Sunday 7 June 2015

Twice-Nightly Whiteley

Long term viewers of the popular Channel 4 game show Countdown, will be surprised, as was I, that on 26th June it will be 10 years since the passing of its original host Richard Whiteley, who died on that day of endocarditis.

Launched in November 1982, the genial Whiteley spent 23 years at the helm of the show, featuring his bad puns, dodgy wardrobe and garish ties, all while portraying a slightly bemused and bumbling persona (all put on of course).

Born in December 1943, Whiteley grew up living in his family’s textile mill and at the age of 13, won a scholarship to Giggleswick School in his native Yorkshire, where one of his tutors was the later famed TV chat show host Russell Harty.

Leaving with a clutch of O and A-Level exam passes, he went on to study at Christ’s College, Cambridge – all good grounding
for presenting a tea-time words and numbers game show. Whilst at Cambridge he edited Varsity, the university newspaper and he left with what he described as "a crappy Third" in English.

Upon leaving University he served a 3 year apprenticeship in the ITN graduate scheme and left 3 years later to join the newly formed Yorkshire Television, going on to become anchorman on the evening news programme Calendar.

In 1982 Yorkshire TV started making Countdown for Channel 4, which was the first programme ever to be broadcast by the station. Whiteley was chosen as host and for a while continued to present Calendar while fronting the new show, earning himself the nickname of "Twice-Nightly Whiteley" (in a self-deprecating joke, he often countered this with "Once Yearly, Nearly".)

Joined on the tea-time set by glamorous mathematician and co-host Carol Vorderman, along with a plethora of celebrities in “Dictionary Corner” such as Richard Stilgoe and Gyles Brandreth, the show delighted its many famous fans, including the Queen and even George Clooney, with what Whiteley often jokingly termed as a low-tech parlour game!