These are the ten people who have made the most appearances as host or co-host on Countdown since 1981. Who will come out on top?
10th. Anne Robinson (265 appearances, 2021-2022). Anne had previously made six appearances in Dictionary Corner in 1987. She became best-known for hosting shows including Points Of View, Watchdog, and The Weakest Link. Her appointment as host was a surprise, any many wondered if she would apply her curt style from The Weakest Link to a show with a much more cosy atmosphere. This even earned Countdown the honour of a Radio Times cover in anticipation of her debut. However, although she wasn’t rude to the contestants as such, it was clear that she wasn’t the most suitable choice, and she vanished about a few weeks into a series to the relief of many which sums it up really.
9th. Des Lynam (303 appearances, 2005-2006). Des found fame as a sport host, on BBC shows including Grandstand and Match Of The Day before surprisingly defecting to ITV. He was a contestant on a celebrity special in 1998 which he won. He had the difficult task of replacing the irreplaceable after Richard Whiteley’s departure. He hoped that viewers would approve by saying on his first edition “you can’t be more nervous than I am… I hope I’m not too much of a shock for you”. He acknowledged that the show was about the contestants, and he also brought an air of calm, where once the studio had threatened to descend into a cacophony. There was even a Saturday edition briefly added, meaning that Countdown was six days a week. Unfortunately, after a short while, Des became frustrated with having to travel to the studio, and he had also started to look rather bored. He soon departed, although he did return to appear in Dictionary Corner for the 5,000th edition.
8th. Des O’Connor (470 appearances, 2007-2008). Des had been famous for many years, as a comedian, game show host, and chart-topping singer. He added a touch of showbiz to things, and as he also had a daytime chat show for a short while a year or two before, five decades into his career he was appearing on TV more than ever. He decided to leave at the same time as Carol Vorderman though.
7th. Cathy Hytner (647 appearances, 1981-1987). Cathy put the letters on the board going all the way back to the unaired pilot, and eventually did the numbers too.
6th. Jeff Stelling (675 appearances, 2009-2011). Jeff found fame as a host on Sky Sports, and made his debut alongside Rachel Riley. Sometimes he did seem to think that he was hosting sport coverage, and sometimes fell back into thinking the game was a football match, but he showed a lot of enthusiasm, and I would have to say that he is my favourite of the post-Whiteley hosts. After his departure, he hosted game show Alphabetical, which wasn’t a success.
5th. Nick Hewer (2,129 appearances, 2012-2021). Nick first became known for being one of the assistants on The Apprentice. He was an unlikely choice for host, but he managed to always help things along, even if sometimes he looked like he was about to fall asleep. He was also the host for almost a decade.
4th. Rachel Riley (3,310+ appearances, 2009-present). When Rachel replaced Carol Vorderman, she was a newcomer to TV, but soon made the role her won. And 14 years later (how time flies), she is still there, and she has hosted various other shows.
3rd. Richard Whiteley (4,107 appearances, 1981-2005). I have already done some pieces reflecting on Richard’s career, so I shall just say that he was the host who had been there since the unaired pilots, and he presided over the peak of Countdown‘s popularity. His final edition was shown posthumously, and if he was still with us, he would’ve been 80 this year. Who knows if he would’ve been the host all these years on.
2nd. Carol Vorderman (4,832 appearances, 1982-2008). Carol was originally only a vital statistician, and she became the only co-host in 1989. She has also gone on to host several other TV shows, and her double-act with Richard Whiteley which eventually developed would it has to be said often veer from being hugely entertaining to immensely irritating (usually in the same edition). There was supposedly a big scandal with Carol’s departure, well if you read Woman’s Own magazine there was. But who could possibly top Carol’s huge amount of appearances to be the Number One?
1st. Susie Dent (5,250+ appearances, 1992-present). Susie made her first appearance as a lexicographer in 1992. By the mid-2000s she was the only lexicographer to appear in Dictionary Corner, and by the late-2000s she was officially made one of the co-hosts (which is how she qualifies for this list). Just like the break for the celebrity anecdote, Susie has one for the Origin Of Words feature, telling us about all of the weird and wonderful stories that are behind phrases. She is a regular to the point that in more recent years when she was been unavailable, there hasn’t been a stand-in for her. She has also released several books about the English language, and is seen as the ultimate authority on such things. Congratulations, Susie!