Countdown has been entertaining and challenging British audiences with mathematical and word tasks for nearly three decades. The popular Channel 4 gameshow was fronted by Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman, during its on-screen debut in 1982. She was replaced by Rachel Riley in 2009, after contract negotiations broke down with ITV Productions. At the time she claimed management had demanded she take a 90 percent pay cut and it was a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer. The move prompted her to walk away from the discussions and led her to claim she was “forced out”. Rachel would go on to become a hit with audiences and remains so to this day. But unearthed accounts reveal she made a massive error during her first ever episode, as she struggled to fill the boots of her popular predecessor.
Rachel Riley made her Countdown debut on January 12, 2009, and soon would emerge as a “jewel in the broadcasting crown” of Channel 4.
The 22-year-old, who was a mathematics student at Oriel College, Oxford, had no presenting experience of any kind but became the face to front this popular show.
Her first ever episode saw the clash between David and James in a ‘Champion of Champions’ heat, all compéred by frontman Jeff Sterling.
For the numbers task, Rachel was instructed to pick out five small digits and a single large one, which were: 1, 3, 5, 6, 10 and 75.
The contestants were then tasked with finding a mathematical equation that would total 554 and they began the challenge.
Rachel Riley made an unfortunate mistake during her first Countdown appearance
Carol Vorderman hosted Countdown for several decades and was the first female present on Channel 4
As the second hand ticked down on their one minute timer, David frantically scribbled and James looked out at the audience with a finger on his temple.
When that all-too-familiar klaxon rang, to signal the end of the countdown, the participants looked on proudly as both of them announced that they had reached the total figure.
David relayed his workings to Rachel, only for her to make a mistake while writing the numbers down on the board.
He started with ten minus three, which equals seven. Then seven plus one, totalling eight.
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Rachel Riley frowned awkwardly at the audience and team after realising her Countdown debut mistake
Then he asked her to minus five from 75 to equal 70, and times eight by 70 to get 560 in total.
In the final move of the maths formula, Rachel continued: “Then you have a six left over, add on the six.”
A single clap erupted from one over-eager member of the audience and the host’s face dropped as she realised she had made a mistake.
She added: “No, you don’t, you take away the six, oh dear, oh dear.”
Rachel’s error would have taken the final total to 566, rather than the desired 554, which caused her to frown awkwardly at the audience before laughing.
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Rachel Riley’s first Countdown episode ended with David (left) beating James (right)
By the end of the show, David had won with 101 points compared to James’ 82 point total.
In a brief conclusion to the episode, host Jeff turned to Rachel to ask her if she had “enjoyed it” and how she felt about her first appearance.
The star said: “Oh it’s great and we’ve got some very, very good contestants here, so I didn’t have to do much work today, did I?”
Jeff followed up by asking: “What do your friends in Oxford University say?”
Rachel joked: “Oh they are all very excited, hopefully they have it on in the bar and will be watching every day… they better be!”
After Jeff quipped, “Don’t drink, do they, in these universities?”, she sarcastically fired back: “Oh coffee, coffee in the bar, yeah.”