After having been an ardent fan of the show since its very first appearance as the opening show on Channel 4 I have harboured the ambition of attempting to appear on the show, but never done anything to further the ambition until one day whilst pootling about on the PC I went to the Countdown web page, and there there was an electronic application form!! So I filled it in and sent it off (thinking that I might, just might, possibly hear something back.)
There soon came a reply - a further form to fill in, which I duly did and returned. The wheels were in motion!
Soon there came a letter to attend an audition at Leeds, I turned up there with my partner Jo, and we sat in reception with a bloke with a posh leather folder containing all his letters from Countdown (whilst mine were in the envelope in my pocket) and I thought suddenly 'Am I prepared enough?' We were all taken through to a quiet room by Sarah, we settled and she went through the six letter games and the three number and conundrum games, I was pleased to score reasonably highly (including a nine-letter word) and did as well as anybody and left feeling quite hopeful.
And only a few days later received a congratulatory letter to say I had passed and would receive my date shortly. When this came it was much earlier than I had anticipated - 1st March. I started practising in earnest (when I could) and soon the date came. I travelled down to Leeds the previous evening and booked into the Holiday Inn, I sat in the bar having a quiet beer when I couldn't help but overhear three gents at an adjoining table talking about their day at the Countdown studios, I joined them and listened to their experiences, which included Ian winning four games before being defeated. They told me of the reigning champ at the end of the day - Keith 'Tuck' Broadbent - and his larger than life personality, I went to bed later than I had anticipated and with more beer inside me too.
I woke in the morning and had an excellent continental breakfast (where were the bacon and eggs??!!) before arriving at the studios. I was taken to the green room and soon was chatting to the other contestants and their guests, including Tuck. He was first up against Ken and when we settled it was nice to be sat in the audience and have a chance to experience and savour the atmosphere. We were kept amused by (warm-up man) Dudley before the recording and the game was a close one going to a 'crucial conundrum' which Tuck managed to get within a couple of seconds with Ken only a nanosecond behind him apparently.
Next up against Tuck was Beryl who struggled to get into her stride and then we broke for lunch, knowing I was next up against a man getting into his stride!! I managed to eat a sandwich whilst sat talking to Keith whilst he tucked into a hearty plateful! We went back to the green room to await being called. Down onto the set! I sat in the challenger's chair next to Des and he asked about my details - commending me on my highest snooker break along the way. I felt nervous and my palms were sweating but all too soon the cameras were rolling and the show opened. I couldn't wait to start! A good selection of numbers set us off, both scoring a good eight. The next three rounds saw us matched word for word - the scores tied at 27!! The numbers came up with Tuck selecting (as he had done on all his previous selections) of four large and two small. I struggled and was nowhere near - Tuck managed to gain a seven point lead on me.
After the break we both scored a nine with the word BRAINLESS - I felt better and relaxed a little, which was almost my undoing as Tuck pipped me in the next round scoring a seven, suddenly I was 14 points behind!! Palms even more sweaty!! The next two rounds we both matched each other, but with five rounds to go Tuck pipped me again scoring another seven-letter word to my six, I was gutted - 21 points behind with only four rounds to go. A six-point word each in the next round made my plight look all the more desperate, however it was my turn to gain the points in the next round - pulling seven back. However I was still a little down especially as Tuck had been so sharp on the numbers, it was my choice though and I went conventional, but thought we would both get spot on but to my surprise I was the only one able to declare the right score!! I was right back in it only four points behind.
Time for our 'crucial conundrum' - the lights dimmed and the board swung round and I saw the letters and my finger went down on the buzzer as I mentally rearranged them into BALLPOINT, however as my finger went down one of the letters did too - the P fell off the board!! Catastrophe!! The producer made his executive decision and decided we would have to have a new word! I was gutted but it was the right and fair decision. Eventually we were set again and the letters appeared, I could see ING but couldn't see where the other letters fitted in and I was sat thinking Tuck would buzz any second - then suddenly my 'Eureka' moment!! My finger pressed and the clock stopped and I declared the word to Des - WELCOMING!! Literally and metaphorically!! I'd won - beating a three-time champ in the process!!
The show wrapped up and I was floating above ground!! But no time to dwell on my achievement - all too soon I was changed and back on the set - this time in the champion's chair!! I was playing Ella from Scotland, after the banter we began - and I never got into my stride. I struggled with the numbers and made an elementary faux pas with the letters - misreading my own writing, and going into the last couple of rounds I trailed and again after getting my sums wrong I was staring defeat in the face! Even getting the conundrum of PRECEDING making the scores closer was no consolation. But was I too downhearted? Of course not - I'd achieved my ambition of appearing on Countdown and had actually won a game too!! It was an experience and a half. All the people on the show were friendly and set me at ease - also they were so professional, I will always watch the show in a new light. And I had my teapot!!!
I'm planning on having a Countdown party when my winning show is aired and I will watch my second performance with mixed reactions - proud to be on as champion but saddened to lose, but more positive than negative. Every time I use my dictionaries or set my Countdown alarm clock it will evoke memories of a great day out. Thanks to Countdown - long may it continue to be aired!!Dan Webster