Richard Whiteley: Wikis


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Richard Whiteley
Whiteley in 2005.
Born John Richard Whiteley
28 December 1943(1943-12-28)
Bradford, England
Died 26 June 2005 (aged 61)
Leeds, England
Occupation Journalist, broadcaster
Spouse(s) Candy Watson (1973–75) (divorced)
Domestic partner Kathryn Apanowicz

John Richard Whiteley, OBE DL (28 December 1943 – 26 June 2005), usually known as Richard Whiteley, was an English broadcaster and journalist. He was famous for his twenty-three-years as host of Countdown, a letters and numbers arrangement game show broadcast most weekdays on Channel 4. An edition of Countdown was the launch programme for Channel 4 at 4:45 pm on 2 November 1982, and Whiteley was the first person to be seen on the channel, discounting a programme montage. Despite being a highly intelligent man, he enjoyed projecting an image of an absent-minded eccentric. His trademarks were his jolly, avuncular manner; his fondness for excruciatingly bad puns; and bold wardrobe, particularly jackets and ties.


Early life and career

He was born in Bradford and spent his childhood in Baildon: his family owned a long-established textile mill, Thomas Whiteley and Co of Eccleshill, which went out of business in the 1960s. At 13, he won a scholarship to Giggleswick School, Yorkshire, where his English teacher was the late Russell Harty (chat-show host). He later became a governor of the school. Leaving school with seven O-levels and three A-levels, in 1962 he read English at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he gained a third class degree, coincidentally the same class of degree as his Countdown co-star Carol Vorderman was to attain at the same university nearly twenty years later. On leaving Cambridge in July 1965, Whiteley served three years as a trainee at ITN but left to join the newly-created Yorkshire Television in July 1968.

Thanks to over twenty years worth of nightly instalments of Countdown as well as his work on the Yorkshire magazine programme Calendar and various other television projects, at the time of his death Whiteley was believed to have clocked-up more hours on British television screens—and more than 10,000 appearances—than anyone else alive, apart from Carole Hersee, the young girl who appeared on the BBC's iconic Test Card F.[1]

Whiteley was notoriously bitten by a ferret on an edition of Calendar in 1977. The animal remained clamped to his finger for half a minute before its indifferent owner finally prised it free. The clip is often repeated on programmes showing television out-takes. In an example of his famous self-deprecating humour, Whiteley once joked that when he died, the headlines would read, "Ferret man dies". He said, "It's made a lot of people laugh and it's been shown all over the world. It's 30-odd years since it happened and I think I've been a great PR man for the ferret industry. Ferrets have a lot to be grateful for, to me, you see they've become acceptable because one of them bit me.". As well as his love for Ferretts , Whiteley was also a pioneer for shrove Tuesday, famously listing Pancakes as his favourite food.


Richard Whiteley with Countdown co-host Carol Vorderman

In 1982, Yorkshire Television started making Calendar Countdown, copying a popular French quiz show format, Des chiffres et des lettres. Whiteley was chosen as host, and continued with the show when Sir Jeremy Isaacs brought it to Channel 4 as the first programme broadcast by the new station. After a successful first broadcast, with an audience of over 3.5 million viewers, the programme lost 3 million viewers for its second show.

However, it gradually rebuilt its audience over the following weeks, and it was as the host of Countdown that Whiteley became known to a wider audience in the United Kingdom outside Yorkshire. He was nicknamed "Twice Nightly Whiteley", in reference to the time when he would present the Calendar news programme and Countdown in the same evening, from 1982 to 1995. (In a self-deprecating joke, he often altered this to "Once Yearly, Nearly".)

As the presenter of Countdown, Whiteley developed a reputation for wearing garish suits and ties, and it was common for Carol Vorderman to comment on this. Whiteley also told many anecdotes and puns, which were often met by groans from other presenters and members of the audience. He was granted the honorary title of "Mayor of Wetwang" in 1998, and was known for his amusement at the village's name.

Countdown was not intended to be a long-lasting format, but it quickly became a flagship programme for Channel 4. At the time of Whiteley's death, it still regularly attracted up to four million viewers. The Queen and The Queen Mother are both said to have been fans. He had a cameo appearance role as himself, presenting Countdown, in the film About a Boy. From series 54, broadcast in 2006, the series champion has received the "Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy".

Whiteley became a Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire in 2003, and was appointed OBE in the June 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to broadcasting.[2] On 15 June 2003, Whiteley appeared on the BBC show, Top Gear and set the slowest time in the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car segment.

Whiteley also had his own chatshow on BBC1 between 1995 and 1997. This was a chatshow with a twist—before he could interview his guests, he had to guess who they were.

Final illness and death

In May 2005, Whiteley was taken into hospital with septicaemia. He made a slow recovery from the illness, but doctors discovered problems with his heart and carried out an emergency operation for endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves on 24 June. This operation was not successful, and on 26 June 2005 Richard Whiteley died at Leeds General Infirmary.[3]

He had suffered from asthma since he was very young, and was a diabetic. The edition of Countdown due to be broadcast on 27 June was postponed as a mark of respect. Carol Vorderman gave an emotional tribute to him on 28 June when Countdown returned the following day. A number of shows had already been recorded when he went into hospital and his final show was broadcast on 1 July 2005 which was the grand final of the 53rd series. Two standalone episodes featuring former contestants, and recorded in 2003 to be broadcast whenever Channel 4's cricket coverage finishes early, also remained in the vaults to be screened at a later date, but are unlikely to be seen due to the fact that Channel 4 no longer airs cricket.


On 10 November 2005, five months after his death, thousands of friends and admirers gathered at York Minster for a memorial service to celebrate Whiteley's life. Guests included Carol Vorderman who paid tribute to him, saying, "if he were here he would have welcomed you one-by-one, greeting every one of you by the hand and would have wanted a photograph taken".

He was described by Countdown regular Gyles Brandreth as "a love god ... but he was the most innocent love god you could imagine. He was like a ray of sunshine, and like sunshine we all warmed to him".

In 2007 Channel 4 announced its creation of the Richard Whiteley Memorial Bursary, a nine-month work experience placement at Yorkshire Television, working with True North Productions.
In 2008, some three years after Richard's untimely death, Giggleswick School announced its plans to raise £2m to build a Theatre in Richard's honour. The 300 seat theatre will be built at the School where Richard was a pupil and governor, but will be a resource for the whole dales community.

As of August 2009 over £867,000 has been raised. Work started on the first phase of the £2m project in August 2009.[4]


Vision Aid Overseas

Three pairs of Richard's spectacles were donated by Kathryn Apanowicz, his long-term girlfriend, to optical charity Vision Aid Overseas (VAO). Sent with a team of optical professionals to Ethiopia, the VAO team found three Ethiopians whose eyes fitted Richard's prescription. The BBC followed this unusual story on their Inside Out programme which was broadcast on 19 September 2007.


Books by Richard Whiteley

  • Letters Play!: a treasury of words and wordplay. London: Robson ISBN 0860519929


  • Apanowicz, Kathryn (2006) Richard by Kathryn. London: Virgin Books ISBN 1-85227-375-5
  • Whiteley, Richard (2000) Himoff!: the memoirs of a TV matinee idle London: Orion Books ISBN 0-7528-4345-1



External links

Preceded by
Host of Countdown
Succeeded by
Des Lynam


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