It’s a big year for UK quiz shows shaking up the presenter bench. University Challenge and Pointless have lost presenting stalwarts Jeremy Paxman and Richard Osman respectively, Anne Robinson made an early exit from Countdown, and now her replacement Colin Murray has vacated the chair temporarily to welcome a series of special guest hosts.
To mark the 40th anniversary of Channel 4 this month, the very first show broadcast on the channel has opened its door to four broadcasting greats, each of whom will host Countdown for one week. Let’s meet the new presenters joining lexicographer Susie Dent and mathematician Rachel Riley on the words and numbers puzzle game.
Oct 31st – Nov 4th: Baroness Floella Benjamin
First up was children’s television legend, and House of Lords life peer Baroness Floella Benjamin, who hosted Countdown from Monday October 31st to Friday November 4th. The presenter and campaigner is beloved by those she calls her “Play School Babies” – adults who were children during her 1970s and 1980s run on the kids’ show – and has dedicated her professional life to campaigning for children’s issues and charity fundraising. Doctor Who fans will also remember Benjamin as recurring character Professor Rivers in The Sarah Jane Adventures, to pick just one of many screen roles. On Countdown, the Baroness was joined by Judge Robert Rinder as her Dictionary Corner counterpart. Their episodes are currently available to stream on All4.
Nov 7th – Nov 11th: The Reverend Richard Coles
Former pop star, retired vicar and current novelist and broadcaster, Rev. Richard Coles is the connoisseur’s multi-hyphenate. A familiar face on panel shows, former Strictly competitor and Celebrity MasterChef winner, he co-presents BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live among a varied collection of screen appearances. He’ll be taking the Countdown presenter’s chair in the second week of November and, having previously manned Dictionary Corner, this is not his first Countdown rodeo. This time his Dictionary Tonto (do they call it that? They should call it that) will be sports journalist and former Strictly contestant Dan Walker.
Nov 14th – Nov 18th: Sir Trevor McDonald
Who could have more gravitas behind the Countdown table than newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald, currently several rungs up the national treasure ladder. The celebrated ITN broadcaster first hosted the words and numbers game as part of Channel 4’s Black to Front programming in 2021, and now is back for the third week in November. He’s a household name in the UK, and the current floating head in E4’s revived GamesMaster gaming TV show. Sir Trevor’s Dictionary Corner companion will be University Challenge alumni and maths whizz Bobby Seagull.
Nov 21st – Nov 25th Moira Stuart
Another unmistakable voice indivisible from British culture: broadcaster Moira Stuart will complete the rotation of Countdown guest hosts before Colin Murray’s return by making her debut on the show. With an almost sixty-year-long career, like Sir Trevor McDonald above, Stuart is a trail blazer and journalist who has presented the news on BBC TV and radio, as well as presenting on Classic FM and as part of the BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Breakfast Show. Who’s joining her in Dictionary Corner? Why, it’s Biggins.
And that concludes the quartet of new guest hosts, whose arrival comes after several shake-ups in the world of British TV game show quizzing. To summarise: in April came the news that Richard Osman was quitting the civilian episodes of Pointless, leaving co-host Alexander Armstrong with a Have I Got News For You-style rotating series of guests in laptop corner (do they call it that? They should call it that.) One month later in May, new Countdown host Anne Robinson announced her early departure and was subsequently replaced by BBC Radio 5 Live’s Colin Murray. Then in August, we learned that the current series of BBC Two’s University Challenge would be presenter of 27-years Jeremy Paxman’s last before BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan would take over in 2023. Keeping up with all that is a quiz round in itself.
Countdown airs at 2.10 pm on weekdays on Channel 4 in the UK. Episodes are available to stream on All4.