Countdown (game show)
Title card since 2012.
|Created by||Armand Jammot|
|Presented by|| Nick Hewer (2012–)
Richard Whiteley (1982–2005)
Des Lynam (2005–06)
Des O'Connor (2007–08)
Jeff Stelling (2009–11)
|Starring|| Susie Dent (1992–)
Rachel Riley (2009–)
Carol Vorderman (1982–2008)
|Theme music composer||Alan Hawkshaw|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||68 (original series)
13 (Champion of Champions)
2 (Countdown Masters)
1 (celebrity series)
|No. of episodes||5575(original series as of 14th May 2013)
121 (Champion of Champions)
104 (Countdown Masters)
8 (celebrity series)
|Location(s)|| MediaCityUK, Salford (2013–)
The Leeds Studios, Leeds (1982–2009)
Granada Studios, Manchester (2009–12)
|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–)
Yorkshire Television (1982–2005)
Granada Productions (2005–09)
|Original channel||Channel 4
S4C (1982–2010) (Wales)
|Picture format|| 16:9 (1999–)
HD 1080i (2013–)
|First shown in||Original series:
2 November 1982 – present
Champion of Champions:
15 October 1984 – 30 January 2009
3 April 1989 – 5 March 1991
23 April 1989 – 18 June 1998
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 sixty-seven series have been broadcast since its debut on 2 November 1982. With over 5,000 episodes, it 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 is recorded at the Granada Studios, after moving from The Leeds Studios in 2009. In 2013, the show was moved over to MediaCityUK in Salford.
The programme was presented by Richard Whiteley for over twenty years, until his death in June 2005. His position was taken over by Des Lynam, who retired from the show in December 2006 and was replaced by Des O'Connor on 2 January 2007. Carol Vorderman, the show's co-host, who had been on the programme since it began, left the show in December 2008. From 2009, Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley replaced O'Connor and Vorderman respectively. In May 2011, Stelling announced that he would leave the programme at the end of 2011. On 9 January 2012, Nick Hewer presented his first edition of Countdown.
A celebrity guest features in every programme, and provides a brief interlude before the first advertisement break. The two contestants in each episode compete in three disciplines: eleven letters rounds, in which the contestants attempt to make the longest word possible from nine randomly chosen letters; three 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. 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.
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". These shows were only broadcast in the Yorkshire area.
An additional pilot episode was made, with a refined format, although it was never broadcast. 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. Countdown was the first programme to be broadcast on the new channel.
|“||As the countdown to a brand new channel ends, a brand new Countdown begins.||”|
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. 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.
Calendar Countdown was presented by Richard Whiteley, with Cathy Hytner and Denise McFarland-Cruickshanks managing the numbers and letters rounds respectively. 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, 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. 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.
Whiteley fell ill with septicaemia in 2005, and as a result he was no longer able to record Countdown. 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. On 30 September 2006, Lynam said that he had decided to leave the programme after Christmas 2006.
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 and, when Lynam found out that a move would cause considerable disruption for many of the programme's camera crew, he decided to leave.
On 7 November 2006, it was announced that Des O'Connor would succeed Lynam as host. 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 (AKA "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. 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 a thousand appearances. The celebrity guest, sometimes known as the "Dictionary Dweller", also contributes words, and provides a short interlude at the end of the first section of the show. Dwellers have included Nigel Rees, Jo Brand, Martin Jarvis, Richard Digance, Geoffrey Durham, Gyles Brandreth, Ken Bruce and John Sergeant providing poems, anecdotes, puzzles and magic tricks. Alison Heard replaced Susie Dent over the winter of 2007–08, whilst Dent was on maternity leave; Susie Dent returned to Countdown 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.
On 21 November 2008, Jeff Stelling was confirmed as the new host, with Oxford graduate Rachel Riley in the Vorderman role. 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.
On 16 November 2011, it was announced that Nick Hewer would be taking over as host, with his first show to be broadcast on 9 January 2012.
Countdown quickly established cult status within British television – an image which it maintains today, despite numerous changes of rules and personnel. The programme's audience comprises mainly students, housewives and pensioners, owing to the "teatime" broadcast slot and inclusive appeal of its format and presentation. Countdown has been one of Channel 4's most-watched programmes for over twenty years, but has never won a major television award. 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—and the Series 54 final, on 26 May 2006, attracted 2.5 million viewers. 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. 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. Until 2009, the prize for the series winner was a leather-bound copy of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary, worth £4,000. 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.
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.
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. 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.
On 2 January 2012, a special episode of Countdown aired as part of a special "mash-up night" celebrating Channel 4's 30th birthday. Jimmy Carr took over as host alongside Rachel Riley. Sean Lock and Jon Richardson were the contestants and Joe Wilkinson joined Susie Dent in Dictionary Corner. During the course of the show, there was 8 out of 10 Cats style banter and a younger audience was used. A second special was broadcast on 24 August 2012, as part of Channel 4's "Funny Fortnight" schedule. In Dictionary Corner, Susie was this time joined by David O'Doherty and Joe Wilkinson again appeared in the special.
Departures of Vorderman and O'Connor
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.
ITV Studios announced on 25 July 2008 that Carol Vorderman would also be leaving at the end of the same series.
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."
The early favourite in the betting to replace Des O'Connor, Rory Bremner, ruled himself out. Later reports suggested Alexander Armstrong and Jeff Stelling as potential hosts, although Armstrong later revealed he had refused the job. Anthea Turner, Ulrika Jonsson, and Myleene Klass were all linked with Vorderman's job; 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, with Susie Dent continuing as resident lexicographer.
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. If a player wins eight games, he 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.
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. 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. 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.
The game is split into three sections, separated by advertising breaks. The first two sections each contain four letters rounds and a numbers round, while the last section has three 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. If either player has not written their word down, their word is revealed first; otherwise, the shorter word is shown 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.
Any word which appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English is allowable, 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. 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.
- Contestant One chooses five consonants, then three vowels, then another consonant.
- Selection is:
- 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.
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 Calculator In Leeds). 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. 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.
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.
- Contestant One requests two large numbers and four small numbers.
- Selection is:
- Randomly generated target is:
- 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.. There is a tactical element in selecting how many large numbers to include. One large and five small numbers is the most popular selection, despite two large numbers giving the best chance of the game being solvable exactly. Selections with zero or four large numbers are generally considered the hardest.
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. This was stopped when Riley first appeared. Anytime if a contestant changes his or her mind on how many large numbers for their selection, Riley places all the large numbers below the pile of selected numbers.
- 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):
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's last show along with Des, she left the numbers game with a regret from Charlie Reams' selection of all large, two small (25, 50, 75, & 100, and 6 & 4) with her final target of 297.
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.
On the 8 out of 10 Cats rematch episode, Joe Wilkinson took over Rachel's place for the second numbers game. During that round, contestant Sean Lock teamed with Rachel & it has his turn to pick. He requested all the large numbers. After Joe placed the six numbers, the target number (175) was too easy for both Sean & Jon to accomplish. Making Joe change the target number twice to make it harder (676).
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 used to ask if anyone in the audience knew the word, and if so, chose 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.
A "crucial Countdown conundrum" occurs if, before the conundrum, if both contestants have scores which are within ten points of each other. The studio lights are dimmed and 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. 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. Four conundrums have never been required to decide a winner.
- Conundrum is revealed:
- Contestant One buzzes, and says launching, which scores 10 points.
- Conundrum is revealed:
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 (11 to 3 in Countdown, 8 to 4 in DCedL).
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.
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. 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. 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, but now all shows follow the same format.
The rules regarding which words are permitted have changed with time. American spelling was allowed until 2002, and more unspecified inflections were assumed to be valid.
In September 2007, a new feature was added to the show in which, during a brief pause in the game after round nine, Susie Dent explains the origin of a word or phrase which she has been researching. For the short time Susie was on maternity leave this addition was not continued; however, when she returned on Wednesday 6 February 2008.
From 25 March 2013, Countdown adopted a new format 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. This new current format still maintains 15 rounds, but now with one extra numbers game and one less letters game. This means that both contestants get to pick an equal amount of numbers games (two each), much like the 14-round format used for series grand finals from 1983 to 2001. It is more similar to many of the foreign versions of the show, which typically contain more mathematical content. There is now a numbers game after every two letters games, apart from after round 11, which is now the slot occupied by Susie's Origin of Words section. The Dictionary Corner Guest now shares their anecdote half-way through part two of the programme after round six, instead of at the end of part one, as it has traditionally been since the programme began. The format began three weeks into the second section of Series 68.
Since Countdown's debut in 1982, there have been over 5,700 televised games and 67 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. More recently, fourteen-year-old Conor Travers became the youngest series champion in the show's history, 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.
In October 2010, Jack Hurst, a mathematics student at Pembroke College, Cambridge broke the record for the highest octochamp score, amassing 946 points over 8 games. He went on to win series 63. 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. The celebrities included Whiteley's successor Des Lynam, who beat Siân Lloyd. The highest and lowest scores were posted in the same game when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall beat Jilly Goolden 47–9.
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. 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.
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
Countdown is often referenced and parodied in British culture.
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.
Fairport Convention guitarist Simon Nicol named one of his solo records Consonant Please, Carol, echoing one of the show's most famous catchphrases.
The programme is mentioned in an episode of Irish sitcom Father Ted entitled " The Old Grey Whistle Theft", Still Game (in the episode "Wireless") and is also referenced in the very first episode of Little Britain from 2003. 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". 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1991, 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.
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.
The show has been sponsored by the following companies over the years:
|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.|
|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||current||Several different products have been advertised so far: Wellwoman; Wellman; Jointace; Pregnacare; Osteocare; Visionace; Cardioace; Wellkid; Menopace; Immunace; and Neurozan.|