1997 was the 15th anniversary of the classic game show Countdown which has served Channel 4 so well since day one, so the decision was finally made for the match that everyone wanted with the two main hosts of the show Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman competing against one another as contestants in a special edition shown on Christmas Day of that year.
Of course this meant that they would have to find someone else to host this edition, so Fifteen-To-One‘s William G Stewart deputised and he had as many terrible puns as Richard. It was good seeing him appear on Countdown after Richard and Carol had appeared as contestants on his Fifteen-To-One celebrity special in 1990. The regular lexicographer Susie Dent deputised for Carol in the letters and numbers. And there was still space for a third great game show host to appear as Magnus Magnusson who had recently retired from hosting Mastermind after 25 years was in Dictionary Corner.
The format was slightly different to a regular half-hour edition of Countdown as it was at the time, there were only seven rounds played instead of nine, and this format would also be used for the primetime spin-off celebrity series which was shown the following year. This special was designed to answer a few questions. Had Richard picked up any of the long words that had featured on the show over the years to use in the letters rounds? Will Carol (appearing under her married name Carol King) have something of an advantage when it comes to the numbers rounds?
The game was played in a rather light-hearted style, everyone was in a rather jolly mood, thanks partly to the rather over decorated Christmas set design, and the party hat -wearing studio audience but as it turned out Carol beat Richard 43-30, partly thanks to the conundrum, the rather appropriate word for the occasion MISTLETOE. Boy, was Richard’s face red. It didn’t matter though because at the end of the programme everyone had a good old-fashioned Christmas singalong.
This was a great variation on the regular Countdown format, and of course the show is still running after 33 years and over 6,000 editions, with the 73rd series coming to a conclusion next week. Watching this edition again just reminds you how fondly thought of the format and Richard and Carol’s presentation of it was at the time with lots of fun.