Preceded by: orange wings set
Succeded by: "original" blue set
January 2003 saw Countdown receive its first significant production revival in twelve years, whereupon the show's signature wings style, in use from July 1991, was succeeded by an abundance of pink, white and beige. Unveiled in the first episode of the programme's eleventh Championship of Champions tournament, the pink stripes design remained in production for a near six years.
In contrast to the former wings style, constructed as an inclusive set piece, this design featured four individual screens characterised by slanted, overhanging roof panels and supported by columns at the ends. They housed an assortment of translucent perspex stripes — of various widths and in shades of pink and magenta, almost reminiscent of a sweets bag — and were positioned in front of a white backdrop. For crucial conundrums (instances in which a correct solve decides the winner of the game), the studio lights were dropped to provide a dramatic effect, appearing to filter the stripes in dark purple. This trend has continued on the two set designs that have followed.
While the set background was lavished in femininity, the desk and platforms exhibited a tan colour, accentuated by warm lighting underneath the desk, and a dark woodgrain finish on both the scoreboard units and outer face of the clock. Metallic profiles were added around the studio to reflect lighting and facilitate a shimmer effect, most noticeable on the underside of the roof panels but also around the clock, the borders of the letters and numbers boards, and the legs each board was mounted on.
The "relic" set pieces — in other words, the clock and two game boards — were refurbished for this newer era of the programme. This primarily involved them becoming freestanding models rather than being embedded into the walls as they had been prior. As mentioned, the clock was rejuvenated with a woodgrain effect laminate on the outer sections. Both boards were touched up with a pink accent colour, and the numbers board was placed further from where the rest of the proceedings took place. The letters board was moved closer to the desk, to give Carol more involvement with the rest of the supporting cast, and was stood on a rounded platform showcasing a motif of the clock face.
Commissioned for the overhaul was television and theatre production designer Andy Walmsley, who is famously credited for developing the set for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — the most reproduced scenic design in television history — among many others. Ultimately, Countdown would be one of his lesser known works due to the criticism that his design initially received. On his website, the designer states that the previous set looked 'dated and stale', and that he 'simply brought it up to date'. Ironically, for many, the wings design was the most favoured over any other, and most certainly wasn't dated in any sense.
October 2005 title sequence
This was the final set design to be overseen by the programme's original presenter, Richard Whiteley, before his death in June 2005. When the show returned in October of that year, now fronted by Des Lynam, the opening sequence was amended to not include the snippets of Richard and Carol that had featured since the 2001 version. These titles retained the purple and yellow theme used beforehand, although had a number of revisions made. These included the clock hand emitting a series of letter and number tiles for the duration of the sequence, an increase in camera movement around the clock, and the inclusion of various elements from the programme being reflected in the clock face: CECIL generating a target number, the OED definition of 'countdown', number tiles being picked up from the tray, and a 'U' letter tile being placed on the board. Approaching the end of the sequence, the wings continued to fade in behind the clock as a way of paying homage to the era that the preceding titles had been introduced under.
The titles remained as they were throughout the presenting tenures of Des Lynam and Des O'Connor, and were refreshed with a blue background in line with the introduction of the "original" blue set in January 2009.
It was during this era of the show when Countdown celebrated its 25th anniversary, which was held on 2nd November 2007. To commemorate this milestone in the programme's history, a special episode was broadcast on the day, whereby two legendary players — Chris Wills and Conor Travers — were pitted against each other. It was the only edition to feature a 12-round structure, and neither of the contestants chose the letters and numbers selections, which were instead selected by celebrity guests. The studio was decorated with balloons for the occasion, while the clock was adorned with a glittery '25' sticker.
As it approached its sixth year in use, the pink stripes set was seen for the last time in the Series 59 grand final, broadcast on 12th December 2008.
. A significant episode in Countdown history, it marked the end of Carol Vorderman as the co-presenter — a role she had filled since the programme started. In July 2008, Des O'Connor announced that he was to step down at the end of the year to focus on other commitments, which prompted Channel 4 to reveal that Vorderman would also be leaving her role. Reports at the time suggested she had been asked to take a 33% pay cut from her rumoured £900,000 salary, in line with budget cuts to the show itself, which she accepted. However, with six months left before her contract expired, she was approached by Channel 4 bosses with an abrupt demand to accept 10% of her current salary and decide within 48 hours whether or not she was to continue on the show. She declined, walking away at the end of Series 59. She was replaced by Oxford University graduate Rachel Riley at the beginning of 2009.
Sources: screenshots from YouTube of episode 4732 (the final episode to use this set)