British Game Show Wiki
Richard Whiteley (1982–2005)
Des Lynam (2005–2006)
Des O'Connor (2007–2008)
Jeff Stelling (2009–2011)
Nick Hewer (2012–2021)
Anne Robinson (2021–)
Carol Vorderman (1982–2008)
Susie Dent (1992–Present)
Rachel Riley (2009–Present)
Calendar Countdown (Pilot).png
Pilot: 1981
Yorkshire Television (regional), 19 April – 7 June 1982
Countdown (1).png
Countdown (2).png
Countdown (3).png
Countdown (4).png
Countdown (5).png
Countdown (6).png
Countdown (7).png
Countdown (8).png
Countdown (9).png
Channel 4: 2 November 1982 – Present
Yorkshire Television (1982–2005)
Granada Productions (2003–2009)
ITV Studios (2009–present)

Countdown is a long-running game show of letters, words & numbers. It is based on the long-running French game show Des chiffres et des lettres ("Numbers & Letters").


Two contestants compete against each other in a series of fifteen (originally nine) rounds, split into three sections, with the contestants alternating turns with each round. The three sections are:

Letters round

One contestant chooses how many vowels and consonants they would like to make up nine randomly chosen letters. There must be at least three vowels and four consonants. The contestants then have 30 seconds to find the longest word that they can make out of these letters. Any word which appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English is allowable, as well as some inflections. The contestant with the longest word is awarded one point for each letter in the word, but nine-letter words double the points (thus scoring 18 points). If both contestants find words of equal length then they both score the points.

Until 2002, American spelling and inflictions was permitted as well as many more unspecified inflictions. Now, only British spelling is allowed, and the unspecified inflictions from previous series are invalid.

Numbers round

One contestant chooses how many "small" and "large" numbers they would like to make up six randomly chosen numbers. Small numbers are between 1 and 10 inclusive, and large numbers are 25, 50, 75, or 100. All large numbers will be different, so at most four large numbers may be chosen. The contestants have to use arithmetic on some or all of those numbers to get as close as possible to a randomly generated three-digit target number (ranging from 101 to 999, inclusively), within the 30-second time limit. Fractions are not allowed—only integers may be used at any stage of the calculation, (e.g multiplication, addition, subtraction, division)

For numbers selections, they are to be straightforward. The numbers are always placed in a fixed order (going Right to Left - Small numbers are placed first, then the large ones).

Points are awarded for the closest solution, and again both contestants score if the solutions are equally close. 10 points are given for an exact answer, 7 points for a non-exact solution up to 5 from the target, and 5 points for a solution between 6 and 10 from the target. If neither contestant can get within 10, no points are awarded.

Conundrum round

A nine-letter anagram made up of two smaller words is given to the contestants who must unscramble the word within the time limit of 30 seconds. The first person to buzz in and correctly identify the word wins 10 points. If a contestant answers incorrectly then they may not guess again and the other contestant has the remaining time to attempt to find the answer. If neither contestant buzzes in with a correct answer during the time limit then no points are awarded. In the event that the trailing player is 10 or less behind, the Conundrum becomes crucial and the set darkens because of it. If the scores are tied after the conundrum, tie-breaker conundrums are used until the tie is broken.

The winner of the game returns in the next show to face a new opponent (until Series 22, a tie game resulted in both contestants returning); a player who wins eight times is forced to retire, becoming a retired champion, in which case two new contestants will play the next game. At the end of the series, the eight players with most wins (or the highest total winning scores 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.

Format Changes

The show was originally 30 minutes long, and had nine rounds in the following order:

  • Part One
    • Three Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
  • Part Two
    • Three Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
    • Conundrum

On 24 September 2001, the show was extended to 45 minutes long, and had fifteen rounds in the following order:

  • Parts One and Two
    • Four Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
  • Part Three
    • Three Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
    • Conundrum

This format, however, was out of balance, as one contestant made the selections for six Letters rounds and one Numbers round, while the opponent made the selections for five and two rounds, respectively. On 25 March 2013, the format changed to this one that is used today:

  • Part One
    • Two Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
  • Part Two
    • Two Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
    • (repeat)
  • Part Three
    • Four Letters Rounds
    • One Numbers Round
    • Conundrum

In the old format, the Grand Final of each series was a special 45-minute episode with fourteen rounds. Now, all episodes use the fifteen-round format.


The pilot (called Calendar Countdown) was similar to the series, but not without differences:

  • There were only six rounds in the following order:
    1. 45-second Letters Round
    2. 30-second Letters Round
    3. 45-second Numbers Round
    4. Toss-up Letters Round
    5. 45-second Numbers Round
    6. Conundrum (here it's called the Pre-selected Word)
  • For Letters rounds, only eight letters were used in each selection.
  • For Numbers rounds, the values were lower: 5 points for an exact solution, 3 for a solution within five, and 1 for the closest solution (unlike the series, it was given no matter how far away they were). Also, the numbers were placed from left to right instead of the other direction, and a fruit machine determined the target number (meaning the target could be 100 or under).
  • If both contestants had words that are the same length, or equally close solutions (depending on the round), the contestant who made the selection was the only one who scored.
  • For the Conundrum, the contestant with the correct solution scored 12 points.
  • Games straddled episodes, which meant that time could run out in the middle of a game, and the game would have to be completed first thing on the next episode.

Teatime Teaser

Before the commercial break, the audience is given a "Teatime Teaser"—a nine-letter anagram (originally a seven-letter anagram, then an eight-letter anagram) similar to the conundrum, but accompanied by a verbal clue. At the end of the break the anagram is revealed. This does not count towards the scores of the contestants.


Armand Jammot