The show couldn’t be cosier — the televisual equivalent of a sit down with a nice cup of tea and a custard cream. However Countdown, which started in 1982, has been struck by a ‘toxic’ feud which is providing plenty of off-screen drama. 

Countdown’s new host, Anne Robinson, 77, is said to be at daggers drawn with her younger female counterparts Rachel Riley, 35, and Susie Dent, 56. 

Anne is said to have had Rachel’s microphone muted after complaining that the maths expert was ‘too chatty’ with contestants before filming. She’s also said to be irritated by Rachel’s timekeeping and habit of spending time on her mobile phone. 

Rachel, for her part, is said to find Anne ‘difficult and mean’. She’s joined in this view by Dictionary Corner’s Susie. 

Since Anne Robinson joined Countdown as a host, ratings for the show have risen. However, daggers are drawn with Rachel Riley and Susie Dent, who are co-stars.

We can reveal there are suspicions over the source of a story about Susie’s marriage break-up — which became public just weeks after Robinson joined the show in June. 

These have added to divisions between Anne and the show’s two experts. The situation is so tense that Anne will likely leave the show in the early part of next year, according to multiple sources. ‘They will have to fix the issue,’ one source told the Mail. 

But another perfectly placed source reveals Channel 4 has just offered a new contract to the Cruella of Countdown — which she signed four days ago. In other words, they are delighted with the ratings, Anne Robinson is going nowhere — and Rachel Riley and Susie Dent are just going to have to suck it up.

So why did Channel 4 hire this woman? How will they solve this conundrum?

Hired on-the-fly 

Countdown has been hosted for many years by a variety of genial and affable figures. Richard Whiteley — whose first episode in ­November 1982 was the first show on Channel 4 — was followed by Des O’Connor, Des Lynam, Jeff Stelling and Nick Hewer. 

Anne, the show’s first female lead presenter, was sought out to succeed Hewer by Channel 4’s Head of Daytime, Jo Street. 

I’m told that Ms Street, who is based in Glasgow, unusually did not consult any of the producers of the show about their view of Anne as host. 

Anne said this summer: ‘They asked me and I didn’t even take 30 seconds to say, “Yeah, that’s great, that’s exactly what I want to do”. 

‘First of all, I’m sitting down. All those years, I had to stand. [on The Weakest Link]. 

‘Also it’s cerebral, it’s very authentic. It hasn’t changed over the years to make it up-to-date.’ 

She said, “It’s like a marriage of cream and stawberries – the perfect one.”

A bumpy launch 

The transition to the ‘Anne era’ wasn’t completely smooth, which perhaps gave a taste of things to come. Her official statement was smart and self-deprecating: ‘I am beyond thrilled to be joining Countdown. The show is almost as old as I am and just as historic.’ 

Anne was very annoyed that Channel 4 kept selling Anne her hiring because there were now three women at helm. 

She told one interviewer: ‘When Channel 4 said to me, “You’ll be the first woman”, I groaned, because I was rather hoping got past the stage of being completely astonished that a woman can do the same job as a man. Maybe we haven’t. 

‘You might as well say I’m the first presenter of Countdown who’s got O-negative blood.’ 

She told another: ‘You might as well say it’s the first person with an under-active thyroid to do it.’ 

Anne refused to meet Hewer, even though he offered to show Anne the ropes. 

She said: ‘Through the producer, he very kindly said he was available. But, and this isn’t meant to be rude, I sort of thought it was information I could do nothing with. 

 ‘You know, it would be like Gary Lineker telling me how to do Match Of The Day. We’re just two completely different people.’

Too much natter

Simmering  tensions came to a head over Rachel’s habit of chatting before filming starts. Anne is said to have requested that producers muted Rachel’s microphone to shut her up. 

A source said: ‘Anne is famously known for two things: her dislike of noise and time-keeping. She’ll tolerate neither. 

‘Anne also has tinnitus and cannot bear excess sound. Rachel, with her large heels and loud personality, can be very loud on set. Rachel used to chat to contestants before every show and Anne found it hugely distracting so is said to have asked for Rachel’s microphone to be muted. 

‘Anne felt she couldn’t do her job properly, or bond with the contestants to help them to relax, before the cameras started rolling. 

¿Rachel is obviously a professional and never late for filming ¿ she just cuts things more fine than perhaps stickler Anne would like.'

‘Rachel is obviously a professional and never late for filming — she just cuts things more fine than perhaps stickler Anne would like.’

‘Poor old Rachel didn’t work it out for a couple of days and was babbling away quite happily before realising no one could hear her. When Anne said she wanted silence, Rachel turned around in front of the whole studio and stated publicly that she disagreed; that she didn’t find it necessary. 

‘The tension was palpable. But for Anne, there’s nothing like a bit of good-natured rivalry to get the juices flowing. 

‘Rachel is obviously a professional and never late for filming — she just cuts things more fine than perhaps stickler Anne would like. It’s safe to say there’s no love lost between these two, but it’s ratings gold.’

Two for one

Perhaps it was always going to be hard for Anne to fit in as Rachel and Susie have appeared in nearly 3,000 episodes of Countdown together, plus spin-off show 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown and are also good friends off-screen, as well as both being Oxford graduates. 

Susie has recorded 4,719 episodes of the series and Rachel 2,858. Anne appeared six times in Dictionary Corner in 1987, and has filmed 128 episodes. 

An insider said: ‘It is very much Rachel and Susie against Anne — a case of two camps. 

‘Lots of crew are discussing what is going on. Rachel and Susie don’t care much for Anne and her rather grand ways and things have become pretty uncomfortable. 

‘Anne likes to do things her way, while Rachel doesn’t go along with how she operates. 

‘This has now led to little social interaction between them away from the cameras.’ 

On July 9, it emerged that Susie had split from her primary school teacher husband Paul Atkins several months previously.

On July 9, it became clear that Susie had divorced Paul Atkins, her primary school teacher several months before.

Mail received information from a source that Anne was exempted form social events that involved the rest of cast and crew. Apparently she finds Rachel ‘stuck up’. 

Another source said: ‘Rachel doesn’t like her and nor does Susie. There is dissent in the camp.’ 

A third source said: ‘Anne is a stickler for time-keeping and doesn’t like seeing the younger crew members, including Rachel, on their phones, on Twitter, constantly. The two women are basically worlds apart. 

‘Anne actually thinks Rachel is incredibly quick-witted and hugely talented, but the trouble is they’re both alpha females and, alas, only one can be top dog.’

 Suspicious minds

Anne was at the helm of Countdown’s current 84th series on June 28. 

On July 9, it became clear that Susie had divorced Paul Atkins, her primary school teacher several months before. 

A source told the Mail: ‘Susie’s a very private person and was sad when the divorce came out. Nobody is sure quite how it leaked, but it did coincide with Anne coming on to the show.’ 

Anne’s friends insist that she was not involved in the incident and suggest that Susie’s estranged husband or crew is to blame.

The wage gap

Rachel started on Countdown in 2008 and was paid around £40,000 a year at first. Both she and Susie are now thought to be on more than £150,000 a year. Anne Feud is thought to be earning around three times that amount. 

‘The first thing they do is tell you how little money they’ve got,’ Anne sighed. 

Her biggest paydays came when she was making the The Weakest Link for UK and U.S. TV networks and earning £4million a year. 

Susie and Rachel share a stylist, and a makeup artist. Anne has her own. She also has a larger bathroom, which is not unusual for a host of a television show.

Primark v Prada

All three women are provided with a clothing budget. Rachel was blown away by hers and said she felt ‘like Pretty Woman’ going down to Regent Street with a stylist twice a year and getting clothes from Whistles, Reiss and LK Bennett to wear on screen. 

By contrast, Anne was openly disdainful of the £8,000 she was given for clothes, saying: ‘I think it extends to two dresses.’ 

She added: ‘I’d be shopping in Primark if I relied on that budget.’ 

Anne never wears High Street clothes, instead favouring designer brands such as Issey Miyake, Prada, Valentino, Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Gucci, Yves St Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana.

She said: ‘In the beginning of my career [as a journalist]All I needed was curiosity, and a notebook. Now I need earrings.

Feud for thought 

Countdown film is done twice a years in intensive blocks. They do five shows a days, three days a weeks at Media City in Salford. 

The next block will start in December after Rachel is back on maternity leave. It will finish in February. 

She is expecting her second child together with Pasha Kovalev, a former Strictly Come dancing professional. 

A source said: ‘They film five episodes a day, so it’s pretty fullon. There is very little conversation between them when they meet. 

‘Anne was overheard saying “Hello” and asking how Rachel’s day was going. Basically if looks could kill then Anne would be six feet under.’ 

Friends of Anne, though, say she’s far too tough and professional to care much about a few dirty looks. She feels that the ‘feud’ is ‘just a storm in a tea cup’. 

Ratings winner 

There have been lots of complaints about Anne’s manner on the show. Even though she is trying to be kind to contestants, some viewers still feel she is too abrasive and clipped. 

‘I do say, “hello, how are you”, simply to allow them to see that the slightly pantomime character on Weakest Link isn’t all of me,’ she said. 

Ratings are up since 2012, and audience share has increased since Anne took over. Some viewers have remarked on the frosty atmosphere on the show — which is, perhaps, making more people tune in. 

In July, soon after Anne started, Dictionary Corner’s comedian guest Rachel Parris suggested the randomly-selected nine-letter conundrum spelled ‘megabitch’. 

Rachel, a letter picker, was pictured standing beside the word