This post is particularly relevant today as it marks the 25th anniversary of the first airing of Countdown on Channel 4. Countdown first aired on November 2nd 1982, and coincidentally since it was also the first programme aired on Channel 4 today must therefore also mark the 25th anniversary of Channel 4. Interestingly it appears to be Countdown that has been chosen to be celebrated by the UK’s media rather than Channel 4 itself, which I guess goes to show just how loved Countdown is by so many people young and old.
If you’ve never seen Countdown before (surely there can’t be many people who haven’t) then it’s a quiz show about words and numbers. It was hosted by Richard Whiteley, until he sadly died in June 2005 from pneumonia after having heart surgery. Whiteley made the show his own with his awful puns and terrible jokes, and whilst we may always have groaned at them you still looked forward to seeing what tatty gag he would come out with next. Des Lynam took over for a year or so, but the current host is Des O’Connor. It also brought the nation Carol Vorderman, who has been on the show since it began and is the maths mastermind. Carol now presides over both the letters and numbers, but I’m sure initially there was another girl who dealt out the letters.
Countdown consists of two main types of challenge. Most of the game consists of word rounds that involve one of the two contestants choosing a random selection of 9 letters (vowel please Carol, consonant, consonant, vowel etc.). They then have 30 seconds to come up with the longest word they can using those letters. On hand is another girl with a dictionary, and a special guest (someone like Richard Digance or Gyles Brandreth usually) who are playing along and come up with their own suggestions for long words, and make sure that the contestants spelling is correct.
The other type of round is the numbers game. Six numbers are randomly chosen (two from the top row please Carol…) and a random number from 1 to 999 is chosen by Carol pushing a big button that starts a big digital readout going. The contestants must combine the chosen numbers by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing them by each other to get as close to the random number as possible. They can only use each number once though. Carol initially astounded me by being so good at getting the answer right each time, but then I was only nine when it first aired and I now realise the numbers game isn’t always that hard and that’s why it only gets played twice.
Finally, at the end of the game there’s a final chance for the losing contestant to catch up with the Countdown Conundrum – nothing more than an anagram of a 9 letter word, but still quite often difficult to spot the answer.
I wonder if you’ll still be around in another 25 years time, but with a robotically enhanced Carol and a hologram simulation of Richard? Happy Birthday Countdown!