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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 June, 2005, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Presenter Richard Whiteley dies
Richard Whiteley with co-presenter Carol Vorderman
Richard Whiteley presented Countdown for over 20 years
Television presenter and journalist Richard Whiteley has died just days after undergoing heart surgery.

Whiteley, the host of Channel 4's daytime game show Countdown for 23 years, died in Leeds General Infirmary.

The 61-year-old, from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, fell ill with pneumonia last month, but had been said to be recovering slowly.

The agent for Whiteley's Countdown co-host, Carol Vorderman, said she was "absolutely devastated" by his death.

Dearly loved

John Miles said the pair were friends as well as colleagues who were very special to each other.

It is easy to underestimate his strength on screen - he never outstayed his welcome
Esther Rantzen

"He was such a good friend whom she loved dearly - they had 23 years of making programmes together, that's about 4,000 programmes," Mr Miles said.

Channel 4 has yet to decide whether to continue broadcasting pre-recorded episodes of Countdown with Whiteley as host.

A spokeswoman for the channel said they were "shocked and stunned" to hear of the death.

He leaves behind a partner of 11 years, actress Kathryn Apanowicz, who featured in Eastenders during the 1980s and Emmerdale Farm in the 1990s.


Before presenting Countdown, Whiteley had been a familiar face on Yorkshire Television since the late 1960s.

Whiteley and partner, the actress Kathryn Apanowicz
Whiteley received an OBE last year

As anchorman on the channel's Calendar programme, he was subjected to an on-screen attack by a ferret, and was broadcast in negative - with white hair and a black face.

But he was also an incisive political reporter who had interviewed every prime minister since Harold Macmillan.

He was the first journalist to interview then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, after the Brighton bombing in 1984.

Hugely missed

Esther Rantzen, who was one of several guest presenters on Countdown, described him as "one of those people who made you smile".

He did the programme so well on a friendly, human basis
Austin Mitchell MP

She said: "It is easy to underestimate his strength on screen - he never outstayed his welcome.

"They won't be able to replace him. He will be hugely missed."

Terry Wogan, a friend of Whiteley, said he was too upset to speak fully.

"I'm shocked. It's terrible news," the BBC Radio 2 presenter said.

Austin Mitchell MP, who knew Whiteley for 30 years, paid tribute to him as a man who "never put on airs and graces".

"If he fluffed and fumbled that was natural. If he told awful jokes people liked that. He did the programme so well on a friendly, human basis," he said.

Last November Whiteley was honoured with an OBE from the Queen, who is said to be a Countdown fan, as was the late Queen Mother.

Gyles Brandreth fondly remembers a good friend

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