Obituary: Marcel Stellman, lyricist and founder of Countdown

Marcel Stellman, who has died at 96, initiated the long-running TV quiz Countdown – produced for many years from studios in Leeds – and was also a Decca record producer who wrote lyrics for Cilla Black, Petula Clark, Charles Aznavour, The Shadows and Tony Bennett.

Marcel Stellman and his wife Jean.

Marcel Stellman, who has died at 96, created the long-running TV quiz Countdown – produced for many years from studios in Leeds – and was also a Decca record producer who wrote lyrics for Cilla Black, Petula Clark, Charles Aznavour, The Shadows and Tony Bennett.

Among his best-known tracks was the Max Bygraves hit Tulips From Amsterdam, released in 1958.

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But it was his invention of Countdown that placed him among the TV greats. It Channel 4’s first programme at its launch in 1982 and has never been off the air since, becoming one of the world’s most enduring game shows.

Marcel Leopold Stellman was born in Belgium on February 15 1925 and worked as a producer and international manager at Decca from the mid-1950s up to 1989, alongside such names as Sir Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Dame Vera Lynn. He also turned out English lyrics under the pseudonyms Gene Martyn and Leo Johns.

His first move into broadcasting came in the 1940s, when he presented schools and children’s programmes on BBC radio. In the 1960s he worked on the puppet series Pinky and Perky, and two decades later stood in for Alan Dell, presenting Sounds Easy on Radio 2.

It was around the same time that he bought the rights to a French TV series called Des Chiffres et Des Lettres (Numbers and Letters) and changed its name to Countdown.

He pitched it to several companies – the first of which to bite was Yorkshire Television, which commissioned a series of eight shows for local transmission. Richard Whiteley was assigned as presenter, with Carol Vorderman as his “vital statistician”, and the title changed again to Calendar Countdown – though it had nothing in common with its news stablemate.

The series was seen by Cecil Korer, Channel 4’s Northern-based head of entertainment, and commissioned among his first batch of programmes for the new network. It was an immediate hit.

Some 15 years later, Stellman appeared on its 2,000th episode, and again on the 3,000th and 5,000th shows.

His third appearance in 2010 marked something of a reconciliation between him and the producers, whom he had accused of treating Ms Vorderman badly during contract negotiations that caused her to leave two years earlier. “If I am Mr Countdown, she is Mrs Countdown,” he said.

Stellman was a recipient of a British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors Gold Badge in 1988 and an Ivor Novello Award as lyricist for Dance On by Kathy Kirby in 1963.

He lived off Baker Street in London for many years and is survived by his wife, Jean.