29 September 1995[151] 65[151] 1,717[151]
31 1 January 1996[152] 29 March 1996[153] 65[153] 1,782[153]
32 1 July 1996[154] 27 September 1996[155] 65[155] 1,847[155]
33 30 September 1996[156] 20 December 1996[157] 60[157] 1,907[157] Champion of Champions VIII aired from 30 September[156] to 8 October.[158]
34 30 December 1996[159] 28 March 1997[160] 65[160] 1,972[160]
35 31 March 1997[161] 27 June 1997[162] 65[162] 2,037[162]
36 30 June 1997[163] 26 September 1997[164] 65[164] 2,102[164]
37 29 September 1997[165] 19 December 1997[166] 60[166] 2,162[166]
38 29 December 1997[167] 26 June 1998 130 2,292 Champion of Champions IX aired from 29 December[167] to 16 January.[168]
39 29 June 1998 25 December 1998 130 2,422
40 28 December 1998 25 June 1999 130 2,552
41 28 June 1999 25 December 1999 121 2,673
42 27 December 1999 23 June 2000 124 2,797 Champion of Champions X aired from 27 to 31 December.
43 26 June 2000 25 December 2000 114 2,911 18th Birthday aired on 2 November.
44 26 December 2000 29 June 2001 131 3,042
45 2 July 2001 21 September 2001 43 3,085
46 24 September 2001 25 December 2001 67 3,152
47 26 December 2001 28 June 2002 127 3,279 Junior Championship aired from 12 to 14 March.
48 1 July 2002 20 December 2002 110 3,389
49 6 January 2003 27 June 2003 122 3,511 Champion of Champions XI aired from 6 to 24 January and Ladies' Championship aired from 11 to 13 March.
50 30 June 2003 19 December 2003 103 3,614
51 5 January 2004 25 June 2004 114 3,728
52 28 June 2004 17 December 2004 112 3,840
53 4 January 2005 1 July 2005 119 3,959
54 31 October 2005 26 May 2006 153 4,112
55 29 May 2006 22 December 2006 150 4,262 Champion of Champions XII aired from 29 May to 16 June.
56 2 January 2007 22 June 2007 120 4,382
57 25 June 2007 21 December 2007 126 4,508 25th Birthday aired on 2 November.
58 2 January 2008 20 June 2008 119 4,627
59 23 June 2008 12 December 2008 105 4,732
60 12 January 2009 19 June 2009 111 4,843 Champion of Champions XIII aired from 12 to 30 January.
61 22 June 2009 18 December 2009 110 4,953
62 11 January 2010 18 June 2010 110 5,063
63 21 June 2010 17 December 2010 115 5,178
64 10 January 2011 3 June 2011 100 5,278
65 6 June 2011 16 December 2011 120 5,398
66 9 January 2012 29 June 2012 119 5,517
67 2 July 2012 21 December 2012 97 5,614
68 7 January 2013 28 June 2013 107 5,721 30th Birthday Championship aired from 7 January to 1 March.
69 1 July 2013 20 December 2013 118 5,839
70 6 January 2014 27 June 2014 107 5,946
71 30 June 2014 19 December 2014 110 6,056

Masters series[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes
1 3 April 1989 30 March 1990 52
2 2 April 1990 29 March 1991 52

Celebrity series[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes
1 23 April 1998 18 June 1998 8

Specials[edit]

Date Special
25 December 1997[169] Christmas Special[169]
26 May 2003 Husband & Wife
25 July 2003 Replayed Series 40 Final
4 August 2003 High Scoring Losers
18 August 2003 Maths Teachers
25 August 2003 Solicitors
2 September 2003 Clergymen
3 September 2003 Scrabble Masters
8 September 2003 Replayed Series 31 Final
9 September 2003 Champions of Champions IX & X
10 September 2003 Police Officers
11 September 2003 High Scoring Losers II
12 September 2003 Series 47 & 48 Champions
15 March 2004 Publicans
19 March 2004 Father & Daughter
14 June 2004 Replayed Series 35 Final
26 July 2004 Replayed Series 39 Final
2 August 2004 Aficionados
13 August 2004 Replayed Series 37 Final
23 August 2004 Mother & Son
30 August 2004 Starlets
20 December 2004 Brothers
25 March 2005 Cabaret Entertainers
30 May 2005 Starlets
15 March 2010 Series 60 & 61 Champions
26 July 2010 High Scoring Losers III
2 August 2010 Young Stars
16 August 2010 Replayed Series 59 Final
14 March 2011 Deciding Special
25 July 2011 Female Finalists
12 March 2012 Sister & Brother
30 July 2012 Series 64 & 65 Champions
13 September 2012 Female Winners
14 September 2012 Husband & Wife
28 September 2012 Male Finalists
2 July 2013 Lovebirds

Merchandise[edit]

Several boardgames, books and video games have been released under the franchise. Many boardgames have been developed to replicate the rules and game play of the television show. The boardgame will often consist of a board to place letters and number on, several scorecards, a selection of numbers and letters, a number generator and a timing device (older models use an hourglass whilst newer models contain a battery powered timer).

In the late 80s/early 90s, LexiBook released digital handheld version of Countdown. These contained LCD black and white displays and a variety of physical controls. Many of these often bore the official Countdown logo.

In 2006, University Games released a Countdown DVD game, which contained recorded clips specifically for the game. Gameplay is achieved via a DVD player and the remote control. The DVD was sold disk only, or as a bundle containing notepads and pencils.

In 2009, Mindscape released Countdown games for the Nintendo DS and the Wii. Gameplay is replicated as it is on the show. On the DS version, players can compete against each other via Download Play, using a single game card.

International versions[edit]

In the eighties the Dutch version "Cijfers en letters" ran for many years and was broadcast by the public TV station KRO. Presenters were Bob Bouma, Maartje van Weegen and Robert ten Brink, who later also presented the Dutch version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. From 1989 to 1993 a Flemish version was produced by the Belgian commercial TV station VTM. In Belgium many local clubs were founded where people could play the game themselves.

An American version of the show had a pilot taped in 1990, though major format changes were made; specifically, the numbers round was dropped entirely, and regular people played alongside celebrities. The pilot was not picked up.

In 1991,[citation needed] a Spanish version of this show was released: Cifras y Letras (numbers and letters). The show was originally presented by Elisenda Roca, along with a word expert and mathematician. As this show progressed, a second version of the same show was also produced, which covered Latin American Spanish. The current Peninsular Spanish edition is presented by Paco Lodeiro.

Shortly after this, a Galician version was also released: Cifras e Letras, differing from the above only in the fact that it used Galician instead of Spanish, and a studio design variation. This version is also presented by Paco Lodeiro, assisted by the physicist Jorge Mira and the poet Yolanda Castaño, and broadcast by the Galician TV channels in Spain, Europe and South America.[170]

Other versions include A Word or 2 (South Africa) and Bir Kelime, Bir Islem (Turkey)

On 2 August 2010, the new Australian version entitled Letters and Numbers (to avoid confusion with the Australian music program Countdown) debuted on SBS, hosted by Richard Morecroft. Each episode is 30 minutes long and consists of five letters rounds, three numbers rounds and the conundrum. The last episode was aired on 27 June 2012, after five series and one masters series. The timeslot was filled with the UK version of Countdown.

In September 2012, an Isle of Man version of the show was broadcast, which saw the first teenager take part on the show. Connor Christian, now a student at Lancaster University, took the place of a contestant who could not make it to the show. Although succeeding at every number round, he lost at all letters and anagrams rounds, causing him to lose the game.

World Record[edit]

In 2014 Countdown was awarded a Guinness World Record for the most series of a TV Game show broadcast. [171]

Sponsors[edit]

Countdown has been sponsored by the following companies over the years:[172][173]

Sponsor Start Date End Date Notes
The Times 22 August 1994 30 September 1994 First sponsor of Countdown
Seven Seas 11 January 1999 28 April 2000 Anagram puzzles (similar to the "Teatime Teaser", but of varying word length) were set at the end of Part One, with the solution displayed before Part Two, along with the caption "Did you get it?".
Lyons Corner House Cakes 18 May 2000 14 August 2000 Each day's advertising was associated with a particular product, as follows: French Sandwich (Monday), Cup Cakes (Tuesday), Swiss Roll (Wednesday), Viennese Whirls (Thursday), Battenberg (Friday).
Flora ProActiv 31 October 2000 27 April 2001 Sponsorship gone by 21 June 2001.
Kellogg's All-Bran 22 October 2001 18 October 2002 Last sponsor in the Richard Whiteley era.
Specsavers Opticians 6 February 2006 7 February 2007 The only sponsor of the Des Lynam era and the first since 2002.
Digital UK 5 March 2007 4 March 2008 Not technically a sponsor. Last sponsor of the Des O'Connor era.
Ibuleve Gel 1 May 2009 12 May 2010 First sponsor of the Jeff Stelling era.
Vitabiotics 17 May 2010 20 December 2013 Several different products have been advertised so far: Wellwoman; Wellman; Jointace; Pregnacare; Osteocare; Visionace; Cardioace; Wellkid; Menopace; Immunace; and Neurozan.
Vale Bridgecraft[174] 6 January 2014 May 2014
Betterlife from Lloyds Pharmacy May 2014 Present

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  131. ^ "Countdown (Series 21, Episode 7)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  150. ^ "Countdown (Series 30, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  154. ^ "Countdown (Series 32, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  156. ^ a b "Countdown (Series 33, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  157. ^ a b c "Countdown (Series 33, Episode 60)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  159. ^ "Countdown (Series 34, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  161. ^ "Countdown (Series 35, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  163. ^ "Countdown (Series 36, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  165. ^ "Countdown (Series 37, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
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  167. ^ a b "Countdown (Series 38, Episode 1)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  168. ^ "Countdown (Series 38, Episode 15)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  169. ^ a b "Countdown (Christmas Special)". ITN Source. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  170. ^ Programas | CRTVG
  171. ^ "TV's Countdown gets Guinness World Record on 6,000th show". BBC News. Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  172. ^ Sponsors – Countdown
  173. ^ The Countdown Page: Sponsors
  174. ^ http://www.valebridgecraft.co.uk/Countdown.content

External links[edit]

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