Catchword (BBC2, 1988-1995)
Catchword was the long-running daytime afternoon word game and it could be said that this show was the BBC’s closest equivalent to Countdown. Catchword was originally only shown on the BBC in Scotland, but from 1988 it was shown nationally and hosted by Paul Coia, famous for making the first continuity announcement on Channel 4, being married to Debbie Greenwood (no relation), and he is now on the local radio circuit having recently hosted some programmes on BBC London. Paul would also be assisted in hosting the show by his friend Bryan the computer.
Three contestants took part to show off their wordpower. In the first round each contestant would be given ten three-letter combinations by Bryan and they would have four seconds to give a word which contained those letters in order. One of the things that people remember the most about Catchword was that contestants would sometimes give ludicrously long words as their answer. This was because as well as one point scored for every correct word as verified by the dictionary, there was a three point bonus for the contestant who gave the longest word in the round, which is why everyone who appeared on the show learned how to spell floccinaucinihilipilification just in case.
The other rounds varied throughout the years, but they usually followed the format of the next round featuring anagrams. All of the anagrams would be on the same subject and contestants simply had to buzz in to give the correct answer. Bryan would also make an annoying beeping noise every time a new clue was generated.
The next round was similar to round one, only this time contestants were given two letters by Bryan, and they could add a third of their choice. They then had 30 seconds to give as many words as they could featuring the three letters in order, again with a three-point bonus on offer for the longest word made.
There were then some more rounds, including one where a sentence was given and contestants had to spot the word hidden inside it, plus also rounds featuring vowels and synonyms. The final round was simply the same as the first, and if the scores were particularly close it could lead to an interesting finish.
At the end of every show, the highest-scoring contestant is declared the winner and is invited to appear next time as the defending champion. If they win five games in a row, they retire undefeated, and they would win the star prize which again varied but was usually a Commodore Amiga or a Philips CDi Player, and as many dictionaries and reference books as they wanted.
Catchword ran on BBC2 for almost a decade and 500 shows, but it doesn’t seem to be as fondly thought of as Countdown, but I do remember watching it often and an edition recently turned up on YouTube which pleased me. In later years the format was changed slightly so that every contestant played the word game round at an individual podium and there was always an annoying piece of music played as they walked to it. This turned out to be the final series though and apart from a repeat run on UK Living shortly after it ended Catchword hasn’t been seen on our screens since.