Recently, LitFest committee member Anthony Poulton-Smith did a very nice thing.
Here’s his take on the whole story:
“Some may have seen in the local press of my fund-raising or perhaps you actually saw my appearances on Countdown. Anyone who thinks they would like the opportunity should certainly give it a go. There’s a short telephone audition beforehand, no pressure situation where you are just playing the game. After that it’s off to the studios and hopefully come back with a teapot – but for that you have to win a game.
Seeing how programmes are put together is entertaining in its own right. I travelled to Media City in Manchester to record as long ago as the last week of September – shows are pre-recorded and they manage five a day. Once firmly ensconced in my nearby hotel room it’s a short walk across the developed Salford Quays (you can see the set of Coronation Street off to one side) and before long you’re in make up.
On that first day I was scheduled to be in the challenger’s chair on final of the three recordings that afternoon. It did help to be last because I got the chance to get in ‘Countdown mode’ by taking a seat in the audience while the current champion – a young lady of 18 from Northern Ireland – coolly disposed of her third and fourth victims.The audience, which may seem sizeable on the television, numbered around twenty, some of whom were either contestants or their supporters. Then it was my turn. To be truthful I didn’t feel nervous at all and I won a closely fought game. Now the proud owner of a teapot, I retired for the night determined to do as well the following day.
Now I am not making excuses for what I consider a below-par performance the following day, on the contrary I did my best on the day but certainly cringed when I saw the broadcast later, but what happened before the cameras eventually started rolling next morning was as much a part of the experience as selecting vowels and consonants. First the hotel lift decided to make some ghastly noises and then a hopeful on the recording of The Voice next day decided the bathroom acoustics too good to miss out on trying out their scales. By 2am in the morning, I made a polite request for them to maybe try out as a mime artist.
A short night’s sleep was broken by my alarm going off. I always use my original mobile phone as an alarm when travelling and it works wonderfully. However I had forgotten it uses the ringtone I had downloaded some ten years or so ago to wake me, that ringtone being (quite coincidentally) the familiar Countdown theme. For a fleeting panic-stricken second the sound of this tune in the early morning made me think, in my confused state, I had dropped off in the middle of a recording. My moment of sheer terror was fleeting but very, very real and the adrenaline pumping as I leapt out of bed.
After breakfast off to the studio and make up (again), then at the appointed hour of 10am back into the studio and the champion’s chair. Here the audience welcomed myself and the challenger – although the warm-up man thought it a good idea to introduce me as “Our current champion, Nigel Farage!”All was set, the introductions filmed and I chose the first set of letters. At this point I should say that while the challenger’s seat does give a reasonable view of Rachel Riley‘s board, the champion’s chair is at an awful angle and does not. Furthermore, the angle of the screen in front of us means having to peer over the edge where, somewhat distractingly, I now realise they keep showing images of the contestants. However the clock started and I started scribbling away. Soon I was aware there was something wrong but, with my challenger still working away, so did I until the floor manager pointed out we would have to reset as the clock wasn’t working. To us the tune was playing away and everything hunky dory but behind us the brand new clock, the icon of the programme, hadn’t moved at all.
A fifteen minute delay followed where the problem was fixed and I again chose a second set of letters. Start the clock and a few seconds later stopped again as the clock wasn’t working. The recording broadcast was the fourth attempt and some 90 minutes after the first abortive attempt, by which time concentration was wandering and I performed badly in that first part. In truth I did have a matching seven in the second game – but when the challenger said “Seven but I don’t think it will be accepted” I declared a six as I thought better of also declaring a seven as I was fairly certain I knew what he had and had written down the same word. pair of sevens when I also had the word GOOLIES.
I did more or less match my opponent after that but, as have others before me, made the mistake of trying to play catch up and looking for that longer word instead of noting down everything I saw (there’s a tip should you ever apply!) When it came to the final conundrum I had already lost and had not a notion of what was in front of me when, around 25 seconds, I hit the bell. Now I’ve seen the broadcast and they have very cleverly and seamlessly edited out what followed. For those who have seen the programme and when the conundrum answer is wrong you see the letters roll over revealing the word INCORRECT. Now what you don’t know is that this is edited in afterwards. So when I hit the bell and said “I think it will say INCORRECT” I thought it rather amusing. Unfortunately the only people who got this jest were guest Michelle Collins, regulars Rachel Riley and Susie Dent, and the challenger. Nick Hewer missed it completely, as did the audience, and so they rolled on. Pity they had to edit it out as, somewhat ironically, you will see the actual answer was WISECRACK.
So I departed, complete with teapot – although, despite what Nick Hewer said, winners do not get the rest of the ‘goody bag’ as the losers do. I didn’t stop for the afternoon recordings, not sour grapes just that I had to make a couple of train connections, but it wasn’t until I arrived home I realised I had been on a tram, two trains and a bus whilst wearing make up.
So there is the story behind the appearance. Not much glamour (except when in make up) but an excellent experience and one I shall be repeating as soon as I can, this time a contestant on another show and again to raise money for Tamworth Literary Festival. What will it be? At present no clues but hope to make an announcement soon – of course if I fail the audition nobody will ever find out.
May I take this opportunity to thank all those who have given so generously, almost 50% of our target is a tremendous achievement.”