Marcel Stellman: Countdown creator dies aged 96

Marcel Stellman and his wife JeanImage source, Stephen Pover/Shutterstock
Image caption,
Marcel Stellman and his wife Jean

Marcel Stellman, creator of Channel 4's long-running gameshow Countdown, has died at the age of 96.

Belgian-born Stellman was also a record producer and lyricist who wrote songs for stars including Cilla Black, Charles Aznavour and The Shadows.

Among his best-known tracks was the Max Bygraves hit Tulips From Amsterdam, released in 1958.

Countdown was Channel 4's first show at its 1982 launch and has become one of the world's most enduring game shows.

Stellman's nephew wrote on Twitter: "It is with our deepest sorrow we share with you news of the death of our beloved Uncle - Marcel Stellman, 96, who passed away late last night. Marcel is survived by his beloved wife Jean."

Former Countdown star Carol Vorderman, who appeared on the show for 26 years from 1982 until 2008, was among those paying tribute, crediting Stellman with making Countdown a "juggernaut".

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Vorderman added Stellman had had "a great life well lived" and recalled "many very happy decades together".

The pair's working relationship was close, and when she left the show after contract negotiations turned sour Stellman expressed his "upset".

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Image caption,
Carol Vorderman was the first host of the numbers and letters corner on Countdown

"This is a person I have known for 26 years who started Countdown. If I am Mr Countdown, she is Mrs Countdown," he said.

Also paying tribute was dictionary corner's Susie Dent, who said the show had lost its "patriarch and most passionate advocate".

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Stellman was born in Belgium in 1925 and worked as a producer and international manager at Decca Records from the mid-1950s up to 1989.

He worked alongside many big names including Sir Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Dame Vera Lynn.

In the 1940s and 50s, Stellman also worked on children's programmes for the BBC.

Stellman brought Countdown to the UK in 1982, inspired by French TV series Des Chiffres et Des Lettres (Numbers and Letters).

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Image caption,
Richard Whiteley was a popular host on Countdown but died in 2005

He pitched the concept to several networks and it was ultimately picked up by Yorkshire Television, which commissioned a series of eight shows.

The series was later bought by a fledgling Channel 4, becoming the first programme to be aired following its launch in November 1982, hosted by Richard Whiteley.

Whiteley died in 2005 and has since been followed in the position of host by a number of famous faces including Des Lynam, Des O'Connor, Jeff Stelling and most recently Nick Hewer. Former Weakest Link host Anne Robinson is set to take over from Hewer in June.

Hewer also paid tribute to Stellman, remembering him as "kind and supportive".

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Stellman appeared on the programme's celebrations for its 2,000th episode in 1997, its 3,000th episode in 2001 and 5,000th episode in 2010.

Although Countdown was Stellman's most notable TV success, his association with the small screen began in the 1940s and 1950s.

His work for BBC children's programming included the show Pinky And Perky, where he selected the songs the two pig puppets would sing.

Stellman was a recipient of a Basca Gold Badge Award in 1988 and received an Ivor Novello Award as lyricist for Dance On by Kathy Kirby in 1963.

He lived in London for many years and is survived by his wife Jean.

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