Here’s someone who is fondly remembered for hosting one game show, although he did do much more TV work beyond this. Richard Whiteley started his career in the 60s working in news, for ITN, and then in the Yorkshire region. He was already a familiar figure to viewers for hosting Calendar, when in the early-80s when was chosen to host the British version of a game show that had already been running for a long time in France.
Calendar Countdown ran for only one series, but when Channel 4 felt that they needed something for their afternoon slot, Countdown was chosen, and this was the show that they launched with, a fairly low-key choice it seemed. But very few could’ve predicted just how long-running and successful this show would become. If you were in the Yorkshire region, you could now get a double dose of Whiteley!
His style was rather stilted at first, but he soon relaxed, becoming known as much for his terrible wordplay as for his encouraging of the contestants. By the early-90s, Carol Vorderman had gone from being the mathematician in every other edition to being the main co-host, Richard and Carol soon formed a popular double-act, and about a decade on Countdown was continuing to do well.
Viewers decided that they wanted more, so in the mid-90s, Countdown was on Channel 4 all year round, by which point he had left Calendar. In the late-90s he achieved an ambition when he had his own chat show on BBC1 called Richard Whiteley Unbriefed, because he didn’t research the guests in advance, not because he interviewed them not wearing any trousers! Or maybe he did.
The guests would simply come on stage as a surprise, and he would have to ask questions off the top of his head based on what he knew about them, which sometimes wasn’t too much. This was a fun idea that should’ve got a full series. By the early-2000s he had long settled into the Countdown role, and he also appeared on several other shows as a panellist where he showed off his knowledge and didn’t seem to mind sending himself up.
Countdown was then extended to 45 minutes, although by this point, even though he knew when to be silly and when to be serious, Richard and Carol’s endless laughing and joking seemed to be overshadowing the game. He also hosted That’s Your Lot, shown only in the Yorkshire region, where it seems he would cheerily think nothing of banging himself in an awkward place.
Despite all of this, there was much shock at his unexpected departure in 2005. By this point he had hosted almost 4,000 editions of Countdown, with his final one being shown posthumously. People of all ages from across the UK sent their condolences. I try not to get too worked up by celebrity deaths, but this one moved me more than most, I’m not sure why, you just thought that he would always be there really.