MATHS marvel and Southend star Rachel Riley has insisted Countdown will continue, despite controversy surrounding the future of the long-running Channel Four series.

The word and numbers game show once boasted four million viewers, but figures suggested audiences averaged only 515,000 viewers this month.

Some critics suggested the show was not the same without its longstanding host Richard Whiteley, who died in 2005, and his assistant, Carol Vorderman.

But hitting back, Rachel, 25, from Thorpe Bay, said: “I love being on Countdown. I love being part of the team with Jeff Stelling in the chair and it makes me sad and angry that rumours have spread the show is to end after all these years.

“It really isn’t. It has always been on a yearly contract and there’s a long part of the present one still to run.

“Some critics and knockers claim recent viewing figures showed an all-time low. Well, that particular check was made on the day Countdown was aired while much of the nation was following Andy Murray at Wimbledon so, yes, our total was lower than usual.

“But the Countdown viewing audience, even then, was still higher than its worst viewing figure back in 2008 – before Jeff was chairing the programme and before I joined. We are still maintaining figures Channel Four bosses are happy with.”

Rachel joined the programme in January 2009 after a nationwide search by Channel Four to find a successor to Carol Vorderman, the maths expert on the daily show for 26 years. Carol departed amid controversy three years after the death of original and longtime programme host, Richard Whiteley, after reportedly being told she must take a 90 per cent cut to her rumoured million-a-year salary.

Rachel, a former Thorpe Hall School and Southend High pupil, who went on to gain a maths degree at Oxford, came top in the nationwide hunt for a successor to Carol.

Jeff Stelling, a Sky sports journalist and presenter, took over the Countdown chair, following Des Lynam and Des O’Connor.

Current speculation follows news Stelling, seeking to increase his sports work, will not renew his contract at the end of the year. But Rachel told the Echo: “While there is worry over whether Jeff can or will continue, there is ongoing discussion and investigation in how possibly to adapt our scheduling to solve the problem.

“We love Countdown, very much, and it hurts and annoys when I read critical, often incorrect or exaggerated reports or comments the programme is doomed. It is so wrong, so very wrong.”

Rachel and the team film five shows a day for three days each week at the Manchester studio, in front of audiences of around 100, mostly students or pensioners.

Rachel enjoys Manchester, and is a longtime avid follower of Manchester United. She knows many of the club’s staff and players.

But, mostly, she is a fan and lover of Southend and district – she was born at the old Rochford Hospital – and considers her home town “really lovely, with so many kind and caring people”.