FORMER radio DJ and television prankster Noel Edmonds has emerged as a surprise candidate to replace Richard Whiteley on the daytime word-game show Countdown.
Edmonds is going head to head with the former Match of the Day presenter Des Lynam, who has filmed a pilot of the show and is considered the favourite for the job. Edmonds, best known for Noel's House Party and Swap Shop, has not presented since 2003, when he guest-hosted on BBC Radio 2.
A source at Countdown, made by Yorkshire Television, said: "Noel is a well-known face and could prove popular with viewers." Countdown was the first programme to be shown on Channel 4 and soon established cult status, with Whiteley and Carol Vorderman gaining a loyal audience of students, housewives and pensioners. Intended to run for five weeks, the show has aired for 23 years.
Edmonds, 56, awarded Whiteley a Gotcha statuette on Noel's House Party after planting incompetent contestants on Countdown as a prank.
Edmonds quit TV after Noel's House Party was axed in 1999 after he rowed with the former BBC controller Peter Salmon.
Since 2003 Edmonds, estimated to be worth almost 70 million, has focused on his broadcasting company Unique Group, which makes programmes such as Proms in the Park for the BBC.
After the death of Whiteley, 61, in June, Lynam and Paul Merton, the Have I Got News For You star, were named as the front-runners for the job of presenting the show. Merton, 48, was thought to appeal to Countdown's large student fanbase, whereas Lynam, 56, is a recognisable face for housewives, who make up the majority of daytime viewers.
However, Merton pulled out of the running in order to concentrate on his other shows.
Channel 4 is expected to confirm the new presenter in the coming week. A spokeswoman said: "We are consulting with Carol Vorderman and Yorkshire Television to make sure we get the right person."
Channel 4 stressed that the new presenter will not necessarily try to copy the inimitable Whiteley, whose bumbling repartee won him fans across generations.
Lynam and Edmonds will compete against another late entrant, Richard Digance, a comedy singer-songwriter. Digance has appeared as a celebrity guest on Countdown and was intended as a temporary stand-in for Whiteley when he was first hospitalised in May this year.
Mr Blobby takes on housewives' favourite
Perennially bearded Noel Edmonds is best known for his multi-coloured woolly jumpers and Mr Blobby, the pink and yellow inflatable man who terrorised contestants on Noel's House Party.
Mr Blobby's single was 1993 Christmas No1 and he appeared on the Larry King Show in 1994.
Twinkly-eyed sports presenter Desmond Lynam has become a housewives' pin-up despite having a thick greying moustache and permanently talking about football. He was once quoted as saying: "More football later, but first let's see the goals from the Scottish Cup final."