Calendar Countdown

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Calendar Countdown was the first British adaptation of the Des chiffres et des lettres format, and the forerunner of Countdown itself.

The series was broadcast only in the Yorkshire TV region, on Monday evenings at 6.30pm (immediately following the region's news programme, Calendar) for eight weeks, from April 19 to June 7, 1982. The host was Richard Whiteley, the letters hostess was Cathy Hytner, numbers hostess was former Miss YTV Robena Sharp, and the Vital Statistician was Denise McFarland-Cruickshanks. There was no lexicographer at this time; they were introduced when the programme went national. Each episode was self-contained and there was no overall series champion. Episodes had eight letters rounds (of only 8 letters) and two numbers rounds, and did not yet feature a conundrum. Chambers 20th Century Dictionary was the official dictionary for the show, but this was changed to the Concise Oxford Dictionary when the show became Countdown, due to it containing fewer obsolete and archaic words.

Richard Whiteley and Cathy Hytner (along with producer John Meade and most of the backstage staff) remained with the show when it was subsequently commissioned for Channel 4 under the shortened title of Countdown.


Pilot episode

Cathy Hytner, Letters Girl
Robena Sharp, Numbers Girl
Angela Garbut, Vital Statistician

Main Article: Calendar Countdown pilot

In 1981, a pilot episode was filmed, although never transmitted. It featured future Series 1 contestants Joyce Cansfield and Christine Jones, as well as a further contestant Alec Buchanan. The next episode's contestant was introduced as Ian Penny.

There were several differences to the final programme as we know it now. In a bizarre scoring system, only the person who chose the letters or numbers received any points, unless they were beaten by the other contestant. So for example in the first round when both Joyce and Alec had 5 letter words, only Alec scored the 5 points.

There was also a very confusing system with different lengths for different rounds, with some being 30 seconds but others being 45. Round 1 was a 45-second letters round, round 2 a 30-second letters round, round 3 a 45-second numbers round. Round 4 was a letters round against the clock, with contestants buzzing in when they thought they'd found the longest available word. Round 5 was another 45-second numbers round. In a forerunner to the Countdown Conundrum, round 6 was an 8-letter preselected word round. Unlike the conundrum though, contestants were not allowed to buzz on this round, and had to sit patiently until the entire 45 seconds was up, even if they had seen it right away. 12 points were awarded for the correct answer to this round.

After these first 6 rounds, the losing contestant was replaced by the next contestant from dictionary corner, and a further 2 rounds were played following the pattern from round 1.

For the numbers game, 5 points were awarded for exact solutions, 3 points for within 5, and 1 point for more than 5 away (unlike the later shows this included being more than 10 away as well). Numbers were laid face down and as now, there were four large numbers on the top row. Small numbers were in rows of 6, 7 and 8. Large numbers were placed on the right hand-side of the board, rather than the left as they are now. There was no CECIL, but instead a separate one-armed bandit type "fruit machine" chose the 3-digit target.

At the end of the time an annoying elongated buzz would sound.

None of the hostesses spoke at all during the show, with Richard also reading out all of the letter and number choices. Rather than Denise, the Vital Statistician was Angela Garbut from Bradford University.

The same theme music and clock music were used, albeit with a few 80s space alien type sounds included, as well as the melody being an octave lower than what would soon become the actual theme for Countdown.

Every single word submitted by contestants was checked in the dictionary by the guest, however obvious. There was no representative from the dictionary in the corner; instead the next contestant sat alongside the guest.

The episode ended with a cliffhanger, as a contestant submitted her word and we left at the exact moment that Ted Moult began to look to see if it was valid.

Alec Buchanan, Contestant 1
Joyce Cansfield, Contestant 2
Ian Penny, upcoming contestant

Episodes

# Date Type Contestant 1 Score Contestant 2 Guest Lex Max
CCP1 n/a P Joyce Cansfield 26 – 8 Alec Buchanan Ted Moult Christine Jones
CCP2 n/a P Joyce Cansfield ? – ? Christine Jones Ted Moult Ian Penny
CC1 19/4/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC2 26/4/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC3 3/5/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC4 10/5/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC5 17/5/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC6 24/5/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC7 31/5/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
CC8 7/6/1982 P Ted Moult N/A
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