This week, we look back to the game featuring Countdown's oldest ever contestant, Bertha Bourne. John Carter, from Hassocks in West Sussex (although he was born in India), had just beaten two-time winner Jim Crawford 62-37, to take up residence in the champion's chair. Bertha, who was living in Twickenham at the time - although she was born in Brighton (not very far from Hassocks!), was 87 years old when she appeared on Countdown, and now has her place firmly set in the record books - especially as she also went on to become Countdown's oldest champion.
The first round was, for once, not a case of six or seven apiece, as Bertha used a non-existent 'P' and offered PAMPERS, which was quickly disallowed by lexicographer Ruth Killick. John, therefore, took the points for his seven-letter word, STAMPER. Ruth, with some help from guest David Jacobs, offered several eights - UPSTREAM, TEMPURAS (now disallowed as a mass noun) and SUPERMAN (a term from philosophy, rather than a man from the planet Krypton!). Round Two saw Bertha getting her own back with an excellent seven, which had previously appeared on the programme - TOWNEES. The third letters game saw sixes all round - John and Dictionary Corner offering WIDGET and Bertha offering WAITED. The first numbers game, chosen by Bertha, shook up the proceedings, as John failed to achieve a relatively easy target of 536, and the score at the end of Part One was 23-13 in Bertha's favour.
An interesting selection to start Part Two - KNIRAIASF - saw John make a bit of comeback with the risky plural FARINAS, meaning powdery substances, while Dictionary Corner offered the wonderful FIRKINS, as in (ahem) Ferret and Firkin - very appropriate for Mr Whiteley! Sixes from both contestants in Round 6 meant the gap of three points was maintained - both John and Bertha failed to spot the old Countdown favourite LEOTARDS, or its anagrams LODESTAR or DELATORS (informers). Round 7 saw John take the lead for the first time since Round 1, when he declared an interesting six in the shape of CAIRNS, a Scottish word meaning mounds of stones (as in Cairngorms) or terriers (who perhaps used to hunt among the cairns - it says here...). And so to the last numbers game - John chose one from the top row and "five little ones", but after thirty seconds of brain-racking, failed to get within ten of the target figure of 472. Bertha got 471 and the score was now 36-32 to Bertha, with a crucial conundrum remaining. In the previous game, John had taken just under twenty-two seconds to unravel GLOWMINCE (I'll let you work it out!), so when he pressed after just under twenty-three seconds, it seemed like he had done it again. However, it was not to be - he offered the admittedly dubious CHARTAGES, which Richard quickly dismissed, leaving Bertha with a little over 7 seconds to unravel SEARCHTAG more successfully. She failed to do so, but it was academic, and Bertha duly became Countdown's oldest ever champion, a record that remains to this day.
Bertha went on to play Mark Williams from Southsea, but she lost out due to some poor performances in the letters games,
including having a possible eight-letter word disallowed (BELOVING), and the score ended up 53-35 in Mark's favour.
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 26 August 2001.