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Calendar Countdown Pilots

From Countdown
Cathy Hytner, letters girl.
Robena Sharp, numbers girl.
Angela Garbut, vital statistician.

In 1981, two Calendar Countdown pilot episodes were 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 five-letter words, only Buchanan scored the five points.

For the numbers game, five points were awarded for exact solutions, three points for within five, and one point for more than five 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 six, seven and seven. Large numbers were placed on the right-hand side of the board, rather than the left as they typically are now. There was no CECIL, but instead a separate one-armed bandit type "fruit machine" chose the three-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 conundrum, Round 6 was an eight-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. Twelve 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 eight rounds were played; in the second pilot, this figure was nine.

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 Ted 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 it finished at the exact moment that Moult began to look to see if it was valid.

Alec Buchanan, contestant 1.
Joyce Cansfield, contestant 2.
Christine Jones, contestant 3.
Ian Penny, contestant 4.


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