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RIP Richard Whiteley

I was very surprised and saddened to discover that a fixture of British television, a gentleman by the name of Richard Whiteley, passed away in hospital on the evening (UK time) of Sunday, June 26th.

In the UK, Richard was probably best known for hosting a show called Countdown on Channel 4, and before my Australian readers start rolling their eyes, Countdown isn't a pop music show (the UK equivalent is Top of the Pops). It's a puzzle game where contestants are given a random selection of nine letters and challenged to assemble the longest dictionary word out of them in thirty seconds. It sounds dry, and, well, it is, but I found it good fun compared to the bright lights and big noises of the "Price Is Right"s and "Family Fortunes/Feud"s of the time. Countdown was an honest intellectual challenge, with no prize other than returning for the next day's show (and, hopefully, building up a respectable run of shows before being topped by the next challenger). Contestants could be and often were from all walks of British life.

Richard was with Countdown from the beginning and never missed a show. Also with the show from the beginning was co-host and "letters girl" Carol Vorderman, who showed that she was more than a dab hand with math challenges in the two to three "numbers rounds" of each show, where she herself would demonstrate tot he contestants and audience several ways to get a computer-calculated result from a random selection of six numbers (in other words, she was calculating on the fly at the same time as the contestants).

Countdown was one of those things I missed after Mum, Dad and I moved to Australia, and when my aunt Heather started sending us video tapes of UK TV, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that not only was Countdown still going strong, but Richard and Carol were still running the show, still thoroughly enjoying their day jobs. I made sure to sit Vickie down for a couple of shows during our trip to the UK in 2003 (even though she doesn't remember them now).

With Richard gone and Carol quite understandably shaken by the death of her colleague of twenty-three years, the show's future seems uncertain, but if Countdown does continue, the only surety is that it won't ever be quite the same without Richard's presence and often puntastic wit behind the host's desk.

Rest in peace, Richard. Even though I've not seen much of you these past few, I'll miss you.

(Readers can find more information on the show's format and presenters in this Wikipedia entry and this Hitch Hiker's Guide entry.)

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Actually darling, I remember Calculating Carol best. She was an absolute whiz and if there was a quicker way to do it, she already had the answer. I do remember Countdown, it just took the right nudge.