I remember the day well. The extended family all hunkered around the Ferguson telly in the corner of the room as the revolution and evolution of television began.
The date? November 2, 1982. The occasion? The launch of Channel Four. The curtain-raiser? Countdown.
Unlike the telly, Countdown has been there ever since, like that comfy nightie/pyjamas you really ought to have thrown out a decade or two ago.
Of course, the daddy of the show was Richard Whitely and there he stayed in his chair for the guts of 23 years before his untimely death, enjoying chummy chats with Carol Vorderman with all the sexual tension of Ann Widdecombe turning up on the set of Naked Attraction.
Things have changed much in those 38+ years. Richard and Carol have gone, the latter replaced by Rachel Riley while the other long-serving resident of Dictionary Corner, Susie Dent, remains, having eventually made the role her own after seeing off some pesky males.
The main chair though has had a fair few manly backsides warming it. And not hugely successfully. Des Lynam, probably thinking that he could fill his boots being the housewife’s moustache of choice, clearly failed to recognise that most of the audience also had moustaches.
He bailed out followed by another Des in the shape of O’Connor and he too found the going tough, while the less said about Jeff Stelling’s reign, the better.
Nick Hewer is the only man to have made a fist of it, and, unbelievably, served for nine years before being handed his own Countdown retirement clock last week.
And so a new start? Time for a change, no more doddery old men telling the women what to do. Enter Anne Robinson, who can tell the women what to do instead.
You can picture the Channel Four executives discussing who they could get for the job and thinking ‘Anne Robinson was great on The Weakest Link, let’s give her a bell.’
Sadly, for all concerned, it has become very quickly apparent that call was made about 20 years too late.
Channel Four are making a huge meal of the fact that it is now an ‘all-female’ line-up, but does anyone really give a monkey’s chuff? Did Emily Davison die so that a 76-year-old woman could tell Rachel Riley to pick some letters and numbers on a daytime quiz show?
The opening of the show would have been something of a shock to the average Countdown viewer in that Whitely was back. Word searches were thrown in the air, Werther’s Originals spat out and plastic hips went into meltdown before another version of Robinson appeared.
This was her ‘first’ appearance on the show, back when Richard was king, no, not in the late 1400s, but in the late 1980s.
“If you’re trying to work it out, that was 1987 and the clue was my hair was Bay City Rollers,” she said, and even the studio audience realised the Rollers had said bye, bye baby long before.
A hugely awkward opening exchange followed between the two leading ladies, before we got to meet the contestants, Steve and Shelley.
“Steve, you’re an accountant. Is that as exciting as it sounds?” she asked, and we waited for the huge guffaw from the audience. It never came.
“It has its moments, but not very many,” replied Steve, desperately trying to rescue Anne but to no avail.
She tried to be nasty again when guest in Dictionary Corner, Rory Bremner, missed out on a seven-letter word.
“Didn’t you get ‘inertia?’” Anne asked, missing the point that really it didn’t matter if he did or not, that was really down to Steve and Shelley, but Susie could have butted in to say that the definition of inertia is ‘a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.’ And that’s Countdown in a nutshell.
They weren’t helped by some awful letter selections. You’d almost think Colin Murray, who actually brought a bit of youthful, well, youthful in Countdown terms, to proceedings during lockdown, had broken in and was cackling in the background, only drowned out by the click-clack of knitting needles.
They were awoken from their slumbers with Anne ordering them to applaud, and not even ‘flasher’ making an appearance (in word form) could raise a titter.
“Susie, anything better?” she asked towards the end. Surely there must have been but Channel Four have made their choice and with that trademark wink, she bade us farewell for the opening day.
It was day one. For all concerned it can only get better. If it doesn’t, the countdown clock is really clicking faster than those needles.