Countdown (Channel 4, 1982-present)
Countdown is another one of those classic game shows that needs little explanation of its origins or rules really, lots of you should be familiar with what it’s all about, so in this piece I’ll write about why I like the show.
It is of course the challenging words and numbers game, based on a French format. Countdown is as old as Channel 4 itself, being the first ever programme they showed. The original host was of course Richard Whiteley. I don’t remember the show from its earliest days, but having seen some of the 80s episodes more recently a few things struck me.
Carol Vorderman was also with the show since day one but it surprised me how small her role was in the early series. She only appeared to solve the numbers puzzle, and different hostesses did the letters rounds. It surprising to think how many different hostesses there were in the earliest series, there were so many of them it seemed more like it was a game show in the style of Sale Of The Century, with Carol not becoming the single hostess until 1989.
Richard’s presentation of the show seemed a lot more stilted too. There was a lot of the “now this is interesting… this young man thinks that he has found a seven!”-type comments which were memorably parodied in a sketch on A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. It wasn’t until about a decade in that he started to relax and make silly jokes with Carol and it was clear that they enjoyed working with one another. He also had some catchphrases including “nine in a line… 30 seconds is the time”, followed by that famous music.
By the 90s the show had become very popular and it was a big success for Channel 4 in the ratings even though it was shown at 4:30pm and I always tried to watch it whenever I could among all the CBBC and CITV afternoon shows. It seemed that viewers wanted more so from the start of 1996 Countdown would be shown all year round instead of being alternated with Fifteen-To-One which moved to 4pm.
But producing about 250 episodes a year seemingly still wasn’t enough and in 2001 the show was extended to 45 minutes due to popular demand. It was still going along very well until in 2005 Richard died which was a very sad piece of news. I can’t believe it was almost a decade ago now, he was a great host and TV personality.
Countdown did return after a while though with new hosts, I think my favourite of the post-Whiteley era has to be Jeff Stelling, having already enjoyed watching him on Sky Sports, and after a while Carol left too of course. Unfortunately Countdown isn’t a show that you hear people talking much about any more partly because it is now shown at 2:10 and I don’t know how much longer it could run for, but you can’t exactly say that they haven’t got the best years out of it and they have now made over 6,000 episodes, more than any other British game show, and over the years a lot of very talented contestants of all ages have appeared and nowadays as well as a teapot and dictionaries they also compete for the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, a fitting tribute.