Game Show Memories – Game Show Stars Part 5.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The many faces of Richard Whiteley from a 2000 edition of Countdown

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.

4 thoughts on “Game Show Memories – Game Show Stars Part 5.

  1. Des Elmes says:

    I’ll never forget the morning of 27 June ’05 – one last look at Ceefax just before I flew out to my uncle in New York and there it was on page 100, “Tributes paid to presenter Whiteley”.

    Richard’s passing moved me more than most other celebrity passings, too. Indeed, I had no idea that he had been ill beforehand…

    It’s easy to say that he (and Carol) would still be hosting the ‘Down if he were still with us. He wouldn’t be far off 80 – but, of course, Bruce Forsyth was still hosting Strictly at 85 and Nicholas Parsons was still hosting Just a Minute at a stonking 96 (I certainly expect Brucie to be another of Adam’s Game Show Stars 😉 ). As a proud Yorkshireman, however, Richard would almost certainly not have been happy about the show being moved from Leeds to Manchester…

    Almost frightening to think that the ‘Down’s extension from 30 minutes to 45 (and from nine rounds to fifteen) was twenty years ago now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Richard Whiteley would be 77 now, so I imagine it could be possible that he would still be hosting Countdown, as he would only be about a year or two older than the two most recent hosts.
      I was aware that Richard had been ill, he was in hospital with pneumonia, and he was said to be recovering well, but then it was discovered that he had a heart defect, and needed emergency surgery.
      The original plan was to start the next series with a familiar face from Dictionary Corner hosting a week each until Richard returned, I remember seeing in a magazine that Richard Digance was listed to host the first week, but after Richard’s death this idea was abandoned, and in a way I’m grateful that they didn’t end up going down the guest hosts route.
      I might review Richard Whiteley Unbriefed soon too, and yes I’ll definitely consider Nicholas Parsons for this series too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Des Elmes says:

        Two months older than Nick Hewer and nine months older than Robbo, to be precise. 😉

        Richard died the day before filming with guest hosts was due to begin, with Barry Norman, Esther Rantzen, Tim Rice, Jennie Bond, Nicholas Owen and Lesley Garrett all booked at that point in addition to Richard Digance. Without meaning to be disrespectful, I too am glad in a way that the guest host idea didn’t quite make it to the screen.

        Liked by 1 person

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