This week, Game of the Week goes back to 1990 and the special Countdown that was made to celebrate one thousand editions of the programme. It featured two fantastic players from the Countdown alumni - Allan Saldanha, who won eight straight games in Series 15, but narrowly lost out to Dick Green in the final, and Tim Morrissey, who won eight preliminary matches and also drew one in Series 17, but lost out in the semi-finals to Evan Simpson. The two young protagonists (Allan was twelve-and-a-half when this programme was broadcast, Tim a mighty fourteen) had met previously in the breakfast-time Countdown Masters - Allan had run out the winner after a crucial conundrum on the final day. Who would win this time around?
Being a special edition, we were in for some other unusual bits and pieces, which started even before the programme began - the Channel 4 announcer called the programme "Countdown's 1000th anniversary" - I know it's been going a long time, but not that long! Dictionary Corner was graced by two stalwart guests - Mr Anagram himself Richard Stilgoe and the man with more jumpers than The Sweater Shop (before they went under), Gyles Brandreth. And who better to be the lexicographer than the delightful Catherine Clarke? We were also treated to the opening moments of the first Countdown ever, along with a picture of Carol from 1982. The audience was made up of former celebrity guests and ex-contestants, one of whom had a very distinctive laugh, of which more later.
The game was to be played in the style of a Grand Final, with eight letters games, four numbers games and two conundrums. Round 1 started with a six from both Allan and Tim, while the second round saw them both upgrade to seven apiece. Dictionary Corner had considered BEDSIT for six, but it was not listed in the 8th Edition of the COD in use at the time (just two weeks later, the 9th Edition started to be used, and BEDSIT would have been fine). The first numbers game proved to be straightforward, with lots of ways of reaching the target figure of 133. Round 4 saw both players getting another 7 points, but unsurprisingly they failed to spot the eight-letter SOLANDER offered by the Dictionary trio (it means a box for papers, by the way). Round 5 again saw Allan and Tim scoring the same number of points as each other, while Dictionary Corner went one better, offering three sevens (TRIPLEX, REPTILE and PRETZEL). It was the second numbers game that finally saw the deadlock broken, when Allan chose "six little ones" and CECIL came up with a juicy target figure of 931. With no '10' in the selection, this looked like being a tricky one! And so it proved, with Tim declaring nothing, while Allan managed to get within 4. Carol duly showed us how to get 931 with a fairly convoluted solution [(((4 + 1)x3x9)-2)x7)]. So, Allan was leading 43-36 as we approached conundrum number one. Only one second passed before Tim spotted FISHERMAN for ten points and it was Allan 43, Tim 46 as we went into the break.
Some adverts out of the way, and Part Two was upon us. The next two letters games yielded sevens for both contestants with Dictionary Dell offering nothing better, so it was 60-57 to Tim as we hit numbers game number three. It was another "none from the top" from the wily Mr Saldanha, and another selection without a ten, but this time both contestants reached the target of 255, despite it being far from the easiest numbers game ever (still, we were dealing with two octochamps here, even if the term hadn't been coined at the time). So, onto Round 11. The selection UGCTIORSA was duly put up by Carol. Allan declared 7. Tim only declared 6, but when Allan was asked what his seven was, it turned out to be the rather risky GIAOURS (risky, because although it is listed in COD 8, it is printed in italics to denote an unnaturalised word, and therefore not admissible on Countdown - COD 9 wouldn't have saved him, although the NODE would). So, Tim took the points and moved further into the lead. What a shame neither of them spotted GRACIOUS for eight. Normal service was resumed on the final letters game, as they both extracted a seven from the selection, while Gyles, Richard and Catherine offered SCOURGED (meaning whipped) for eight. Tim stuck with a conventional choice for the numbers game, and they both achieved the target figure of 526. So, after thirteen hard-fought rounds, the final conundrum proved to be crucial, and this time it was Allan's turn to press and spot MILLENIUM, which was rather appropriate for this particular programme. Having said that, Allan laughed as he told Richard what he thought it was, and I'm not sure if it was because it was an apt conundrum or because it wasn't the way to spell MILLENNIUM! As far as I know, this is the only time that the conundrum has been misspelt, and I trust that it wasn't deliberate.
There were several more 'nuggets' at the end of the programme, including the revelation that Allan now needed only two
cushions to help him to see over the desk, and that Gyles had now worn 100 different jumpers on Countdown, including
two on this edition. Richard Stilgoe gave us a couple of anagrams for Tim Morrissey - "Mr. Otis Misery" and "St. Iris'
Memory", and Richard (Whiteley) also mentioned the "man with the laugh" in the audience (I told you we'd come back
to him) - it was none other than Peter Newby, who co-wrote the "Complete Countdown Companion" with producer John Meade,
which Richard informed us was "now available in bookshops and nickernogs", and which the Channel 4 continuity announcer
told us was a "snip" at just £6-99. The programme ended with Richard telling us that Countdown would be back the following
day with two "mere mortals" as contestants (one of whom actually turned out to be series champion Liz Barber!).
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 15 Apr 2001.