Coming soon is the 40th anniversary of the launch of game show Countdown, which is an opportunity to do one more piece. Some people say that there are too many shows on TV nowadays that feature unnecessary contributions from random celebrities. But Countdown was doing this long before this became a fashionable thing! In every edition, a guest celebrity appears alongside the lexicographer, and they determine whether the words offered are valid, and if they found any longer alternatives.
There is also an interlude where the celebrity can talk for a minute or two, and this has been used for various things. They can tell anecdotes, recite poetry, set puzzles, or even perform magic tricks. Over the years, lots of people from all areas of entertainment including TV hosts, actors, sportspeople, singers, and so on have appeared. As there has been an attempt to try out lots of people, hundreds have now featured, and most of them haven’t appeared for more than a week or two.
But some have managed to endure, and appear more often than most. I have put some numbers together and decided to reveal the Top 50 people who have appeared in Dictionary Corner the most times (and in a nice quirk, because there is a tie for last place, the list actually features 51 people). Each entry will feature a brief biography of who they are. Any further thoughts and memories are welcome. I’m fairly sure that these figures are accurate to the end of Series 85. Who’ll be top? Let’s meet those dictionary dwellers…
=50th: Mark Foster (37 appearances, 2010-2016) Mark is a swimmer who has been a medal winner in various tournaments around the world.
=50th: Brian Johnston (37 appearances, 1987-1992) Brian (or “Johnners” as he was known in the dressing room) was a cricket commentator on the TV and radio for almost five decades. He is arguably the quintessential host of BBC Radio’s Test Match Special, and he must be responsible for creating the cliché that even regular listeners aren’t familiar with of talking about cakes more than the cricket. He never said “the bowler’s Holding, the batman’s Willey” though. He was also often on the after-dinner speaking circuit, and hosted some game shows including Trivia Test Match.
=48th: Linda Papadopoulos (38 appearances, 2017-2022) Linda is a Canadian psychologist who used to appear on Big Brother to determine the behaviour of the housemates, so they could try and claim that there was an educational element to this show, and they weren’t just trying to manufacture arguments between everyone, honest. She has also written several books.
=48th: Sylvia Syms (38 appearances, 1988-1992) Sylvia is an actress, who appeared in several popular films in the 50s and 60s.
=46th: Kate Humble (39 appearances, 2009-2022) Kate has been a host of several wildlife and science shows.
=46th: Alistair McGowan (39 appearances, 2010-2018) Alistair is a comedian, who is best-known for being an impressionist. For a while he had his own comedy show The Big Impression where he showed off his variety of characters, his take on David Beckham seemed to turn up rather a lot.
=42nd: Nicki Chapman (40 appearances, 2013-2022) Nicki is someone who worked in the music business, which led to her being a judge on Popstars. She has also done lots of TV and radio hosting.
=42nd: Helen Fospero (40 appearances, 2015-2020) Helen is a TV host who was a regular on the GMTV sofa, along with appearing on Watchdog.
=42nd: Magnus Magnusson (40 appearances, 1997-2003) Magnus was a game show host at the more genial end of the scale, being in charge of Mastermind for 25 years, which is regarded as one of the toughest to win. He also wrote several books about history.
=42nd: Sheridan Morley (40 appearances, 1991-1997) Sheridan was a theatre and film critic for several newspapers, and he also did a lot of TV and radio work.
41st: Chris Packham (41 appearances, 2012-2021) Chris is another one who is known for hosting several shows about wildlife, including The Really Wild Show and Springwatch. He could happily watch an otter for hours. He was also a contestant on the second series of the celebrity version.
Positions 40-31 will be revealed soon…