The show couldn’t be cosier — the televisual equivalent of a sit down with a nice cup of tea and a custard cream. However Countdown, which started in 1982, has been struck by a ‘toxic’ feud which is providing plenty of off-screen drama.
Anne is said to have had Rachel’s microphone muted after complaining that the maths expert was ‘too chatty’ with contestants before filming. She’s also said to be irritated by Rachel’s timekeeping and habit of spending time on her mobile phone.
Rachel, for her part, is said to find Anne ‘difficult and mean’. She’s joined in this view by Dictionary Corner’s Susie.
Ratings for Countdown have shot up since Anne Robinson joined as a host. But daggers are apparently drawn with co-stars Susie Dent and Rachel Riley.
We can reveal there are suspicions over the source of a story about Susie’s marriage break-up — which became public just weeks after Robinson joined the show in June.
These have added to divisions between Anne and the show’s two experts. Matters are so fraught that more than one source associated with the show believes Anne will leave early next year when filming is completed on the second tranche of episodes. ‘They will have to fix the issue,’ one source told the Mail.
But another perfectly placed source reveals Channel 4 has just offered a new contract to the Cruella of Countdown — which she signed four days ago. In other words, they are delighted with the ratings, Anne Robinson is going nowhere — and Rachel Riley and Susie Dent are just going to have to suck it up.
So why did Channel 4 hire her? And how will they solve the conundrum of the teatime telly host who is dividing the studio but captivating viewers, more of whom are tuning in to observe her delicious touches of frost?
Hired on the fly
Countdown has long been hosted by genial avuncular figures. Richard Whiteley — whose first episode in November 1982 was the first show on Channel 4 — was followed by Des O’Connor, Des Lynam, Jeff Stelling and Nick Hewer.
Anne, the show’s first female lead presenter, was sought out to succeed Hewer by Channel 4’s Head of Daytime, Jo Street.
I’m told that Ms Street, who is based in Glasgow, unusually did not consult any of the producers of the show about their view of Anne as host.
Anne said this summer: ‘They asked me and I didn’t even take 30 seconds to say, “Yeah, that’s great, that’s exactly what I want to do”.
‘First of all, I’m sitting down. All those years I had to stand up [on The Weakest Link].
‘Also it’s cerebral, it’s very authentic. It hasn’t changed over the years to make it up-to-date.’
She added: 'It's like stawberries and cream - the perfect marriage.'
A bumpy launch
The transition to the ‘Anne era’ wasn’t completely smooth, which perhaps gave a taste of things to come. Her official statement was smart and self-deprecating: ‘I am beyond thrilled to be joining Countdown. The show is almost as old as I am and just as historic.’
But Anne was greatly annoyed by Channel 4 repeatedly selling her hiring on the grounds that there were now three women at the helm.
She told one interviewer: ‘When Channel 4 said to me, “You’ll be the first woman”, I groaned, because I was rather hoping got past the stage of being completely astonished that a woman can do the same job as a man. Maybe we haven’t.
‘You might as well say I’m the first presenter of Countdown who’s got O-negative blood.’
She told another: ‘You might as well say it’s the first person with an under-active thyroid to do it.’
Anne also refused to meet Hewer even though he offered to show her the ropes.
She said: ‘Through the producer, he very kindly said he was available. But, and this isn’t meant to be rude, I sort of thought it was information I could do nothing with.
‘You know, it would be like Gary Lineker telling me how to do Match Of The Day. We’re just two completely different people.’
Too much natter
Simmering tensions came to a head over Rachel’s habit of chatting before filming starts. Anne is said to have requested that producers muted Rachel’s microphone to shut her up.
A source said: ‘Anne is famously known for two things: her dislike of noise and time-keeping. She’ll tolerate neither.
‘Anne also has tinnitus and cannot bear excess sound. Rachel, with her big heels and even bigger personality, can be quite loud on set. Rachel used to chat to contestants before every show and Anne found it hugely distracting so is said to have asked for Rachel’s microphone to be muted.
'Anne felt she couldn’t do her job properly, or bond with the contestants to help them to relax, before the cameras started rolling.
‘Rachel is obviously a professional and never late for filming — she just cuts things more fine than perhaps stickler Anne would like.'
‘Poor old Rachel didn’t work it out for a couple of days and was babbling away quite happily before realising no one could hear her. When Anne said she wanted silence, Rachel