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 19 April to 7 June 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, with Ted Moult being credited as a co-presenter. 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.


Main Series

The first seven transmitted episodes, broadcast from 19 April to 7 June 1982, followed an eight-player knockout format similar to a modern Countdown series finals stage. The final was held in two games, all tapes of the second game are believed wiped. Contestants had no visible nameplates; therefore, some of their names may be spelt phonetically here.


Angela Booth vs Harry Venet Harry Venet vs Jackie Nathan Harry Venet
Michael Firth
Bob Stone vs Jackie Nathan
Pamela Clough vs John Reed Pamela Clough vs Michael Firth
Michael Firth vs Irene Hill
The winner of each game is displayed in bold.


# Date Type Contestant 1 Score Contestant 2 Guest Lex Max
CC1 19/04/1982 QF Angela Booth 18 – 29 Harry Venet Ted Moult none 57
CC2 26/04/1982 QF Bob Stone 14 – 38 Jackie Nathan Ted Moult none 59
CC3 3/05/1982 QF Pamela Clough 30 – 13 John Reed Ted Moult none 61
CC4 10/05/1982 QF Michael Firth 24 – 18 Irene Hill Ted Moult none 51
CC5 17/05/1982 SF Michael Firth 32 – 14 Pamela Clough Ted Moult none 60
CC6 24/05/1982 SF Jackie Nathan 20 – 35 Harry Venet Ted Moult none 67
CC7 31/05/1982 GF Michael Firth 24 – 28 Harry Venet Ted Moult none
CC8 7/06/1982 GF Michael Firth Harry Venet Ted Moult none

Pilot episode

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

In 1981, two pilot episodes was filmed, although never transmitted. They featured future Series 1 contestants Joyce Cansfield and Christine Jones, as well as a further two contestants, Alec Buchanan and Ian Penny.

There were several differences to both the eventual Calendar Countdown format and Countdown in and of itself. 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 a round when both Cansfield and Buchanan had 5 letter words, only Buchanan scored the 5 points.

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.

There was also a very confusing system with different lengths for different rounds, with some being 30 seconds but others being 45. In the first pilot, 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 pre-selected 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. For the second pilot, round 2 was extended to 45 seconds, and rounds 4 and 6 were replaced with a 30-second letters round, abolishing the conundrum altogether.

As per several other game shows such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, the game "straddled" over episodes and did not correspond to one episode's length. In the first pilot, a total of 8 rounds were played; in the second pilot, this figure was 9.

Other than Garbut responding to Whiteley's questions as to whether the target could have been bettered, none of the female hostesses spoke, with Whiteley also reading out all of the letter and number choices.

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. There was no representative from the dictionary in the corner, with Moult taking on both the role of the lexicographer and the guest. The first pilot episode ended with a cliffhanger, as a contestant submitted her word and we left at the exact moment that Moult began to look to see if it was valid.

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


# Date Type Contestant 1 Score Contestant 2 Guest Lex Max
CCP1 n/a P Joyce Cansfield 26 – 8 Alec Buchanan Ted Moult Christine Jones 40
CCP1 n/a P Joyce Cansfield 5 – 6 Christine Jones Ted Moult Ian Penny 11
CCP2 n/a P Joyce Cansfield 21 – 4 Christine Jones Ted Moult Ian Penny 31
CCP2 n/a P Joyce Cansfield 3 – 6 Ian Penny Ted Moult Alec Buchanan 14
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