- Countdown (game show)
Title card since 2009.
Genre Game show Created by Armand Jammot Presented by Main presenters:
Richard Whiteley (1982–2005)
Des Lynam (2005–06)
Des O'Connor (2007–08)
Jeff Stelling (2009–11)
Nick Hewer (2012)
Carol Vorderman (1982–2008)
Rachel Riley (2009–present)
Susie Dent (1992–present)
Theme music composer Alan Hawkshaw Country of origin United Kingdom Language(s) English No. of series 64 (Original series)
13 (Champion of Champions)
2 (Countdown Masters)
1 (Celebrity series)
No. of episodes 5088 (as of 23 July 2010) (Original series)
(inc. specials, not inc. Masters series)
121 (Champion of Champions)
104 (Countdown Masters)
8 (Celebrity series)
Production Camera setup Multiple-camera setup Running time 24 mins (excluding adverts)
30 mins (including, 1982–2001)
36 mins (excluding adverts)
45 mins (including, 2001–present)
Production company(s) Yorkshire Television (1982–2005)
Granada Productions (2003–09)
ITV Studios (2009–present)
Broadcast Original channel Channel 4 (1982–present)
Picture format 4:3 (1982–2001)
Original airing Original series:
2 November 1982–present
Champion of Champions:
15 October 1984 – 30 January 2009
3 April 1989 – 5 March 1991
23 April – 18 June 1998
External links Website
Countdown is a British game show involving word and number puzzles. It is produced by ITV Studios and broadcast on Channel 4. It is presented by Jeff Stelling, assisted by Rachel Riley, with regular lexicographer Susie Dent. It was the first programme to be aired on Channel 4, and over sixty-five series have been broadcast since its debut on 2 November 1982. With over 5,000 episodes, it is one of the longest-running game shows in the world, along with the original French version, Des chiffres et des lettres, which has been running on French television continuously since 1965. Countdown is recorded in Manchester at Granada Studios, after moving from The Leeds Studios in 2009.
The programme was presented by the late Richard Whiteley for over twenty years, until his death in June 2005. His position was taken over by Des Lynam, who retired from the show in December 2006 and was replaced by Des O'Connor on 2 January 2007. Both O'Connor and Carol Vorderman, the show's co-host, who had been on the programme since it began, left the show in December 2008. From 2009, Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley replaced O'Connor and Vorderman respectively. In May 2011, Stelling announced he will leave the programme at the end of 2011, with Nick Hewer to take over in 2012.
A celebrity guest features in every programme, and provides a brief interlude before the first advertisement break. The two contestants in each episode compete in three disciplines: eleven letters rounds, in which the contestants attempt to make the longest word possible from nine randomly chosen letters; three numbers rounds, in which the contestants must use arithmetic to reach a random target number from six other numbers; and the conundrum, a buzzer round in which the contestants compete to solve a nine-letter anagram. During the series heats, the winning contestant returns the next day until he or she loses or has accumulated eight wins. The best contestants are invited back for the series finals, which are decided in knockout format. Contestants of exceptional skill have received national media coverage, and the programme as a whole is widely recognised and parodied within British culture.
- 1 History
- 2 Format
- 3 Notable contestants
- 4 In popular culture
- 5 Transmissions
- 6 Merchandise
- 7 International versions
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Countdown is based on the French game show Des chiffres et des lettres (Numbers and Letters), created by Armand Jammot. The format was brought to Britain by Marcel Stellman, a Belgian record executive, who had watched the French show and believed it could be popular overseas. Yorkshire Television purchased the format and commissioned a series of eight shows under the title Calendar Countdown, which were to be a spin-off of their regional news programme Calendar. As the presenter of Calendar, Richard Whiteley was the natural choice to present Calendar Countdown–his daily appearances on both shows earned him the nickname "Twice Nightly". These shows were only broadcast in the Yorkshire area.
An additional pilot episode was made, with a refined format, although it was never broadcast. A new British television channel, Channel 4, was due to launch in November 1982, and bought the newly-renamed Countdown on the strength of this additional episode. Countdown was the first programme to be broadcast on the new channel.
“ As the countdown to a brand new channel ends, a brand new Countdown begins. ”
Calendar Countdown was presented by Richard Whiteley, with Cathy Hytner and Denise McFarland-Cruickshanks managing the numbers and letters rounds respectively. When Countdown was commissioned for Channel 4 the number of hostesses expanded further: Kathy Hytner and Beverley Isherwood selected the letters and numbers tiles respectively, and calculations in the numbers rounds were checked by Linda Barrett or Carol Vorderman. Vorderman, a Cambridge graduate and member of Mensa, was appointed as one of the numbers experts after responding to an advertisement in a national newspaper which asked for a young woman who would like to become a game show hostess; unlike almost any other game show hostess of the time, however, the advertisement also made it clear that the applicants' appearance would be less important than their being a talented mathematician. Gradually the tasks performed by the extra presenters were taken over by Carol Vorderman, whose role within the show essentially became that of co-presenter.
The show was briefly taken off air following Whiteley's death from pneumonia in June 2005, but reappeared in October 2005 with Des Lynam (who had featured on Celebrity Countdown in 1998) as the main presenter. On 30 September 2006, Lynam said that he had decided to leave the programme after Christmas 2006.
Lynam's departure was due to travel requirements for the demanding filming schedule, with the show recorded in Leeds and Lynam living 250 miles away in Worthing, West Sussex. Channel 4 had tried an extra programme on Saturday in early 2006 which Lynam had agreed to, subject to part of the filming schedule being moved nearer to his home. However, viewers reacted angrily to the idea of the show leaving Leeds and, when Lynam found out that a move would cause considerable disruption for many of the programme's camera crew, he decided to leave.
On 7 November 2006, it was announced that Des O'Connor would succeed Lynam as host. Lynam's final show as Countdown presenter was broadcast on 22 December 2006. O'Connor first presented Countdown on 2 January 2007.
The other studio mainstay is Dictionary Corner, which houses a lexicographer and that week's celebrity guest (AKA "GoD" or "Guardian of the Dictionaries"). Initially farmer & broadcaster Ted Moult was on hand for verification. The role of the lexicographer is to verify the words offered by the contestants (see Letters round rules) and point out any longer or otherwise interesting words available. The lexicographer is aided in finding these words by the show's producers, Michael Wylie (until his death in November 2008) and Damian Eadie. The production team is insistent, that no computer program is used in this role, and that the words suggested in Dictionary Corner have been found manually.
Many lexicographers have appeared over the years, but since her debut in 1992, Susie Dent has become synonymous with the role, and has made over a thousand appearances. The celebrity guest, sometimes known as the "Dictionary Dweller", also contributes words, and provides a short interlude at the end of the first section of the show. Dwellers have included Jo Brand, Martin Jarvis, Richard Digance, Geoffrey Durham, Gyles Brandreth, Ken Bruce and John Sergeant providing poems, anecdotes, puzzles and magic tricks. Alison Heard replaced Susie Dent over the winter of 2007–08, whilst Dent was on maternity leave; Susie Dent returned to Countdown on 6 February 2008.
It was announced in July 2008 that Des O'Connor would be stepping down as host in December 2008. In the same month it became apparent that long-serving presenter and number-cruncher Carol Vorderman would also leave the gameshow at the same time.
On 21 November 2008, Jeff Stelling was confirmed as the new host, with Oxford graduate Rachel Riley in the Vorderman role. Riley has since become known for her stylish outfits worn on the show. It was announced on 24 May 2011 that Stelling would be leaving the programme, and will present his final show in December 2011.
Countdown quickly established cult status within British television – an image which it maintains today, despite numerous changes of rules and personnel. The programme's audience comprises mainly students, housewives and pensioners, owing to the "teatime" broadcast slot and inclusive appeal of its format and presentation. Countdown has been one of Channel 4's most-watched programmes for over twenty years, but has never won a major television award. When Des Lynam became the new presenter after Whiteley's death in 2005, the show regularly drew an average 1.7 million viewers every day – which was around half a million more than in the last few years of Richard Whiteley presenting – and the Series 54 final, on 26 May 2006, attracted 2.5 million viewers. Up to 2 million viewers had watched the show daily in its previous 4:15 p.m. slot. The drop in viewers following the scheduling change, coupled with the show's perceived educational benefits, even caused Labour MP Jonathan Shaw to table a motion in the UK Parliament, requesting that the show be returned to its later time. Minor scheduling changes have subsequently seen the show move from 3:15 to 3:30, to 3:45 to 3:25, and 3:10.
In keeping with the show's friendly nature, contestants compete not for money but the Countdown winner's teapot (first introduced in December 1998), which is custom-made and can only be obtained by winning a game on the programme. The prize for the series winner is a leather-bound copy of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary, worth GB£4,000. David Acton, winner of Series 31, opted for a CD-ROM version of the dictionaries, not wanting to accept leather-bound books owing to his strict veganism, and he donated the monetary difference to charity.
Since 2006, the series champion also receives the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, in memory of the show's original presenter.
Though the style and colour scheme of the set have changed many times (and the show itself moved to Manchester, after more than 25 years in Leeds) the clock has always provided the centrepiece and, like the clock music composed by Alan Hawkshaw, is an enduring and well-recognised feature of Countdown. Executive producer John Meade once commissioned Hawkshaw to revise the music for extra intensity; after hundreds of complaints from viewers, the old tune was reinstated.
The first episode of Countdown was repeated on 1 October 2007 on More4 and on 2 November 2007 on Channel 4, as part of Channel 4 at 25, a season of celebratory Channel 4 programmes as it celebrated its 25th birthday.
On 2 November 2007, Countdown celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary and aired a special 'birthday episode'. The two players were 2006 winner Conor Travers and 2002 winner Chris Wills. However, for the rounds, VIP guests selected the letters and numbers. Guests included Gordon Brown, Amir Khan and Richard Attenborough. A statement from the French TV network France Télévisions was read out on air by Carol Vorderman to commend Channel 4 on its success of Countdown.
On 26 March 2010, Queen Elizabeth II congratulated Countdown for amassing 5,000 episodes.
Departures of Vorderman and O'Connor
On 23 July 2008, it was announced that O'Connor would be leaving the show at the end of the 59th series in December 2008 to concentrate on other projects.
ITV Productions announced on 25 July 2008 that Carol Vorderman would also be leaving at the end of the same series.
Vorderman had been willing to accept a 33% salary decrease in line with a 33% budget cut being imposed on the show, but felt she was 'forced' to leave after being asked to accept a 90% pay cut. Her agent, John Miles, claims Vorderman had been told the show had survived the death of host Richard Whiteley in 2005 and could "easily survive without you."
The early favourite in the betting to replace Des O'Connor, Rory Bremner, ruled himself out. Later reports suggested Alexander Armstrong and Jeff Stelling as potential hosts, although Armstrong later revealed he had refused the job. Anthea Turner, Ulrika Jonsson, and Myleene Klass were all linked with Vorderman's job; however, Channel 4 then began to search for a previously unknown male or female arithmetician with "charm and charisma". Eventually, on 21 November 2008, after O'Connor and Vorderman had finished filming, it was confirmed that Stelling and Oxford maths graduate Rachel Riley would join the show, with Susie Dent continuing as resident lexicographer.
Countdown has occupied a tea-time broadcast slot since its inception. Currently an episode lasts around 45 minutes including advertising breaks. During the normal series, the winner of each game returns for the next day's show. If a player wins eight games, he is declared an "octochamp" and retires until the series finals. At the end of the series, the eight players with most wins (or the highest total score in the event of a tie) are invited back to compete in the series finals. They are seeded in a knockout tournament, with the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, and so on. The winner of this knockout, which culminates in the Grand Final, becomes the series champion. Each series lasts around six months, with about 125 episodes.
Approximately every four series, a Champion of Champions tournament takes place. For this, sixteen of the best players to have appeared since the previous Championship are invited back for another knockout tournament. The producer, former contestant Damian Eadie, decides which players to include, but typically the tournament includes the series winners and other noteworthy contestants. Series 33 was designated a "Supreme Championship", in which 56 of the best contestants from all the previous series returned for another knockout tournament. Series 10 champion Harvey Freeman was declared Supreme Champion after beating Allan Saldanha in the final. There are also occasional special episodes, in which past contestants return for themed matches. For example, David Acton and Kenneth Michie returned for a rematch of their Series 31 final, while brothers and former contestants Sanjay and Sandeep Mazumder played off against each other on 20 December 2004.
The game is split into three sections, separated by advertising breaks. The first two sections each contain four letters rounds and a numbers round, while the last section has three letters rounds, a numbers round and a final "Conundrum". At the end of the first two sections, Stelling poses an anagram with a cryptic clue for the viewers, called the Teatime Teaser–the solution is revealed at the start of the next section. When the Teatime Teaser was first introduced, the anagrams were seven letters long, but they have since been extended to eight.
Letter tiles are arranged face-down in two piles; one all consonants, the other vowels. The contestant picks a pile, and Riley reveals the top tile from that pile and places it on the board. A selection of nine tiles is generated in this way, and must contain at least three vowels and four consonants. Then the clock is started and both contestants have thirty seconds to come up with the longest word they can make from the available letters. Each letter may be used only as often as it appears in the selection. The frequencies of the letters within each pile are weighted according to their frequency in natural English, in the same manner as Scrabble. For example, there are many Ns and Rs in the consonant pile, but only one Q. The letter frequencies are altered by the producers from time to time, so any published list does not necessarily reflect the letters used in any particular programme.
Contestants write down the words they have found during the round, in case they both have the same one. After the thirty seconds are up, the players declare the length of their chosen word, with the player who selected the letters declaring first. If either player has not written their word down in time, he or she must declare this also. The words are then revealed. If either player has not written their word down, their word is revealed first; otherwise, the shorter word is shown first. Only the contestant with the longer word scores points; both score in the event of a tie. One point is scored per letter, except for nine-letter words, which score double points. If a contestant offers an invalid word then they score no points. If the second player reveals the same word as the first, this must be proved by showing the word to the other contestant. Finally, Dictionary Corner reveals the best words they could find from the selection, aided by the production team.
Any word which appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English is allowable, as well as some inflections. Standard inflections of nouns and verbs–for example, escapes, escaped and escaping–are accepted even though not explicitly shown in the dictionary. Comparative and superlative forms of monosyllabic adjectives–for example, greater and greatest–are valid although these too are not explicitly shown. For longer adjectives, the inflections must be stated explicitly. However, some words given in the dictionary are not permitted: proper nouns (Kurdistan), hyphenated words (re-embark), some plurals of mass nouns (mankinds), and words that occur only in combination–for example, mistle is invalid as it is used only in mistle thrush. Also, only British spelling is permitted–American spellings and inflections, such as flavor and signaled, are invalid.
- Contestant One chooses five consonants, then three vowels, then another consonant.
- Selection is:
- G Y H D N O E U R.
- Contestant One declares 7, while Contestant Two declares 8.
- Contestant One reveals younger, but Contestant Two has hydrogen and scores eight points. Contestant One receives no points for this round.
- Dictionary Corner notes greyhound, which would have scored eighteen points, since nine letter words score double.
One contestant selects six of twenty-four shuffled tiles. The tiles are arranged into two groups: four "large numbers" (25, 50, 75 and 100) and the remainder "small numbers", which comprise two each of the numbers 1 to 10. The contestant chooses how many large numbers are in the selection; anywhere from none to all four. A random three-digit target is generated by an electronic machine, affectionately known as "CECIL" (which stands for Countdown Electronic Computer In Leeds). The contestants then have thirty seconds to get as near to the target as possible by combining the six numbers selected using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Not all numbers need to be used. A number can be used as many times as it appears. Fractions are not allowed–only integers may be used at any stage of the calculation.
Points are awarded for the closest solution, and again both contestants score if the solutions are equally close. 10 points are given for an exact answer, 7 points for a non-exact solution up to 5 from the target, and 5 points for a solution between 6 and 10 from the target. If neither contestant can get within 10, no points are awarded.
- Contestant One requests two large numbers and four small numbers.
- Selection is:
- 75, 50, 2, 3, 8, 7.
- Randomly generated target is:
- Contestant One declares 813, while Contestant Two declares 815.
- Contestant One is closer and so reveals: 75 + 50 – 8 = 117, and 117 × 7 – (3 × 2) = 813, which scores seven points.
- Rachel Riley notes: 50 + 8 = 58, and 7 × 2 × 58 = 812, which would have scored ten points.
In some games, there are many ways to reach the target exactly–the example target above could also be reached by 7 × (75 + 50 + 2 – 8 – 3) = 812. Not all games are solvable, and for a few selections it is impossible even to get within 10, most commonly when a contestant picks six small numbers and the target number is quite large.. There is a tactical element in selecting how many large numbers to include. One large and five small numbers is the most popular selection, despite two large numbers giving the best chance of the game being solvable exactly. Selections with zero or four large numbers are generally considered the hardest. It is also possible to obtain an odd number with only even numbers.
A special edition, broadcast on 15 March 2010, for two previous series champions, Kirk Bevins and Chris Davies, used instead of the usual four large numbers, the numbers 12, 37 and two numbers unrevealed for the duration of the show. In a further special broadcast on 16 August 2010 between the Series 59 finalists Charlie Reams and Junaid Mubeen, the other two numbers were revealed to be 62 and 87.
The final round of the game is the "Countdown Conundrum". A board revolves to reveal the "conundrum"–a nine-letter anagram, usually arranged in the form of two condensed words (see example). The contestants have thirty seconds to find the nine-letter word. The first contestant to buzz with the correct answer (the champion rings in with a bell, while the challenger rings in with a buzzer) is awarded ten points, but each contestant may guess only once. If neither contestant guesses correctly, the presenter used to ask if anyone in the audience knew the word, and if so, chose someone to shout it out. (This was stopped temporarily in 2009, because of difficulties with camera angles in the new studio layout.) Once a contestant guesses correctly or the time expires, a second board rotates to reveal the answer. Each conundrum is designed to have only one solution but if, unintentionally, the conundrum has two answers (e.g. CARTHORSE and ORCHESTRA) then either is accepted.
A "crucial Countdown conundrum" occurs if, before the conundrum, the leading contestant is ahead by ten points or fewer. The studio lights are dimmed and the first contestant to answer correctly wins the game. If the scores are level after the conundrum, additional conundrums are used until the match is decided.
- Conundrum is revealed:
- C H I N A L U N G.
- Contestant One buzzes, and says launching, which scores 10 points.
- Conundrum is revealed:
The rules of Countdown are derived from those of Des chiffres et des lettres. Perhaps the biggest difference is the length of the round; DCedL's number rounds are each 45 seconds long to Countdown's 30. DCedL also feature "duels", in which players compete in short tasks such as mental arithmetic problems, extracting two themed words from another, or being asked to spell a word correctly. Other minor differences include a different numbers scoring system (9 points for an exact solution, or 6 points for the closest inexact solution in DCedL) and the proportion of letters to numbers rounds (11 to 3 in Countdown, 8 to 4 in DCedL).
The pilot episode followed significantly different rules from the current ones. Most noticeably, only eight letters were selected for each letters round. If two contestants offered a word of the same length, or an equally close solution to a numbers game, then only the contestant who made the selection for that round was awarded points. Also, only five points were given for an exact numbers solution, three for a solution within 5, and one point for the closer solution, no matter how far away.
Until the end of Series 21, if the two contestants had equal scores after the first conundrum, the match was considered a draw and they both returned for the next show. A significant change in the format occurred in September 2001, when the show was expanded from nine rounds and 30 minutes to the current fifteen rounds and 45 minutes. The older format was split into two halves, each having three letters and one numbers game, with the conundrum at the end of the second half. When the format was expanded to fifteen rounds, Richard Whiteley continued to refer jokingly to the three segments of the show as "halves". Under the old format, Grand Finals were specially extended shows of fourteen rounds, but now all shows follow the same format.
In September 2007 a new feature was added to the show in which, during a brief pause in the game after round nine, Susie Dent explains the origin of a word or phrase which she has been researching. For the short time Susie was on maternity leave this addition was not continued; however, when she returned on Wednesday 6 February 2008, she continued the feature once again.
Since Countdown's debut in 1982, there have been over 5,000 televised games and 64 complete series. There have also been thirteen Champion of Champions tournaments, with the most recent starting in January 2009.
Several of Countdown's most successful contestants have received national media coverage. Teenager Julian Fell set a record score of 146 in December 2002. More recently, fourteen-year-old Conor Travers became the youngest series champion in the show's history, and 11 year old Kai Laddiman became the youngest octochamp for 20 years.
At eight years old, Tanmay Dixit was one of the youngest players ever to appear on the show when he achieved two wins in March 2005. He also received press attention for his offerings in the letters round, which included fannies and farted.
In October 2010, Jack Hurst, a mathematics student at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge broke the record for the highest octochamp score, amassing 946 points over 8 games. He went on to win series 63. Three former contestants have returned to Countdown as part of the production team: Michael Wylie, Mark Nyman (as producer, and occasional lexicographer in Dictionary Corner) and Damian Eadie (the current series producer).
In 1998, sixteen celebrities were invited to play Celebrity Countdown, a series of eight games broadcast every Thursday evening over the course of eight weeks. The celebrities included Whiteley's successor Des Lynam, who beat Siân Lloyd. The highest and lowest scores were posted in the same game when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall beat Jilly Goolden 47-9.
Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman competed in another special episode on Christmas Day 1997. For this game, the presenter's chair was taken by William G. Stewart, the host of fellow Channel 4 game show Fifteen to One. Susie Dent took over Vorderman's duties, and Mark Nyman occupied Dictionary Corner. The game was close-fought, and decided only by the crucial Countdown conundrum mistletoe which Vorderman solved in two seconds.
Contestants who have or had become notable for other reasons include Nuts magazine editor-at-large Pete Cashmore, rugby player Ayoola Erinle, footballer Neil MacKenzie, musician Jon Marsh, musician Nick Saloman, comedian Alex Horne and footballer Clarke Carlisle.
In popular culture
Countdown is often referenced and parodied in British culture.
The Doctor Who episode "Bad Wolf" (2005) mentions a futuristic version of Countdown, in which the goal is to stop a bomb from exploding in 30 seconds. Countdown was referenced again in a later series in "Last of the Time Lords" (2007), where Professor Docherty expresses a keen fondness for the show and how it "hasn't been the same since Des took over–Both Des's".
Countdown has also generated a number of popular outtakes, with the letters occasionally producing a word that was deemed unsuitable for the original broadcast. A round in which Dictionary Corner offered the word gobshite featured in TV's Finest Failures in 2001, and in one episode, contestants Gino Corr and Lawrence Pearse both declared the word wankers. This was edited out of the programme but has since appeared on many outtakes shows. When contestant Charlie Reams declared "wankers" on the 21 October 2008 edition, the declaration was kept in but the word itself was bleeped. Other incidents with only marginally rude words (including wanker, singular) have made it into the programme as they appeared, such as those with Tanmay Dixit referenced above, a clip from a 2001 episode in which the word fart appeared as the first four letters on the board (which also featured on 100 Greatest TV Moments from Hell), and a round where an anagram of the word fucked appeared on the board in the string "A U O D F C K E G", although neither player chose to use the word, and Dictionary Corner was able to find two seven-letter words that could have been made from the board's offerings. In a recent episode, the Blackpool F.C. supporting producer of the show arranged the conundrum PNECRISIS, poking fun at their local rivals Preston North End's relegation from the Championship in the 2010–11 season.
The programme is mentioned in an episode of Irish sitcom Father Ted entitled "The Old Grey Whistle Theft", Still Game (in the episode "Kill Wullie") and is also referenced in the very first episode of Little Britain from 2003. BBC impression sketch show, Dead Ringers, parodies Countdown numerous times, and another television programme, The Big Breakfast, parodied Countdown in a feature called "Countdown Under". Comedy show A Bit of Fry and Laurie further lampooned Countdown in a sketch entitled Countdown to Hell. Fry played Richard Whiteley and Laurie played one of the contestants, while Gyles Brandreth (played by Steve Steen) got the word sloblock – an anagram of bollocks. The show also has a fleeting reference in British sitcom The Office when Chris 'Finchy' Finch attempts to insult temporary worker Ricky when he explains he had a job to pay for his studies. Finchy states that it probably was 'professor in charge of watching Countdown every day', commenting on its student audience, and referring to the fact anyone watching Countdown during its 'hometime' time slot cannot be out at work.
The format of the show has been parodied on Have I Got News for You. In 1999, when Richard was a guest, the numbers game was copied along with the famous clock music and at the end of the show was a conundrum, the conundrum was "PHANIOILS", to which the answer was IAN HISLOP. In 2004, when Carol was a guest one of the usual rounds was replaced with a conundrum round based on the week's news. When Carol hosted the show in 2006, one of the rounds was the "Spinning Conundrum Numbers Round", altering the "Spinning Headlines" round, by adding a number to a picture relating to the week's news, then at the end of the round the 6 numbers from the picture were used for a numbers game.
Richard Whiteley was the victim of a practical joke while presenting the show. The contestants and rounds had been planted as part of a "Gotcha!", a regular prank feature on the light entertainment show Noel's House Party. In the prank, the two contestants missed the word "something" from the letters OMETHINGS, and from another selection, both of the contestants declared "I've got diarrhoea" referring to the selection. In the numbers round that followed, the male contestant "answered" the puzzle by reading out the numbers. Whiteley did not uncover the joke until House Party presenter Noel Edmonds appeared on the set, having revealed the unusually short conundrum of HOGCAT to be "gotcha" at the end of the programme.
It was also referred to on Harry Hill's TV Burp twice. The first time it was referred to was when "Dev" (Coronation Street) made a sound like the countdown end of thirty seconds time. The second time was when the competition "Where Has The Knitted Character Been This Week?" had the answer: On Rachel Riley's chair.
On 2 July 2010, the game was featured in the fourth series of The IT Crowd in the episode "The Final Countdown". Moss stuns everyone by declaring that the 9 letter string TNETENNBA is in fact a word. Later, Moss becomes an octochamp and is consequently invited into an underground club named "8+", where he competes in a game of "Street Countdown" as part of a spoof of Boogie Town (as mentioned on writer, Graham Linehan's blog). Also, British Entertainer Stevie Riks parodied the show on one of his many YouTube comedy videos.
The game has also been played on a number of different programmes, notably as the first challenge in "What's Next" on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, featuring the pair versus one of the duo's old head teachers. In 2010, it was played as a shopping task on the final series of Celebrity Big Brother, with a team of housemates competing in the house against the current champion in the Countdown studio via satellite. The housemates failed this task.
The famous music that plays during the 30 seconds the clock counts down has been turned into a backing track for grime music known as the "Countdown Riddim".
Series Start date End date Episodes Regular 1 2 November 1982 16 December 1982 27 2 5 April 1983 2 July 1983 53 3 19 September 1983 15 December 1983 52 4 2 April 1984 28 June 1984 52 Champion of Champions I 15 October 1984 23 October 1984 7 Regular 5 24 October 1984 21 December 1984 43 6 7 January 1985 21 March 1985 54 7 14 October 1985 20 December 1985 50 8 6 January 1986 27 March 1986 59 Champion of Champions II 31 March 1986 8 April 1986 7 Regular 9 9 April 1986 3 June 1986 40 10 13 October 1986 19 December 1986 50 11 2 February 1987 10 April 1987 50 12 13 April 1987 19 June 1987 50 Champion of Champions III 22 June 1987 30 June 1987 7 Regular 13 1 July 1987 28 August 1987 43 14 5 October 1987 25 December 1987 63 15 11 April 1988 17 June 1988 50 16 20 June 1988 2 September 1988 55 Champion of Champions IV 2 January 1989 10 January 1989 7 Regular 17 11 January 1989 17 March 1989 48 18 10 July 1989 13 October 1989 70 19 1 January 1990 30 March 1990 65 20 2 July 1990 28 September 1990 65 Champion of Champions V 31 December 1990 8 January 1991 7 Regular 21 9 January 1991 29 March 1991 58 22 1 July 1991 27 September 1991 65 23 30 December 1991 27 March 1992 65 24 29 June 1992 25 September 1992 65 Champion of Champions VI 4 January 1993 12 January 1993 7 Regular 25 13 January 1993 2 April 1993 58 26 5 July 1993 1 October 1993 65 27 3 January 1994 1 April 1994 65 28 4 July 1994 30 September 1994 65 Champion of Champions VII 2 January 1995 10 January 1995 7 Regular 29 11 January 1995 31 March 1995 58 30 3 July 1995 29 September 1995 65 31 1 January 1996 29 March 1996 65 32 1 July 1996 27 September 1996 65 Champion of Champions VIII 30 September 1996 8 October 1996 7 Supreme Championship 33 9 October 1996 20 December 1996 53 Regular 34 30 December 1996 28 March 1997 65 35 31 March 1997 27 June 1997 65 36 30 June 1997 26 September 1997 65 37 29 September 1997 19 December 1997 60 Champion of Champions IX 29 December 1997 16 January 1998 15 Regular 38 19 January 1998 26 June 1998 115 39 29 June 1998 25 December 1998 130 40 28 December 1998 25 June 1999 130 41 28 June 1999 25 December 1999 121 Champion of Champions X 27 December 1999 31 December 1999 5 Regular 42 3 January 2000 23 June 2000 119 43 26 June 2000 25 December 2000 114 44 26 December 2000 29 June 2001 131 45 2 July 2001 21 September 2001 43 46 24 September 2001 25 December 2001 67 47 26 December 2001 28 June 2002 127 48 1 July 2002 20 December 2002 110 Champion of Champions XI 6 January 2003 24 January 2003 15 Regular 49 27 January 2003 27 June 2003 107 50 30 June 2003 19 December 2003 103 51 5 January 2004 25 June 2004 114 52 28 June 2004 17 December 2004 112 53 4 January 2005 1 July 2005 119 54 31 October 2005 26 May 2006 153 Champion of Champions XII 29 May 2006 16 June 2006 15 Regular 55 19 June 2006 22 December 2006 135 56 2 January 2007 22 June 2007 120 57 25 June 2007 21 December 2007 126 58 2 January 2008 20 June 2008 119 59 23 June 2008 12 December 2008 105 Champion of Champions XIII 12 January 2009 30 January 2009 15 Regular 60 2 February 2009 19 June 2009 96 61 22 June 2009 18 December 2009 110 62 11 January 2010 18 June 2010 110 63 21 June 2010 17 December 2010 115 64 10 January 2011 3 June 2011 100 65 6 June 2011 16 December 2011 120 66 9 January 2012 ?? ??
Series Start date End date Episodes 1 3 April 1989 26 March 1990 52 2 2 April 1990 25 March 1991 52
Countdown at Christmas
Date 25 December 1997
Series Start date End date Episodes 1 23 April 1998 18 June 1998 8
Date 26 May 2003 25 July 2003 4 August 2003 18 August 2003 25 August 2003 2 September 2003 3 September 2003 8 September 2003 9 September 2003 10 September 2003 11 September 2003 12 September 2003 15 March 2004 19 March 2004 14 June 2004 26 July 2004 2 August 2004 13 August 2004 23 August 2004 30 August 2004 20 December 2004 25 March 2005 30 May 2005 15 March 2010 26 July 2010 2 August 2010 16 August 2010 14 March 2011 25 July 2011
Several boardgames, books and video games have been released under the franchise. Many boardgames have been developed to replicate the rules and game play of the television show. The boardgame will often consist of a board to place letters and number on, several scorecards, a selection of numbers and letters, a number generator and a timing device (older models use an hourglass whilst newer models contain a battery powered timer).
In the late 80s/early 90s, LexiBook released digital handheld version of Countdown. These contained LCD black and white displays and a variety of physical controls. Many of these often bared the official Countdown logo.
In 2006, University Games released the Countdown DVD game, which contained recorded clips specifically for the game. Gameplay is achieved via a DVD player and the remote control. The DVD was sold disk only, or as a bundle containing notepads and pencils.
In 2009, Mindscape games released Countdown games for the Nintendo DS and the Wii. Gameplay is replicated as it is on the show. On the Nintendo DS version, players can compete against each other via Download Play, using a single game card.
In the eighties the Dutch version "Cijfers en letters" ran for many years and was broadcast by the public TV station KRO. Presenters were Bob Bouma, Maartje van Weegen and Robert ten Brink, who later also presented the Dutch version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. From 1989 to 1993 a Flemish version was produced by the Belgian commercial TV station VTM. In Belgium many local clubs were founded where people could play the game themselves.
In 1991, a Spanish version of this show was released: Cifras y Letras (numbers and letters). The show was originally presented by Elisenda Roca, along with a word expert and mathematician. As this show progressed, a second version of the same show was also produced, which covered Latin American Spanish. The current Peninsular Spanish edition is presented by Paco Lodeiro.
Shortly after this, a Galician version was also released: Cifras e Letras, differing from the above only in the fact that it used Galician instead of Spanish, and a studio design variation. This version is also presented by Paco Lodeiro, assisted by the physicist Jorge Mira and the poet Yolanda Castaño, and broadcast by the Galician TV channels in Spain, Europe and South America.
South African: A Word or 2
Turkish: Bir Kelime, Bir Islem
On 2 August 2010, the new Australian version entitled Letters and Numbers debuted on SBS, hosted by Richard Morecroft. Each episode is half an hour long consisting of 5 letters round, 3 numbers round and the conundrum.
- ^ 
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- ^ 
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- Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) ISBN 0-233-99976-0
- Countdown at channel4.com
- Countdown at the Internet Movie Database
- Countdown at TV.com
- Countdown at the BFI's Screenonline
- Countdown at UKGameshows.com
- The Countdown Page, results from every game
- The Countdown Wiki
- , for an online version of the game featuring Des Wynam, Carol, and Suzie
- CountdownGames.tv, includes six online games, two of which resemble numbers and letters from Countdown
- Letters and Numbers on iPhone/iPad
Countdown Presenter Co-presenters Notable contestants Related topics
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