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April's featured article
Episode 546 was broadcast on Tuesday 14 April 1987 as part of Series 12, and featured the joint highest-ever score in the 9 round era of Countdown. It pitted champion Keith Albans against challenger Stephen Balment (pictured). Albans, a Methodist minister from York, was playing in his second game after defeating Valerie Turner by a margin of 25 points. Balment was a computer programmer from Leicester as well as an active player on the Scrabble circuit, where he was nicknamed "yo-yo" because of his fluctuating rating. On his Countdown début, Balment matched Albans by finding the nine letter word RELATIONS in the first round. Both contestants gained seven points in the second round – the final letters round in which Albans was able to score.
Balment took the lead in round 3 with the six letter word NUANCE, and both players scored 10 points in a straightforward first numbers round. Following an anecdote from Dictionary Corner guest Gyles Brandreth, Balment beat Albans in the three remaining letters rounds. He offered the darrenic word SOLDIERS in round 5, UPSTAGE in round 6, and beat Albans' invalid suggestion redoubly ☓ with BROILED in round 7 – ironically, the same word which Albans had scored with during round 2. Both players scored 10 points in the final numbers round, and Balment unscrambled the conundrum CATFAINTS to seal a performance which was, aptly, fantastic. The final scoreline of 83 – 45 represented the highest début score achieved under Countdown's original 9 round format, and was also the highest ever score under this format, only equalled by Allan Saldanha more than ten years later during the Supreme Championship.
Balment won two further heat games before succumbing to Mike Tobias. This was a strong enough performance to qualify for the Series 12 finals as #4 seed. Balment won his quarter-final match against Nigel Aspden on a tie-breaker conundrum, and returned the very next day to beat Jon Marsh by 51 points to 30. In the final, Balment endured a nip-and-tuck game versus Janet McRae and was unable to unravel either of the conundrums. Fortunately for him, McRae failed to solve a relatively simple last numbers round which made it impossible to stage a comeback, and Balment became series champion by 81 – 66. (more...)
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