Countdown is a British game show involving word and number puzzles. It is produced by ITV Studios and broadcast on Channel 4. It is currently presented by Nick Hewer, assisted by Rachel Riley, with regular lexicographer Susie Dent. It was the first programme to be aired on Channel 4, and 77 series have been broadcast since its debut on 2 November 1982. With over 6,500 episodes, Countdown is one of the longest-running game shows in the world, along with the original French version, Des chiffres et des lettres (Numbers & Letters), which has been running on French television continuously since 1965. Countdown was initially recorded at The Leeds Studios for 27 years, before moving to Granada Studios in 2009, and then over to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays in 2013.
The programme was presented by Richard Whiteley for over 20 years, until his sudden death in June 2005. It was then presented by Des Lynam until the end of 2006, Des O'Connor until the end of 2008, and Jeff Stelling until the end of 2011; Nick Hewer has presented the show since 2012. Carol Vorderman, the show's co-host, who had also been on the programme since it began, left the show in December 2008, at the same time as Des O'Connor. She was replaced by Rachel Riley. Cathy Hytner originally placed letters on the board for the letters games before this was taken over by Vorderman.
A celebrity guest features in every programme, and provides a brief interlude midway between the two advertisement breaks. The two contestants in each episode compete in three disciplines: ten letters rounds, in which the contestants attempt to make the longest word possible from nine randomly chosen letters; four 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/she either loses or retires with eight wins as an undefeated "Octochamp." The best eight 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 was 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 with his daily appearances on both shows earning 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.||”|
Channel 4 originally planned a parallel Junior Countdown in which the contestants were children. The pilot episode was filmed on 26 November 1982, less than a month after the first adult version was broadcast. The presenter was Gyles Brandreth, with Ted Moult in Dictionary Corner. The format mirrored that of the adult version. No further episodes were filmed, and the pilot episode was never broadcast. Brandreth, speaking on Countdown in November 2012, stated that the concept had proved disastrous, and was abandoned.
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: Cathy 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 talent as a 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.
Whiteley fell ill with septicaemia in 2005, and as a result he was no longer able to record Countdown. Although Whiteley made a slow recovery from his illness, he died on 26 June 2005, after a failed operation to correct a problem that had been detected in his heart. Channel 4 took the following show off the air as a mark of respect, and the next programme was preceded by a tearful tribute from Carol Vorderman. The final five shows Whiteley had filmed (the conclusion of Series 53) were aired, after which the show was placed on hiatus before returning 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 (400 km) 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 (a.k.a. "GoD" or "Guardian of the Dictionaries"). Initially farmer and 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 three thousand appearances. The celebrity guest, sometimes known as the "Dictionary Dweller", also contributes words, and provides a short interlude halfway through the second section of the show. These guests have included Nigel Rees, Jo Brand, Martin Jarvis, Richard Digance, Geoffrey Durham, Ken Bruce, Magnus Magnusson, Pam Ayres, Paul Zenon and John Sergeant, and, most regularly, Gyles Brandreth, providing poems, anecdotes, puzzles and magic tricks. Alison Heard replaced Susie Dent over the winter of 2007–08, whilst Dent was on maternity leave. Dent returned to the series 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 show 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 he presented his final show on 16 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, homemakers 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. From 3–4 million viewers had watched the show daily in its previous 4:15 pm 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. As of 2017, it is broadcast at 2:10.
In keeping with the programme's friendly nature, contestants on each episode compete not for money but for a teapot that is styled to resemble the 30-second time clock used in each round. Introduced in December 1998, the pot is custom-made and can only be obtained by winning a game on the programme. Defeated contestants receive an assortment of Countdown-themed merchandise as a parting gift.
Until 2009, the prize for the series winner was a leather-bound copy of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary, worth £4,000. Since then, the prize consists of ordinary hardback twenty-one volume dictionaries, a laptop computer and a lifetime subscription to Oxford Online. 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 original clock featured until September 2013, when it was replaced.
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.
On 5 September 2014, Countdown received a Guinness World Record at the end of its 6,000th show for the longest-running television programme of its kind during the course of its 71st series.
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.
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. A player who wins eight games 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 section contains two letters rounds and a numbers round, the second has four letters rounds and two numbers rounds, while the last section has four letters rounds, a numbers round and a final "Conundrum" puzzle. With the exception of the Conundrum, the contestants swap control after every round so that each of them has control for five letters rounds and two numbers rounds.
At the end of the first two sections, Hewer poses a Teatime Teaser for the viewers, giving a set of short words and a cryptic clue to a single word that can be anagrammed from them. The solution is revealed at the start of the next section. (Example: Given the words SAD MOODY and the clue "We'll all be sad and moody when this arrives," the solution would be DOOMSDAY.) When the Teatime Teaser was first introduced, the anagrams were seven letters long; they were later extended to eight, and then to nine in late 2016.
The contestant in control chooses between two stacks of letter tiles, one containing vowels and the other consonants, and Riley reveals the top tile from that stack and places it on the board. This is done nine times, and the final grouping must contain at least three vowels and four consonants. The contestants then have 30 seconds to form the longest single word they can, using the nine revealed letters; no letter may be used more often than it appears in the selection. The frequencies of the letters within each stack 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 stack, 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.
Both contestants write down the words they form, in case they select the same one. After time runs out, the host asks the contestants to declare their word lengths, starting with the contestant who chose the letters. The host then asks the discovered words, starting with the shorter declared length. However, if a contestant fails to write a word in time, they must declare this fact and state their word first to prevent cheating. The contestant with the longer word scores one point per letter, or 18 points if they have used all nine. If the words are identical or of the same length, both contestants score. In the former case, the contestants must show their written word to prove that they are the same. Each round ends with Dictionary Corner revealing the longest words that can be formed from the available letters, aided by the production team.
Words that are not allowed include:
The contestant in control chooses six of 24 shuffled face-down number tiles, arranged into two groups: 20 "small numbers" (two each of 1 through 10), and four "large numbers" of 25, 50, 75 and 100. Some special episodes replace the large numbers with 12, 37, 62 and 87. The contestant decides how many large numbers are to be used, from none to all four, after which the six tiles are randomly drawn and placed on the board. A random three-digit target number is then generated by an electronic machine, affectionately known as "CECIL" (which stands for Countdown's Electronic Calculator In Leeds). The contestants have 30 seconds to work out a sequence of calculations with the numbers whose final result is as close to the target number as possible. They may use only the four basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and do not have to use all six numbers. A number may not be used more times than it appears on the board. Fractions are not allowed, and only positive integers may be obtained as a result at any stage of the calculation. As in the letters rounds, any contestant who does not write down their calculations in time must go first, and both contestants must show their work to each other if their results and calculations are identical.
Only the contestant whose result is closer to the target number scores points: 10 for reaching it exactly, 7 for being 1-5 away, 5 for being 6-10 away. Contestants score no points for being more than 10 away, or if their calculations are flawed. Both score if they reach the same result, or if their results are the same distance away. Points are disallowed if the contestant says the solution is not-written-down after the host asks for it or if the contestant takes too long in giving a solution.
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.
The 24 tiles are laid out in four rows, the topmost of which contains only the four large numbers. The contestant may specify how many tiles to draw from each row, or simply state how many large and small numbers will be used; in the latter case, the assistant draws the tiles randomly. The numbers are usually placed on the board from right to left, starting with the small ones, but have occasionally been displayed in scrambled order. On rare occasions, the contestant has declined to make any choices, in which case the assistant selects the tiles.
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, in which the contestants are shown a combination of two or three words with a total of nine letters. They have 30 seconds to form a single word using all the letters, and must buzz-in to respond (a bell for the champion, a buzzer for the challenger). Each contestant is allowed only one guess, and the first to answer correctly scores 10 points. If neither contestant can solve it, the presenter asks whether anyone in the audience knows the answer and, if so, chooses someone to call it out. (This practice was stopped temporarily in 2009 due to difficulties with camera angles after the studio layout was changed.) The Conundrum is designed to have only one solution, but on occasion more than one valid word is found by happenstance (e.g. REACH SORT can become both CARTHORSE and ORCHESTRA). If this happens, any of these results is accepted.
If the contestants' scores are within 10 points of each other going into this round, it is referred to as a Crucial Countdown Conundrum. Since 10 points are at stake, the contestant who solves it will either win the game or force a tiebreaker. If the scores are tied after the Conundrum, additional Conundrums are played until the tie is broken. There have been several instances in which two Conundrums were used to decide the winner, but only a handful of episodes have required three. (There have also been cases when even more Conundrums have been required to provide a winner, but not all have been included in the transmitted programme.)
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 (10 to 4 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 use a fifteen-round format.
In September 2007, a new feature was added to the show in which Susie Dent explains the origin of a word or phrase which she has been researching. This Origin of Words spot currently follows the eighth letters round, almost midway through the third section of the programme. The feature was omitted during the time that Dent was absent for maternity leave, and was reinstated upon her return.
When the fifteen round format was first introduced in September 2001, the composition of the rounds was different from that used by the programme today. The three sections each had five rounds, four letters rounds and one numbers round in each of the first two sections, with three letters rounds, one numbers round and the conundrum in the third section. This meant that there was a slight imbalance, whereby one contestant made the letters sections for six rounds, but had the choice of the numbers selection just once, whereas the other contestant chose letters five times and numbers twice. The dictionary corner guest's spot was immediately before the first advertising break, and Susie Dent's Origin of Words spot preceded the second numbers game shortly before the second break. The change to the present format was made on 25 March 2013, three weeks into the second section of Series 68, to comply with Channel 4's decision to increase the amount of adverts and alter the times when they occur during the programme, therefore reducing Countdown's actual show length from 36 to 35 minutes.
Since Countdown's debut in 1982, there have been over 6,500 televised games and 76 complete series. There have also been fourteen Champion of Champions tournaments, with the most recent starting in January 2016.
Several of Countdown's most successful contestants have received national media coverage. Teenager Julian Fell set a record score of 146 in December 2002. In 2006, 14-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. Conor Travers went on to win the 30th Anniversary Champion of Champions series in March 2013 with a record equalling top score of 146.
At eight years old, Tanmay Dixit was the youngest player ever to appear on the show, where 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 April 2013, Giles Hutchings, a student at Royal Grammar School, Guildford broke the record for the highest octochamp score, amassing 965 points over 8 games. He went on to win series 68. This record has since been beaten by Dylan Taylor, who achieved an octochamp score of 974 in August 2013, but he lost the Grand Final of that series. 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 TV's Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall beat wine critic 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, accompanied by Magnus Magnusson. The game was close-fought, and decided only by the crucial Countdown conundrum mistletoe which Vorderman solved in two seconds, after Whiteley had inadvertently buzzed after one second, because when he regularly hosted the show, he hit the button to reveal the conundrum and kept his old habit up.
Contestants who have or had become notable for other reasons include Nuts magazine editor-at-large Pete Cashmore, rugby player Ayoola Erinle, footballers Neil MacKenzie, Clarke Carlisle and Matt Le Tissier, musicians Jon Marsh and Nick Saloman, comedian Alex Horne, and noted Irish playwright Peter Sheridan.
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 Deses".
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 (The actual episode aired on 10 January 2000), and in one episode from 1991, 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 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. On 2 February 2017, the board for the letters round was "M T H I A E D H S", and with both players offering sevens, Dictionary Corner found the word "shithead", which was bleeped out in the audio and censored on-screen with the poo emoji.
The programme is mentioned in an episode of Irish sitcom Father Ted entitled "The Old Grey Whistle Theft", Still Game (in the episode "Wireless") 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". In a sketch "Countdown to Hell" from the comedy show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Stephen Fry lampooned Richard Whiteley's punning style and Hugh Laurie played one of the contestants, while Gyles Brandreth (played by Steve Steen), presented with the letters "bollocsk", got the (non-)word "sloblock" (supposedly meaning exactly the same as "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.
In the BBC sitcom My Family, Nick is a fan of Countdown. In the 2003 Christmas special, Richard Whiteley even made a special guest appearance, which amuses Nick. In another episode, Nick is taken aback when he thinks that bad news about his father is really about a cancellation of Countdown.
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, both the two contestants and Dictionary Corner 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.
In a 2003 episode of Top Gear, Richard Whitely participated in the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment. Before Whiteley's lap was shown, presenter Jeremy Clarkson played a game of Countdown with Whitely, using words such as IMIN, SEXUL, NEVOR LARD, I MUSHI BITS, and PIANOS SHIAZU.
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 episode "The Final Countdown" of The IT Crowd. 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. The episode featured a cameo from Gyles Brandreth a regular contributor to Dictionary Corner.
In an episode from spring 2011, the Blackpool supporting producer of the show arranged the conundrum PNECRISIS ("priciness"), poking fun at their local rivals Preston North End's relegation from the Championship in the 2010–11 season.
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 Channel 4 series of Celebrity Big Brother, with a team of housemates competing in the house against the-then current champion, Chris Davies, in the Countdown studio via satellite. The housemates failed this task.
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|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Notes|
|1||2 November 1982||16 December 1982||27||27|
|2||5 April 1983||2 July 1983||53||80|
|3||19 September 1983||15 December 1983||52||132|
|4||2 April 1984||28 June 1984||52||184|
|5||15 October 1984||21 December 1984||50||234||Champion of Champions I aired from 15 to 23 October.|
|6||7 January 1985||21 March 1985||54||288|
|7||14 October 1985||20 December 1985||50||338|
|8||6 January 1986||27 March 1986||59||397|
|9||31 March 1986||3 June 1986||47||444||Champion of Champions II aired from 31 March to 8 April.|
|10||13 October 1986||19 December 1986||50||494||Champion of Champions I & II aired on 13 October.|
|11||2 February 1987||10 April 1987||50||544||500th Show aired on 2 February.|
|12||13 April 1987||19 June 1987||50||594|
|13||22 June 1987||28 August 1987||50||644||Champion of Champions III aired from 22 to 30 June.|
|14||5 October 1987||25 December 1987||63||707|
|15||11 April 1988||17 June 1988||50||757|
|16||20 June 1988||2 September 1988||55||812|
|17||2 January 1989||17 March 1989||55||867||Champion of Champions IV aired from 2 to 10 January.|
|18||10 July 1989||13 October 1989||70||937|
|19||1 January 1990||30 March 1990||65||1,002|
|20||2 July 1990||28 September 1990||65||1,067||1,000th Show aired on 2 July.|
|21||31 December 1990||29 March 1991||65||1,132||Champion of Champions V aired from 31 December to 8 January.|
|22||1 July 1991||27 September 1991||65||1,197|
|23||30 December 1991||27 March 1992||65||1,262|
|24||29 June 1992||25 September 1992||65||1,327|
|25||4 January 1993||2 April 1993||65||1,392||Champion of Champions VI aired from 4 to 12 January.|
|26||5 July 1993||1 October 1993||65||1,457|
|27||3 January 1994||1 April 1994||65||1,522|
|28||4 July 1994||30 September 1994||65||1,587||1,500th Show aired on 4 July.|
|29||2 January 1995||31 March 1995||65||1,652||Champion of Champions VII aired from 2 to 10 January.|
|30||3 July 1995||29 September 1995||65||1,717|
|31||1 January 1996||29 March 1996||65||1,782|
|32||1 July 1996||27 September 1996||65||1,847|
|33||30 September 1996||20 December 1996||60||1,907||Champion of Champions VIII aired from 30 September to 8 October; remainder of series was Supreme Championship.|
|34||30 December 1996||28 March 1997||65||1,972|
|35||31 March 1997||27 June 1997||65||2,037|
|36||30 June 1997||26 September 1997||65||2,102|
|37||29 September 1997||19 December 1997||60||2,162|
|38||29 December 1997||26 June 1998||130||2,292||Champion of Champions IX aired from 29 December to 16 January.|
|39||29 June 1998||25 December 1998||130||2,422|
|40||28 December 1998||25 June 1999||130||2,552|
|41||28 June 1999||25 December 1999||121||2,673|
|42||27 December 1999||23 June 2000||124||2,797||Champion of Champions X aired from 27 to 31 December.|
|43||26 June 2000||25 December 2000||114||2,911||18th Birthday aired on 2 November.|
|44||26 December 2000||29 June 2001||131||3,042||3,000th show aired on 27 April.|
|45||2 July 2001||21 September 2001||43||3,085|
|46||24 September 2001||25 December 2001||67||3,152||First series to use the 15-round-format.|
|47||26 December 2001||28 June 2002||127||3,279||Junior Championship aired from 12 to 14 March.|
|48||1 July 2002||20 December 2002||110||3,389|
|49||6 January 2003||27 June 2003||122||3,511||Champion of Champions XI aired from 6 to 24 January and Ladies' Championship aired from 11 to 13 March.|
|50||30 June 2003||19 December 2003||103||3,614|
|51||5 January 2004||25 June 2004||114||3,728|
|52||28 June 2004||17 December 2004||112||3,840|
|53||4 January 2005||1 July 2005||119||3,959||Last series to be hosted by Richard Whiteley due to his death in June 2005|
|54||31 October 2005||26 May 2006||153||4,112||First series to be hosted by Des Lynam|
|55||29 May 2006||22 December 2006||150||4,262||Champion of Champions XII aired from 29 May to 16 June and Last series to be hosted by Des Lynam|
|56||2 January 2007||22 June 2007||120||4,382||First series to be hosted by Des O Connor|
|57||25 June 2007||21 December 2007||126||4,508||25th Birthday aired on 2 November.|
|58||2 January 2008||20 June 2008||119||4,627|
|59||23 June 2008||12 December 2008||105||4,732||Last series to be hosted by Des O Connor and Carol Vorderman|
|60||12 January 2009||19 June 2009||111||4,843||Champion of Champions XIII aired from 12 to 30 January and First series to be hosted by Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley|
|61||22 June 2009||18 December 2009||110||4,953|
|62||11 January 2010||18 June 2010||110||5,063||5000th show aired on 26 March.|
|63||21 June 2010||17 December 2010||115||5,178|
|64||10 January 2011||3 June 2011||100||5,278|
|65||6 June 2011||16 December 2011||120||5,398||Last series to be hosted by Jeff Stelling|
|66||9 January 2012||29 June 2012||119||5,517||First series to be hosted by Nick Hewer|
|67||2 July 2012||21 December 2012||97||5,614|
|68||7 January 2013||28 June 2013||107||5,721||30th Birthday Championship aired from 7 January to 1 March.|
|69||1 July 2013||20 December 2013||118||5,839|
|70||6 January 2014||27 June 2014||107||5,946|
|71||30 June 2014||19 December 2014||110||6,056|
|72||5 January 2015||12 June 2015||100||6,156|
|73||15 June 2015||23 December 2015||121||6,277|
|74||4 January 2016||24 June 2016||107||6,384||Champion of Champions XIV aired from 4 to 22 January.|
|75||27 June 2016||23 December 2016||109||6,493|
|76||3 January 2017||30 June 2017||121||6,614|
|77||3 July 2017||22 December 2017||122||6,736|
|78||2 January 2018||June 2018||TBA||TBA|
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes|
|1||3 April 1989||30 March 1990||52|
|2||2 April 1990||29 March 1991||52|
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes|
|1||23 April 1998||18 June 1998||8|
|25 December 1997||Christmas Special|
|26 May 2003||Husband & Wife|
|25 July 2003||Replayed Series 40 Final|
|4 August 2003||High Scoring Losers|
|18 August 2003||Maths Teachers|
|25 August 2003||Solicitors|
|2 September 2003||Clergymen|
|3 September 2003||Scrabble Masters|
|8 September 2003||Replayed Series 31 Final|
|9 September 2003||Champions of Champions IX & X|
|10 September 2003||Police Officers|
|11 September 2003||High Scoring Losers II|
|12 September 2003||Series 47 & 48 Champions|
|15 March 2004||Publicans|
|19 March 2004||Father & Daughter|
|14 June 2004||Replayed Series 35 Final|
|26 July 2004||Replayed Series 39 Final|
|2 August 2004||Aficionados|
|13 August 2004||Replayed Series 37 Final|
|23 August 2004||Mother & Son|
|30 August 2004||Starlets|
|20 December 2004||Brothers|
|25 March 2005||Cabaret Entertainers|
|30 May 2005||Starlets|
|15 March 2010||Series 60 & 61 Champions|
|26 July 2010||High Scoring Losers III|
|2 August 2010||Young Stars|
|16 August 2010||Replayed Series 59 Final|
|14 March 2011||Deciding Special|
|25 July 2011||Female Finalists|
|12 March 2012||Sister & Brother|
|30 July 2012||Series 64 & 65 Champions|
|13 September 2012||Female Winners|
|14 September 2012||Husband & Wife|
|28 September 2012||Male Finalists|
|2 July 2013||Lovebirds|
|12 December 2014||Battle of the Bobbys|
|22 December 2014||Senior Females|
|23 December 2014||Battle of the Mc's|
|6 April 2015||Sisters|
|10 April 2015||Law & Order|
|8 May 2015||Veterans|
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 bore the official Countdown logo.
In 2006, University Games released a 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 released Countdown games for the Nintendo DS and the Wii. Gameplay is replicated as it is on the show. On the 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.
An American version of Countdown was taped in 1990 as an unsold pilot. Hosted by British expat Michael Jackson (a Los Angeles-based radio personality), and announced by game show veteran Charlie O'Donnell, this version followed closely to the British version, with a few changes. Civilian contestants were paired up with celebrities and played two games each. Three rounds were played in each game, with a bonus round to the higher scoring team. The first two rounds, like the British version, had each contestant taking turns picking nine letter tiles and attempting to form one word in 30 seconds. Like the British version, the team that formed the longest word was awarded the points based on how many letters were used. Teams were allowed to confer with each other in the first two rounds. The third round, only eight-letter titles were picked, with the ninth being a "wild card" that the contestant could use any way they would like. In this round, the contestant is not allowed to confer with their celebrity partner. The player with the highest score after three rounds wins the game and plays the bonus round. Any player that forms a word using all nine letters wins a progressive jackpot (on the pilot episode, that was $25,000). In the bonus round, the contestant works with their celebrity partner to unscramble six words in 45 seconds. Each word gets longer, starting with a four-letter word, then a five-letter word, then a six-letter word, then a seven-letter word, then an eight-letter word, and finally a nine-letter word. The contestant would earn $200 for every unscrambled word, with a prize of $10,000 for unscrambling all six words. Contestants would switch celebrity partners and play another game in the same format (three rounds, with another chance at the bonus round). The contestant with the higher total score at the end of both games would return to the next show. If the contestants tied, both would return to the next show. Five-day champions would win a new car and retire undefeated. The Numbers round and the Conundrum round were both eliminated from the American version.
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.
On 2 August 2010, the new Australian version entitled Letters and Numbers (to avoid confusion with the Australian music program Countdown) debuted on SBS, hosted by Richard Morecroft. Each episode was 30 minutes long and consisted of five letters rounds, three numbers rounds and the conundrum. The last episode was aired on 27 June 2012, after five series and one masters series. The timeslot was filled with the UK version of Countdown.
Other versions include A Word or 2 (South Africa) and Bir Kelime, Bir Islem (Turkey), Paroliamo (Italy) aired on Telemontecarlo until 1977 to 1982 and after Rai 2 until 1982 to 1989. In September 2012, an Isle of Man version of the show was broadcast.
Legend:Currently airing or returning No longer airing
|Australia||Letters and Numbers||Richard Morecroft
|SBS One||2 August 2010||27 June 2012|
|Belgium (in Dutch)||Cijfers en Letters||Zaki
Walter De Meyere
Carine Van de Ven
|Croatia||Brojke i slova||Ivan Hetrich||HRT||1986||1991|
|France||Des chiffres et des lettres||Christine Fabréga (1965–1970)
Patrice Laffont (1972–1989)
Laurent Cabrol (1989–1992)
Max Meynier (1992)
Laurent Romejko (1992–present)
|La deuxième chaîne de l'O.R.T.F. (1965–1975)
Antenne 2 (1975–1992)
France 2 (1992–2006)
France 3 (2006–present)
|19 September 1965||present|
|Greece||Γράμματα και Αριθμοί
Grámmata kai Arithmoí
|Christos Oikonomou (February 13, 1976 – December 28, 1981)
Kostas Papadonopoulos (November 20, 1989 – February 19, 1990)
|ERT1 (February 13, 1976 – December 28, 1981)
Mega Channel (November 20, 1989 – February 19, 1990)
|13 February 1976||19 February 1990|
|Israeli Educational Television||1995||1999|
|Italy||Paroliamo||Lea Pericoli (1977–1982)
Rai 2 (1982–1989)
|Netherlands||Cijfers en Letters||Han van der Meer
Maartje van Weegen
Robert ten Brink
|Sweden||Tänk till tusen||Ulf Wickbom||SVT 1||1984||1987|
|RTS||22 November 1993||present|
|South Africa||A Word or 2||Jeremy Mansfield||SABC2||1998||2008|
|Spain||Cifras y letras||Elisenda Roca (1991–1996)
Paco Lodeiro (2002–2010)
Goyo González (2010–2012) (Telemadrid)
Paco Lodeiro (2006–2013) (TVG)
Goyo González (Canal Sur 2)
Paola Bontempi (2008) (Televisión Canaria)
|La 2 (1991–1996)
Telemadrid and FORTA (January 4, 2002 - December 2012)
|14 January 1991||December 2012|
|Turkey||Bir Kelime, Bir İşlem||Levent Ülgen||TRT 1||1990||present|
|United States||Countdown||Johnny Mann (1974)
Michael Jackson (1990)
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