Anne Robinson: life and career of Countdown host replacing Nick Hewer, and when did she present The Weakest Link?

Anne will join Susie Dent and Rachel Riley to create the programme’s first female trio

Anne will join Rachel Riley and Susie Dent on the all-female panel (Picture: Channel 4)
Anne will join Rachel Riley and Susie Dent on the all-female panel (Picture: Channel 4)

Former Weakest Link presenter Anne Robinson is returning to quiz shows, as the presenter of Channel 4’s Countdown.

The 76-year-old will be the first female presenter of the show, which first aired in 1982.

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Robinson is best known for her 'You are the weakest link, goodbye' catchphrase, which was coined during her stint as the face of the BBC One quiz show (Picture: BBC)

Robinson, who’s career in the media spans more than five decades, said she is unimpressed by the need to point out she is the first female presenter as she hoped that the industry would have moved “past the stage of being completely astonished that a woman can do the same job as a man.”

So, who is she, what else has she presented and why did Nick Hewer leave? This is what you need to know.

Who is Anne Robinson?

Robinson is the daughter of a teacher father and businesswoman mother, born in Lancashire in 1944.

Robinson was brought up on a farm in Crosby and attended a private Roman Catholic convent boarding school in Hampshire, Farnborough Hill Convent.

Her first job involved gutting chickens, as an employee of her family’s agricultural business.

In 1967, she decided to move to London to pursue a career in journalism and began working for the Daily Mail.

She began dating deputy editor Charles Wilson and in 1968 the couple married - as a result, she was fired from the Daily Mail.

Robinson subsequently moved to The Sunday Times, and in 1970 she welcomed her only child, a daughter named Sarah Wilson.

In 1973, she split from Wilson and lost custody over her daughter due to her excessive alcohol problem.

In 1977, she was sacked by The Sunday Times and moved to the Liverpool Echo before returning to London in 1980 as assistant editor of Daily Mirror, working under the late Robert Maxwell.

In 1978, she stopped drinking after she picked her daughter up from school and drove straight to the shops to buy a bottle of vodka. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous the following year.

Robinson married journalist John Penrose in 1980 and the couple remained married for 27 years, divorcing in 2007.

In 1982, she attended a dinner with the Queen and Princess Diana in which Diana turned up late - it turned out Diana was suffering from an eating disorder and this appeared as an exclusive by Robinson in The Mirror.

This led to Robinson’s TV career, as Buckingham Palace advised that she was to be dropped from the editorial rota. As a result, she was advised by her Chief Editor Mike Molloy to “do more television, blossom, that's what you're good at."

In 2001, Robinson was treated for skin cancer and had surgery to remove malignant melanomas. Now aged 76, she has two grandchildren.

What has she presented?

Robinson’s BBC debut came in 1982, as an occasional panellist on current affairs programme Question Time. She also presented the 'TV Choice' section on Breakfast Time.

She took over from Barry Took as presenter of television's audience show, Points of View, in 1988 and remained until 1999.

In 2000, she became the face of BBC quiz show ‘The Weakest Link’, for which she became a household name and synonymous with the expression “You are the weakest link, goodbye’.

Her harsh one-liners and icy persona became her trademark, rarely showing retaliation to funny or witty moments on the show.

In 2005, she also appeared on Doctor Who episode ‘Bad Wolf’, voicing the ‘Anne Droid’ presenter of The Weakest Link in the year 200,100.

After nearly 1,700 episodes of the show and 12 years at the helm, she announced she would depart from The Weakest Link.

She also presented Watchdog - a consumer affair investigations programme - from 1993 to 2002 and again from 2009 to 2015.

After a four year hiatus, she returned to the BBC in 2016 to present a three-part miniseries titled ‘Anne Robinson's Britain’, shown on BBC One.

In 2021, she confirmed she would replace Nick Hewer as presenter of Channel 4’s Countdown.

Why did Nick Hewer leave Countdown?

Hewer retired after nine years on the show.

After a few months without filming due to the ongoing pandemic, Hewer announced he was leaving the show in December 2020.

He tweeted: “Delighted to be back in the Countdown studio after another enforced lockdown, BUT this latest lockdown has given me an opportunity to consider my future life and I’ve decided it’s a good time to step down at the end of my contract in the New Year.

“As someone in his 77th year who will be in his 10th year hosting the great British institution that is Countdown, I think it’s time to smell the flowers and get a dog.”

Hewer finished filming Countdown on 25 June 2021.

Has Anne Robinson had plastic surgery?

Robinson has been honest about her face lift, which she received in 2004 after watching herself on Watchdog and fearing she “looked like [her] mother”.

She joked that she wanted a second face lift before starting as host on Countdown, but couldn’t because of the pandemic.

She told Best magazine: “"I'd watch [Watchdog] back and I'd see my mother talking. I thought I'd quite like to look a bit better than that.

"Once I'd had the face lift in 2004, it felt unfair if I didn't say I'd had it."

The 76-year-old added that instead of a second surgery, she settled for "the one that's like taking layers off the M40. Possibly dermabrasion?"

She also told the BBC, prior to her first episode on Countdown, that women shouldn’t feel compelled to have work done, but neither is it anyone else’s business.

She said "You're quite entitled to have surgery if you want to. I mean, why should anyone, particularly other women, object to you doing whatever you want to do? Most of them have got pierced ears after all."

How have people reacted to Robinson’s appointment to Countdown?

Robinson said of her appointment that she wished ageism and sexism were things of the past, as Channel 4 was quick to point out she is the first female presenter and she is now in her 70s.

She said she has no cap on how many years she will present for, pointing out that 86-year-old Mary Berry is still presenting on TV.

Robinson also told the BBC that she would not have gone back to her Weakest Link days, as we now live in a “woke era”, where making jest of someone’s appearance, personality or circumstance can lead to “cancel culture.”

She said: “One of the several reasons we wouldn't do Weakest Link again is that we're into [the] woke era now. And there would be endless confusion about it. So you're quite right."

Asked about her thoughts on cancel culture - someone being cast out or fired because of criticising another or for making controversial or questionable remarks, she told the BBC: "Well, it's exhausting isn't it?

"Because it's cutting out genuine criticism. I hate it that television, newspapers and charities are all pandering to it. Instead of supporting the people who support their newspaper or their charity."

Her comments come after she was criticised for previous comments she made on the Weakest Link, embarrassing contestants for their appearance, age or whether or not they had a job.

"It is a baffling decision," wrote Rupert Hawksley in the Independent. "This gentle, mid-afternoon game show, best enjoyed with a cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg, deserves better than Robinson's vicious tongue and pursed lips."

Robinson said she is blissfully unaware of the criticisms, as she does not use social media.

When is Countdown on TV?

Anne Robinson's first episode of Countdown airs on Monday 28 June at 2.10pm on Channel 4.

The show airs every weekday and is also available on streaming service, All 4.