Countdown to Countdown
So Channel 4 has managed to get itself into a bit of a mess with its longest running series - Countdown. Just before the weekend, Des O'Connor announced that he was retiring from the show. And this was followed quickly by Carol Vorderman announcing that she too was leaving.
Over the weekend it became clear that Vorderman, who's been there since the start, was being asked to take an enormous pay cut as the overall budget of the show was dramatically reduced. It's safe to imagine that Vorderman was on a decent wage having spent so long with the show, but didn't fancy a salary reduced to perhaps as little as 10% of what she was previously earning.
"Executives at the broadcaster are said to be bemused by the publicity surrounding Vorderman - who has claimed she was told to take a 90% pay cut to stay on the show.
"Channel 4 insiders questioning how much sympathy daytime viewers would have over her salary, which sources have put at £1.2m for 40 days' filming a year. Previous reports put her salary between £900,000 and £1m a year."
This must be hard given that Firstplus, the debt consolidation firm for which she was the public face (and faced a sustained campaign against her working for the secured debt business) has now stopped seeking new business.
Still at least she can fall back on the sales of some of the products she markets like Eat Yourself Clever (A 28-day Plan to Help You Lose Weight, Improve Brain Power and Boost Wellbeing), Detox For Life (also available as a DVD) and her many Sudoku games.
It was entirely natural, I guess, that when the initial wave of the sudoku craze swept the UK, Vorderman should get involved in this number-based game. Of course there's precisely no mathematics involved, but including numbers is close enough for any self-respecting marketeer.
Which brings me to a neat little sub-story emerging from Channel 4's press office in the aftermath:
"Among the plans to shore up Britain's favourite afternoon parlour game, Channel 4 sources have suggested they will launch a nationwide search for Britain's "brainiest maths graduate" to replace Vorderman."
Can we please just get one thing straight - having Britain's "brainiest maths graduate" is not really going to be a great deal of use of Countdown. The numbers game on the programme is simply a mental arithmetic game which, while undoubtedly involving a certain degree of skill, does not remotely require a top maths graduate. Indeed most maths graduates (and I include myself) would tell you that they probably stopped doing mental arithmetic of this type in primary school. Adding, subracting, multiplying and dividing are the foundations of arithmetic, but they have little to do with what graduates will have been doing for the past three or more years at university. Playing the numbers game on Countdown requires little knowledge of pure mathematics, applied mathematics, algebra, analysis, probability, cryptography, topology, number theory, logic, set theory, cosmology, stochastic modeling, wave theory, statistics or optimisation amongst many many other aspects of undergraduate mathematics.
I think this goes someway to explaining why so many people have so little understanding of maths and the sciences in general, a malaise not helped by the lack of coverage on television of these subjects - watching Numb3rs on ITV3 doesn't really count.
That all said, I'm sure some will apply even if they're not actually Britain's "brainiest maths graduate."