Countdown (game show)

Countdown (game show)
Countdown 2009 titlescreen.jpg
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)[1]
121 (Champion of Champions)
104 (Countdown Masters)
8 (Celebrity series)
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)
Original channel Channel 4 (1982–present)
S4C (1982–2010)
Picture format 4:3 (1982–2001)
16:9 (2002–present)
Original airing Original series:
2 November 1982–present
Champion of Champions:
15 October 1984 – 30 January 2009
Countdown Masters:
3 April 1989 – 5 March 1991
Celebrity series:
23 April – 18 June 1998
External links

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.[2][3]

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.




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".[4] These shows were only broadcast in the Yorkshire area.[5]

Richard "Twice Nightly" Whiteley, Countdown's original presenter.

An additional pilot episode was made, with a refined format, although it was never broadcast.[6] 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.[6] Countdown was the first programme to be broadcast on the new channel.[7]

As the countdown to a brand new channel ends, a brand new Countdown begins.
Richard Whiteley introducing the first Channel 4 episode of Countdown.[8]


Calendar Countdown was presented by Richard Whiteley, with Cathy Hytner and Denise McFarland-Cruickshanks managing the numbers and letters rounds respectively.[9] 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,[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] On 30 September 2006, Lynam said that he had decided to leave the programme after Christmas 2006.[14]

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[14] and, when Lynam found out that a move would cause considerable disruption for many of the programme's camera crew, he decided to leave.[15]

On 7 November 2006, it was announced that Des O'Connor would succeed Lynam as host.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

On 21 November 2008, Jeff Stelling was confirmed as the new host, with Oxford graduate Rachel Riley in the Vorderman role.[21] 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.[2]

On 16 November 2011, it was announced that Nick Hewer would be taking over as host, with his first show to be broadcast on 9 January 2012. [3]


Countdown quickly established cult status within British television[22] – an image which it maintains today,[23] despite numerous changes of rules and personnel. The programme's audience comprises mainly students, housewives and pensioners,[22] owing to the "teatime" broadcast slot and inclusive appeal of its format and presentation.[23] Countdown has been one of Channel 4's most-watched programmes for over twenty years, but has never won a major television award.[24] 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[25] – and the Series 54 final, on 26 May 2006, attracted 2.5 million viewers.[26] 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.[27] Minor scheduling changes have subsequently seen the show move from 3:15 to 3:30, to 3:45 to 3:25, and 3:10.

A Countdown teapot is awarded to any contestant who wins a game.
The current studio after the end of the game

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.[28] The prize for the series winner is a leather-bound copy of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary, worth GB£4,000.[29] 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.[30]

Since 2006, the series champion also receives the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, in memory of the show's original presenter.

The former studio before the start of the game

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.[31]


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.[citation needed] 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.[32]

ITV Productions announced on 25 July 2008 that Carol Vorderman would also be leaving at the end of the same series.[20]

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."[33]

The early favourite in the betting to replace Des O'Connor, Rory Bremner, ruled himself out. Later reports suggested Alexander Armstrong[34] and Jeff Stelling[35] as potential hosts, although Armstrong later revealed he had refused the job.[36] Anthea Turner, Ulrika Jonsson, and Myleene Klass were all linked with Vorderman's job;[37] 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,[38] 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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41] 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.[42]

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.

Letters round

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.[43] 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.[43] 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.[44]

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.[45]

Any word which appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English is allowable,[46] 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.[47] 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.[43]

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.

Numbers round

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).[48] 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.[43] 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.[43]

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.[citation needed]. There is a tactical element in selecting how many large numbers to include. One large and five small numbers is the most popular selection,[49] despite two large numbers giving the best chance of the game being solvable exactly.[50] Selections with zero or four large numbers are generally considered the hardest.[50] 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.[51]

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.[52]

Conundrum is revealed:
C H I N A L U N G.
Contestant One buzzes, and says launching, which scores 10 points.


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).[53]

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.[54]

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.[55] 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.[56] 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,[57] but now all shows follow the same format.[58]

The rules regarding which words are permitted have changed with time. American spelling was allowed until 2002,[59] and more unspecified inflections were assumed to be valid.[60]

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.

Notable contestants

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.[41]

Several of Countdown's most successful contestants have received national media coverage. Teenager Julian Fell set a record score of 146 in December 2002.[61] More recently, fourteen-year-old Conor Travers became the youngest series champion in the show's history,[62][63][64] 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.[65] He also received press attention for his offerings in the letters round, which included fannies and farted.[66]

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.[67] 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.[68] The celebrities included Whiteley's successor Des Lynam, who beat Siân Lloyd.[69] The highest and lowest scores were posted in the same game when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall beat Jilly Goolden 47-9.[69]

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.[69] The game was close-fought, and decided only by the crucial Countdown conundrum mistletoe which Vorderman solved in two seconds.[70]

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

The letters of the infamous round during a 1991 episode in which both contestants declared the word wankers.

Countdown is often referenced and parodied in British culture.

Assorted allusions

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".

In the 2002 film About a Boy, protagonist Will Freeman is a regular viewer of Countdown.[71]

Fairport Convention guitarist Simon Nicol named one of his solo records Consonant Please, Carol, echoing one of the show's most famous catchphrases.


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,[72] 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.[73][74] 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),[75] 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.[76] 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.[77]


The programme is mentioned in an episode of Irish sitcom Father Ted entitled "The Old Grey Whistle Theft",[78] Still Game (in the episode "Kill Wullie") and is also referenced in the very first episode of Little Britain from 2003.[79] 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".[80] 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.[81] 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.[82]

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.[83]

Non-canon games

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".[84]



Series Start date End date Episodes
2 November 1982
16 December 1982
5 April 1983
2 July 1983
19 September 1983
15 December 1983
2 April 1984
28 June 1984
Champion of Champions
15 October 1984
23 October 1984
24 October 1984
21 December 1984
7 January 1985
21 March 1985
14 October 1985
20 December 1985
6 January 1986
27 March 1986
Champion of Champions
31 March 1986
8 April 1986
9 April 1986
3 June 1986
13 October 1986
19 December 1986
2 February 1987
10 April 1987
13 April 1987
19 June 1987
Champion of Champions
22 June 1987
30 June 1987
1 July 1987
28 August 1987
5 October 1987
25 December 1987
11 April 1988
17 June 1988
20 June 1988
2 September 1988
Champion of Champions
2 January 1989
10 January 1989
11 January 1989
17 March 1989
10 July 1989
13 October 1989
1 January 1990
30 March 1990
2 July 1990
28 September 1990
Champion of Champions
31 December 1990
8 January 1991
9 January 1991
29 March 1991
1 July 1991
27 September 1991
30 December 1991
27 March 1992
29 June 1992
25 September 1992
Champion of Champions
4 January 1993
12 January 1993
13 January 1993
2 April 1993
5 July 1993
1 October 1993
3 January 1994
1 April 1994
4 July 1994
30 September 1994
Champion of Champions
2 January 1995
10 January 1995
11 January 1995
31 March 1995
3 July 1995
29 September 1995
1 January 1996
29 March 1996
1 July 1996
27 September 1996
Champion of Champions
30 September 1996
8 October 1996
Supreme Championship
9 October 1996
20 December 1996
30 December 1996
28 March 1997
31 March 1997
27 June 1997
30 June 1997
26 September 1997
29 September 1997
19 December 1997
Champion of Champions
29 December 1997
16 January 1998
19 January 1998
26 June 1998
29 June 1998
25 December 1998
28 December 1998
25 June 1999
28 June 1999
25 December 1999
Champion of Champions
27 December 1999
31 December 1999
3 January 2000
23 June 2000
26 June 2000
25 December 2000
26 December 2000
29 June 2001
2 July 2001
21 September 2001
24 September 2001
25 December 2001
26 December 2001
28 June 2002
1 July 2002
20 December 2002
Champion of Champions
6 January 2003
24 January 2003
27 January 2003
27 June 2003
30 June 2003
19 December 2003
5 January 2004
25 June 2004
28 June 2004
17 December 2004
4 January 2005
1 July 2005
31 October 2005
26 May 2006
Champion of Champions
29 May 2006
16 June 2006
19 June 2006
22 December 2006
2 January 2007
22 June 2007
25 June 2007
21 December 2007
2 January 2008
20 June 2008
23 June 2008
12 December 2008
Champion of Champions
12 January 2009
30 January 2009
2 February 2009
19 June 2009
22 June 2009
18 December 2009
11 January 2010
18 June 2010
21 June 2010
17 December 2010
10 January 2011
3 June 2011
6 June 2011
16 December 2011
9 January 2012

Masters series

Series Start date End date Episodes
3 April 1989
26 March 1990
2 April 1990
25 March 1991


Countdown at Christmas

25 December 1997


Series Start date End date Episodes
23 April 1998
18 June 1998


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.

International versions

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,[citation needed] 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.[85]

Other Versions:

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.

See also


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  2. ^ a b Cohen, Tamara; Revoir, Paul (25 May 2011). "Jeff Stelling quits Countdown after just two years". Daily Mail (London). 
  3. ^ a b "The Apprentice star Nick Hewer is new host of Countdown". The Guardian. 16 November 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011. 
  4. ^ obituary for Richard Whiteley–URL accessed 24/06/06.
  5. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 9–15.
  6. ^ a b Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 20.
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  8. ^ UK Game Shows on Countdown's first episode–URL accessed 26/06/06.
  9. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 17–18.
  10. ^ IMDB on Vorderman's Cambridge graduation and Mensa membership–URL accessed 08/07/06.
  11. ^ Scotland on Sunday on the advertisement to which Vorderman responded–URL accessed 06/07/06.
  12. ^ on viewer dissatisfaction with Vorderman's expanded role–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  13. ^ on Des Lynam as the new presenter of Countdown–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  14. ^ a b on Lynam leaving the programme–URL accessed 30/09/06.
  15. ^ The Sun Countdown's Des quits show
  16. ^ BBC News on Des O'Connor succeeding Des Lynam as host–URL accessed 13 November 2006.
  17. ^ "". 
  18. ^ .The Countdown Page on lexicographers].
  19. ^ Countdown: Spreading The Word, (Granada Media, 2001), p. 119–131.
  20. ^ a b "Carol Vorderman quits Countdown". BBC. 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  21. ^ "Sky host Stelling joins Countdown". BBC News. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  22. ^ a b on Countdown establishing cult status
  23. ^ a b Richard Whiteley obituary on the show's audience and cult status. URL accessed 24/06/06.
  24. ^ Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001), p. 74.
  25. ^
  26. ^ on Series 54 final viewing figures–URL accessed 10/07/06.
  27. ^ "Jonathan Shaw's official website, detailing his parliamentary motion". Retrieved 10/07/06. 
  28. ^ on the prizes–page accessed 24/06/06.
  29. ^ on the leather-bound Oxford English Dictionary–page accessed 24/06/06.
  30. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 147.
  31. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 33.
  32. ^ Fletcher, Alex (2008-07-23). "O'Connor quits as 'Countdown' host". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  33. ^ "Vorderman 'forced' to quit quiz". BBC. 2008-07-26. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  34. ^ Taylor, Jerome (18 October 2008). "The Independent, 18 October 2008.". London. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  35. ^ Brook, Stephen (14 October 2008). "The Guardian, 14 October 2008.". London. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  36. ^ Rajan, Amol (31 October 2008). "Armstrong turns down 'Countdown' job". London: The Independent, 18 October 2008.. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  37. ^ Dahabiyeh, Nadia (28 July 2008). "BBC News, 28 July 2008.". Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  38. ^ "BBC News, 28 July 2008.". 21 November 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  39. ^ Countdown: Spreading The Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 87.
  40. ^ The Countdown Page Julian Fell's Countdown "experience"–URL accessed 24/06/06.
  41. ^ a b Countdown: Spreading The Word (Granada Media, 2001), p. 220.
  42. ^ The Countdown Page list of special episodes and their themes–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  43. ^ a b c d e Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 24.
  44. ^ The Countdown Page: Letters–URL accessed 08/04/10.
  45. ^ UK Game Shows on production team aid–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  46. ^ The Countdown Page on dictionaries–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  47. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of English (2005, Oxford University Press), p. xvii.
  48. ^ UK Game Shows on game equipment–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  49. ^ Countdown Statistics on the frequency of each numbers games' selection–URL accessed 19/06/06.
  50. ^ a b Crossword Tools on analysis of the numbers game–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  51. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 26.
  52. ^ The Countdown Page game recap involving a tie-break conundrum–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  53. ^ rules of Des Chiffres et des Lettres (in French)–URL accessed 07/07/06.
  54. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001), p. 18.
  55. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001), p. 133.
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  57. ^ The Countdown Page showing a fourteen-round final–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  58. ^ The Countdown Page showing a fifteen-round final–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  59. ^ New Oxford Dictionary of English Guidelines on the change in rules regarding American spelling–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  60. ^ The Countdown Page series final recap in which dominater was deemed valid–URL accessed 20/06/06.
  61. ^ The Countdown Page on Julian Fell's record score–URL accessed 25/06/06.
  62. ^ Daily Mail on Conor Travers–URL accessed 25/06/06.
  63. ^ The Independent on Conor Travers–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  64. ^ The Guardian on Conor Travers–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  65. ^ Daily Mail on Tanmay Dixit–URL accessed 25/06/06.
  66. ^ on Tanmay Dixit–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  67. ^
  68. ^ Countdown: Spreading the Word (Granada Media, 2001) p. 34.
  69. ^ a b c The Countdown Page on Celebrity Countdown–URL accessed 25/06/06.
  70. ^ The Countdown Page recap of Whiteley vs. Vorderman Christmas special–URL accessed 25/06/06.
  71. ^ IMDB About a Boy movie connections page–URL accessed 18/06/06.
  72. ^ IMDB TV's Finest Failures movie connections page–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  73. ^ Snopes on the wankers incident–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  74. ^ on the wankers incident–URL accessed 20/07/06.
  75. ^ IMDB 100 Greatest TV Moments from Hell movie connections page–URL accessed 19/06/06.
  76. ^ "Countdown contestants asked to make word using U,D,F,C,K,E". London: The Telegraph. March 24, 2010. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  77. ^ The Guardian article about PNECRISIS conundrum-URL accessed 21/08/11.
  78. ^ IMDB Father Ted movie connections–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  79. ^ IMDB Little Britain movie connections page–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  80. ^ UK Game Shows list of game show spoofs–URL accessed 21/06/06.
  81. ^ Countdown to Hell transcript–URL accessed 23/06/06.
  82. ^ Channel 4 Community webchat with Richard Whiteley, explaining his Gotcha!–URL accessed 21/06/06.[dead link]
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  84. ^
  85. ^

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