Channel 4's long-running words and numbers quiz Countdown has made a surprise choice for its new host: Nick Hewer, previously known as Alan Sugar's adviser on BBC1's The Apprentice, will take over from Jeff Stelling in the new year.
Hewer's first appearance will be on 9 January. Co-presenter Rachel Riley and "Dictionary Corner" expert Susie Dent will remain on the programme.
In May, Stelling announced his intention to quit the afternoon quiz at the end of 2011, citing a desire to devote more time to hosting live football on Sky Sports. Since then, fans have speculated about who would replace him, with Gyles Brandreth, Rory Bremner, Stephen Fry, Sue Barker, Terry Wogan and, when it was thought he might have a change of heart, Stelling himself all mooted as possible presenters for 2012.
Virtually nobody had considered Hewer – a long-term employee of Lord Sugar and a fixture on The Apprentice since its debut in 2005, but not a TV presenter by trade – for the job.
"I'm flattered to have been asked to present such an iconic programme and will work hard to justify sitting in the same seat as such great talents as Jeff Stelling, Des O'Connor and of course the great Richard Whiteley," Hewer said.
"It's particularly fitting that I should be doing this now as my spelling has started to slip quite badly. I used to be able spell chrysanthemum."
(As a 13-letter word, "chrysanthemum" would of course be ineligible in Countdown, where even the fiendish Conundrum is only nine letters long.)
Countdown – a no-frills test of vocabulary and arithmetic – was the first programme to be shown on Channel 4 when it began broadcasting in 1982. Richard Whiteley hosted it until his death in 2005. The show has struggled to replace Whiteley, with Des Lynam and Des O'Connor both lasting less than two years in the chair before Stelling's arrival in 2009.
Countdown executive producer Peter Gwyn said: "I'm absolutely delighted that Nick has agreed to take the Countdown chair, and I can't wait to see him bring his unique style and humour to this iconic format.
"With Nick at the helm and our 30th birthday next year, we've got some very exciting times ahead for Countdown viewers."