Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

The channel of our generation

This week sees the 30th anniversary of Channel 4. We celebrate the most influential screen moments...

We have a lot to thank Channel 4 for: Jon Snow’s ties, Friends (imagine life without it) and reality TV. But it was Countdown which launched the channel 30 years ago. Here, the long-serving co-host Carol Vorderman tells us why it’s such an important channel.

“I never really wanted to be on the telly. But I was working as an engineer in a frozen pea factory in Lancashire when my mum presented me with the newspaper advertisement for Countdown. The producers of a new station, Channel 4, were in a panic, the advert said. They couldn't find anyone to present the numbers section of their new game show and they desperately needed help. “You’d be good at this,” she said. “Don’t be ridiculous, Mum,” I replied. Little did I know that my mother had written a letter to Yorkshire Television and forged my signature; a few days later I was in the studio. With no screen test or preparation I was set to work on the numbers game. I got the answers within milliseconds (I hadn't realised you were given 30 seconds to work it out, so blurted them out immediately) and I was hired on the spot.

“I left in 2008 with the picture of Richard and I, which i stole from outside my dressing room, under my arm”

Six million people tuned in to watch our first show at 4.45pm on Tuesday 2 November, 1982. The channel would launch with Countdown and my co-presenter and great friend Richard Whiteley would be the first face live on air. I got something like £20 a show and had to take holiday time from my proper job to go into the studio for filming. But I was only 21. I didn't even know that the red light meant we were on air. All I can remember thinking is, ‘Well this is a bit of a laugh; something to tell my children when I’m older.’ We made television history that day, but our second episode was even more momentous. Overnight we lost 95% of our audience. That’s the biggest percentage drop of any show in history. “It’s normal!” We were told. The previous afternoon the whole country had tuned in to watch the launch of a historic channel, they weren't necessarily interested in an afternoon letters and number show. We went on to be one of the top five shows on Channel 4 for over 15 years. I always chuckle when I think of the big execs telling people that one of their most popular shows is a daytime letters and numbers game. Thirty years later, the show’s still going. When I left in 2008 (with the picture of Richard and I which I stole from outside my dressing room under my arm) I knew I was leaving a place with real creativity and diversity. Channel 4 has had a massive effect on the business of broadcasting and has revolutionised the way the industry and audiences view independent programming. Film4 is a personal highlight for me, as well as Channel 4 News and the station’s groundbreaking documentaries that have changed whole industries and even shaped our country. It is an extraordinary thing.”

Words: Lizzie Pook Illustration: Ben Challenor

Comments

More

Illustrator imagines what animals would say if they could talk

“Is he dead? We better walk on his face and find out” by Helen Brown

27 May 2016

Study reveals gender differences in the language we use online

Women are sooo happy <3, but more assertive too by Amy Swales

27 May 2016

Bride loses ring an hour before wedding...little boy saves the story

Her 'something old' was a 100-year-old family heirloom by Anna Pollitt

27 May 2016

15 brides share their hard-earned words of wedding wisdom

Tales of bee swarms and knicker drama far from the glossy bridal dream (but all the better for it) by Amy Swales

26 May 2016

Find out how to light up your fitness mojo with our video guide

Think you're not into sport? Think again by Harriet Hall

26 May 2016

Woman battles to use her deceased daughter's eggs to conceive a child

Her daughter would be "devastated" if her eggs weren't used by Sarah Biddlecombe

26 May 2016

Shocking extent of misogyny on social media revealed in new study

More than 200,000 tweets used the words "slut" and "whore" by Sarah Biddlecombe

26 May 2016

Grieving customer pens sweet message to waitress

“Enjoy a night with someone you love” by Amy Swales

26 May 2016

10 ways to make your home more colourful

From chalky blues to fiery reds by Helen Brown

25 May 2016

How to make ice-cream flowers

Our new Instagrammable obsession by Amy Swales

25 May 2016