Countdown: Anne Robinson's fury at Rachel Riley, writes ALISON BOSHOFF

Countdown to a showdown: In a bitter war of words at TV’s cosiest daytime quiz, Anne Robinson is accused of being overbearing and overpaid – and so infuriated by Rachel Riley she may even quit. Now Team Cruella hits back, writes ALISON BOSHOFF

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. 

Countdown’s new host, Anne Robinson, 77, is said to be at daggers drawn with her younger female counterparts Rachel Riley, 35, and Susie Dent, 56. 

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 turned around in front of the whole studio and stated publicly that she disagreed; that she didn’t find it necessary. 

‘The tension was palpable. But for Anne, there’s nothing like a bit of good-natured rivalry to get the juices flowing. 

‘Rachel is obviously a professional and never late for filming — she just cuts things more fine than perhaps stickler Anne would like. It’s safe to say there’s no love lost between these two, but it’s ratings gold.’

Two versus one

Perhaps it was always going to be hard for Anne to fit in as Rachel and Susie have appeared in nearly 3,000 episodes of Countdown together, plus spin-off show 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown and are also good friends off-screen, as well as both being Oxford graduates. 

Susie has filmed 4,719 episodes of the show and Rachel 2,858. Anne made six appearances in Dictionary Corner in 1987 and has made 128 episodes of the show so far. 

An insider said: ‘It is very much Rachel and Susie against Anne — a case of two camps. 

‘Lots of crew are discussing what is going on. Rachel and Susie don’t care much for Anne and her rather grand ways and things have become pretty uncomfortable. 

‘Anne likes to do things her way, while Rachel doesn’t go along with how she operates. 

‘This has now led to little social interaction between them away from the cameras.’ 

On July 9, it emerged that Susie had split from her primary school teacher husband Paul Atkins several months previously.

A source revealed to the Mail that Anne has been excluded from social events involving the rest of the cast and crew. Apparently she finds Rachel ‘stuck up’. 

Another source said: ‘Rachel doesn’t like her and nor does Susie. There is dissent in the camp.’ 

A third source said: ‘Anne is a stickler for time-keeping and doesn’t like seeing the younger crew members, including Rachel, on their phones, on Twitter, constantly. Basically the two women are worlds apart. 

‘Anne actually thinks Rachel is incredibly quick-witted and hugely talented, but the trouble is they’re both alpha females and, alas, only one can be top dog.’

 Suspicious minds

Countdown’s current 84th series started broadcasting with Anne at the helm on June 28. 

On July 9, it emerged that Susie had split from her primary school teacher husband Paul Atkins several months previously. 

A source told the Mail: ‘Susie’s a very private person and was sad when the divorce came out. Nobody is sure quite how it leaked, but it did coincide with Anne coming on to the show.’ 

Friends of Anne insist that she had nothing to do with it and think that perhaps the crew are to blame or Susie’s estranged husband himself.

The wage gap

Rachel started on Countdown in 2008 and was paid around £40,000 a year at first. Both she and Susie are now thought to be on more than £150,000 a year. Anne Feud for thoughtis understood to be getting around three times that amount. 

‘The first thing they do is tell you how little money they’ve got,’ Anne sighed. 

Her biggest paydays came when she was making the The Weakest Link for UK and U.S. TV networks and earning £4million a year. 

Rachel and Susie share a stylist and a makeup artist, while Anne has her own. She also has a larger dressing room, but that is normal for the host of a show.

Primark v Prada

All three women are given a clothes budget. Rachel was blown away by hers and said she felt ‘like Pretty Woman’ going down to Regent Street with a stylist twice a year and getting clothes from Whistles, Reiss and LK Bennett to wear on screen. 

By contrast, Anne was openly disdainful of the £8,000 she was given for clothes, saying: ‘I think it extends to two dresses.’ 

She added: ‘I’d be shopping in Primark if I relied on that budget.’ 

Anne never wears High Street clothes, instead favouring designer brands such as Issey Miyake, Prada, Valentino, Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Gucci, Yves St Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana.

She said: ‘In the beginning of my career [as a journalist] all I needed was curiosity and a notebook. Now I need earrings.’

Feud for thought 

Countdown is filmed twice a year in intensive blocks. They make five shows a day, three days a week at Media City in Salford. 

The next block of filming is due to start in December, once Rachel is back from maternity leave, and will finish in February. 

She is expecting her second child with former Strictly Come Dancing professional Pasha Kovalev. 

A source said: ‘They film five episodes a day, so it’s pretty fullon. When they meet there is very little small talk. 

‘Anne was overheard saying “Hello” and asking how Rachel’s day was going. Basically if looks could kill then Anne would be six feet under.’ 

Friends of Anne, though, say she’s far too tough and professional to care much about a few dirty looks. She feels that the ‘feud’ is ‘just a storm in a tea cup’. 

Ratings winner 

There have been lots of complaints about Anne’s manner on the show. Even when she is being at her nicest to the contestants, some viewers still think she is too clipped and abrasive. 

‘I do say, “hello, how are you”, simply to allow them to see that the slightly pantomime character on Weakest Link isn’t all of me,’ she said. 

However, ratings are the highest since 2012, with audience share up since Anne took over. Some viewers have remarked on the frosty atmosphere on the show — which is, perhaps, making more people tune in. 

In July, soon after Anne started, Dictionary Corner’s comedian guest Rachel Parris suggested the randomly-selected nine-letter conundrum spelled ‘megabitch’. 

Letter picker Rachel was pictured standing next to the word

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