Game Show Memories – The Countdown Top 50 (Part 5).

And now… here are the ten people who have made the most appearances in dictionary corner over the past four decades…

10th: Jan Harvey (134 appearances, 1992-2002) Jan is an actress who has appeared in Howards’ Way… and… er, lots of other things I’m sure.

9th: Paul Zenon (145 appearances, 2004-2021) Paul is a magician. In the 90s, he showed off his skills on some CBBC shows including Tricky Business and Tricks And Tracks. So unsurprisingly he often takes the chance to dazzle and show off his crazy tricks. You won’t believe what he can do with a pack of cards. His mate Arbie The Robot would be proud I’m sure.

8th: Martin Jarvis (152 appearances, 1990-2008) Martin is another successful actor, who has a very nice voice and cosy presence, which is probably why he turned up so often.

7th: Geoffrey Durham (164 appearances, 1995-2006) Geoffrey is a magician. In the 80s, he was known as “The Great Soprendo”, and he was also married to the much-missed Victoria Wood. By the 90s though, he had lost a lot of weight, and was a rather regular presence in the corner. As well as tricks, he would also set puzzles that viewers could ponder during the break, and then reveal the solution.

6th: Phil Hammond (170 appearances, 2006-2021) Phil has a double career as a doctor and a comedian. He used to be in a comedy group called Struck Off And Die (ha-ha), and as well as making jokes about healthcare, he would make lots of serious points as well. He has also written books, and made documentaries.

5th: Richard Digance (173 appearances, 1996-2020) Richard is a comedian and musician, who became known as “The West Ham Warbler”. He had several TV series in the 80s and 90s, where he would tell jokes in a rather dour style, and he would play his guitar and perform his comedy songs. This means that he always had a rather bizarre anecdote or two to tell.

4th: Philip Franks (176 appearances, 1992-2006) Philip is an actor, who is best-known for appearing in The Darling Buds Of May, which was one of the most successful TV dramas of its era, and also Heartbeat. He is one of the more cultured guests, he set puzzles that were usually based around lists, and he would go on about famous writers and poets. He was also in the corner for Richard Whiteley’s final edition.

3rd: Nigel Rees (184 appearances, 1984-2001) Nigel is a writer who is best-known for hosting the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game Quote… Unquote, and compiling books about humorous graffiti. Which is great news for people who find phrases like “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure” amusing. He is also something of a Richard Whiteley lookalike. And when he made his 100th appearance in the corner, he was given a bottle of champagne to mark the occasion.

2nd: Richard Stilgoe (240 appearances, 1985-2006) Richard’s talents are rather hard to define. He has been a songwriter and musician, he became known for performing songs that reflected on what was happening in the news, although he always liked to look on the brighter side, on shows including That’s Life! He has also worked in musicals, and has done a lot of charitable work. He is best-known for making anagrams of the contestants’ names, which are sometimes rather bizarre. He has also received a knighthood, presumably for his contribution to charity, not anagrams.

1st: Gyles Brandreth (333 appearances, 1983-2017) As if it could’ve been anyone else! The ultimate dictionary dweller, Gyles is just about the quintessential Countdown guest. Even people who aren’t too familiar with this show would know that throughout the 80s and 90s, Gyles could often be found making his observations, usually whilst wearing some horrid knitwear. He has had a remarkable career, there really is little that he hasn’t attempted to do, he is also a keen Scrabble fan, and he seemingly has an amusing anecdote for every occasion. Nobody else really does it like Gyles. Congratulations!

Well I hope that you found this interesting, why not tell me your favourite. Next, I might as well do a list of the other important element of Countdown, the hosts, co-hosts, and lexicographers. That’ll be soon…

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4 thoughts on “Game Show Memories – The Countdown Top 50 (Part 5).

  1. Nice one, Adam.

    As for a favourite: it has to be Gyles. I wasn’t around in the knitwear days (perhaps that is to his benefit) but I’ve always found him to be good value and a nice link to the olden days, especially after Carol left. Honorable mentions to Richard Stilgoe, Barry Cryer, Paul Zenon and Dr. Phil, among others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Des Elmes says:

    As I said, I reckon that if Countdown is still going in 2062 (whatever it looks like then), Gyles will still be the most prolific DC guest – what with the volume of new guests seemingly increasing all the time.

    We’re at the stage now where celebs born in the ’90s are appearing in DC – including X Factor 2009 winner Joe McElderry (born on 16 June 1991) and, in a few weeks’ time, curling legend Eve Muirhead (born on 22 April 1990). And not only are these celebs younger than Rachel, but they’re also young enough for Susie to be their mother. Who’d have thunk it? 😉

    Glancing over this Top 50, one notes that Martin Jarvis, Tom O’Connor, Keith Barron, Rick Wakeman and Barry Norman – with some 516 appearances between them – all stopped appearing in 2008. We know Rick was disgusted enough by the manner of Vorders’ departure to vow never to appear on the show again; it’s quite possible that the other four – three of whom are sadly no longer with us – also decided they weren’t going to continue without Vorders.

    Richard Digance, meanwhile, appeared in Rachel’s first series – but then didn’t appear again for eleven years. One wonders if he still prefers Vorders to Rachel (nothing wrong with that), particularly as he and Vorders have walked the Great North Run – yes, walked it – on a number of occasions alongside Whiters’ former partner Kathryn Apanowicz, to raise money for cancer care. (Kathryn herself made 28 appearances in DC between 2001 and 2005, understandably stopping when Whiters died.)

    Richard Stilgoe, Philip Franks and Geoffrey Durham – 580 appearances between them – all stopped in 2006. It’s quite possible that they all felt the show just wasn’t the same without Dirty Wheelchair, to be anagrammatic like Stilgoe.

    Nigel Rees stopped appearing after the first fifteen-round series – which makes one wonder if he preferred it when the show was only 30 minutes and nine rounds, and still does (again, nothing wrong with that).

    Jan Harvey stopped not long after Nigel; two decades later, she’s still the most prolific female DC guest and will almost certainly hold on to this accolade for a few more years (Jo Brand is still over thirty appearances behind at the time of writing).

    Dr Phil is currently sixth, but three more stints – assuming they all run for five episodes, and aren’t shortened due to Covid or whatever – and he’ll move into the bronze medal position. 😉 He may well make it to 200 appearances too – but if he’s to surpass Stilgoe’s tally, he’ll have to continue appearing on the show for another seven years at least. As I hinted at the start of this comment, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will ever surpass Gyles.

    Adam has pointed out that Philip Franks was the guest for Whiters’ final episode. Paul Zenon got to do a magic trick on Des Lynam’s final ep (and also on Nick Hewer’s first), while Jon Culshaw got to do an impression or two for Jeff Stelling’s finale. And of course, Gyles was next to Susie for Vorders’, and Des O’Connor’s, final episode (at Vorders’ request, it seems).

    Finally, one might be surprised to learn that Jo Brand and Pam Ayres are the only two guests to have appeared with all of the first six full-time hosts (careful wording there). Gyles didn’t appear with Des L – or with Robbo, for that matter – while Dr Phil only made his debut in Des L’s second series. And Richard Digance and Paul Zenon appeared with the first five hosts, but not with Robbo – what she would have made of Paul’s magic tricks, we can only ever speculate (he didn’t take part on the Weakest Link, AFAIK).

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I recall, Gyles was originally billed for Des Lynam’s final week but apparently couldn’t make it.

      There was some gossip around 2009 about the show trying to refresh its roster of guests, which could explain why Digance and other regulars stopped appearing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your analysis, I was hoping that this piece would attract your attention.
      This list wasn’t too hard to compile, the majority of the statistics are easily available to find online.
      I might as well do a list of the other main part of the show – all the hosts, co-hosts, and lexicographers who have contributed over the years too, there have been plenty of them, and again any additional thoughts are welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

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