Three consonants, three vowels, another three consonants. Thirty seconds. What can you get? "Shade" for five? "Shifted" for seven? Not bad, but there is an eight-letter word, as the predominantly septuagenarian Countdown studio audience discovered when 18-year-old contestant Jack Hurst boldly declared: "shitface".
"I knew it was in there," said Hurst, a maths undergraduate at Cambridge who recently broke the programme's all-time aggregate record score but whose blue-language moment has been kept quiet until now.
Susie Dent, the show's somewhat coy lexicographer, was forced to confirm from Dictionary Corner, "Yes, shitface, an obnoxious or robust person," but the incident was deemed unfit for broadcast and the segment had to be filmed again.
One might expect a student of Mr Hurst's abilities to have spotted the remaining D, which can be added to the end of the word to form a concept most undergraduates are familiar with. "I did see that," he said, "but I knew I couldn't put it on the end. Shitface is a noun not an adjective."
Arguably the greater scandal is what happened next: "They knew they couldn't broadcast it, so the producers swapped the C for an R, gave me 'hardiest' to declare instead, and re-filmed it."
Hurst scored a grand total of 946 points on his way to becoming an "octochamp", the name given to those who win eight shows in row, before they have to be honourably retired from the champion's chair.
His is the highest total in the show's history. Playing along at home, he said he usually beat the higher score on the day, adding that he was "98 to 99 per cent confident of winning eight shows [in a row]".
Mr Hurst, the son of a construction worker and sales assistant from Desford, near Leicester, is now the hot favourite to win the series. The final rounds have been filmed this week and will be broadcast in the run-up to Christmas.
The incident is not the first time an unfortunate expletive has reared its head on Countdown since it became the first show to be broadcast on Channel 4 in 1982.
In a 2001 episode, the Dictionary Corner offered up "gobshite". The clip was never aired but has since found fame after being featured on out-take shows. In 2005, eight-year-old Tanmay Dixit caused considerable mirth by declaring the six letter word "farted".
Two years later, audiences were spared blushes when both contestants mysteriously failed to spot a rather obvious six-letter word in the selection "AUODFCKEG".
The show's edgier moments can perhaps be used as a barometer for social change. In a 1991 episode, both contestants proffered the word "wankers", but it was deemed unfit for broadcast. Seventeen years later, in 2008, when a contestant declared "wanker", it was broadcast, with the word bleeped out. Whatever next?Reuse content