To mark the (probably occasional) return of Game of the Week after almost nine months, a game from way back in the Countdown archives. Neil Wilkins from Lewes in East Sussex had won the previous game, knocking out two-time winner Peter Hillman 54-38. At the time, 14-year-old Ruth Whitehouse from Halifax was the youngest contestant to have appeared on the show - and also the shortest, at just 4'10". Neil was only sixteen himself, so it was one of Countdown's earliest "clashes of the youngsters".
The game started pretty poorly with a particularly unhelpful set of letters from which Ruth could only offer VOTE and Neil could only offer FOOT. The Dictionary Corner pairing of Nigel Rees and Julia Swannell didn't appear to have anything better, but there was OGIVE for five. Round two was almost as uninspiring as Cathy Hytner put the combination BUEETHUDY on the board. After thirty seconds, Ruth offered BEET and Neil offered DUET, but there were some fives in the shape of ETUDE and DEBUT. The third selection of letters looked a bit more promising - SEJENOGAG, but our contestants could only come up with fives, while Dictionary Corner final hit form with a seven - ENGAGES. Next, it was CECIL's turn to join in the proceedings, and after an adventurous choice from Neil of two from the top row, Ruth and Neil had thirty seconds to try to reach 838. It proved difficult, and they both only managed 839 and seven points apiece, but it kept the scores level at 20-all, as we approached the break. A loud cheer went up as Carol showed us all how to get 838.
After the break, the deadlock was finally broken as Ruth saw too many I's in the selection and declared VISIT, although it may well have been academic, as Neil had spotted STRIPES for seven. Ruth hadn't given up, though, and equalled Neil's six on the next round (she had PATTED, he had PITTED, and Nigel and Julia offered DICTATE for seven). The last letters game gave us a promising selection - SNUQEARLV - and Neil had spotted QUAVERS for seven - perhaps he was feeling a bit peckish! - while Ruth could only offer LANES for five. Richard noted in the following programme that they could have had UNRAVELS for eight. The score was now 40-26 in the Lewes lad's favour, and Ruth needed to do well in the numbers to keep in the game. She went for a conventional choice of one from the top and five from the bottom, but the numbers proved easy for both contestants, and they both scored a maximum ten points, which with the scores at 50-36, meant it was all over for her. This didn't stop Ruth from trying to get the conundrum, and with less than eight seconds gone on the clock, she had unravelled TOMPINNER to leave the final score at 50-46 in Neil's favour.
Neil went on to play a certain Clive Freedman from Newcastle in his next game, which as anyone who knows their Countdown
history will know, means that he lost, as Clive went on to win nine straight games and become number one seed in Series 7.
Despite that, with just two wins, Neil returned as number seven seed (how times have changed!), and lost to Darryl Francis
(another Countdown legend and Scrabble expert) in the quarter-finals.
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 19 May 2002.