Sure, everybody is aware of Countdown, and it’s a fair bet to say that most people reading this are fully aware of its French predecessor Des Chiffres et Des Lettres (The Figures and The Letters), a show made up of two distinct games – Le Compte est Bon (the sum is right) and Le Mot Le Plus Long (The longest word). Des Chiffres… began as a daily show in 1972.
However, few people know that Armand Jammot came up with Le Mot Le Plus Long as a distinct show in its own right as a precursor to DCeDL in 1965. Even fewer people will actually have seen any of it. We were shown the first episode that went out on 19th September 1965, let us try to explain it. The show went out originally every other Sunday lunchtime.
- The opening titles – a bunch of mixed up letters on some cards. A mysterious hand rearranges them to form the phrase “Le Mot Le Plus Long”
- Our host, actress and presenter Christine Fabréga explains the gameboard. It’s set up as a triangular racetrack with 18 spaces alternately black and white. The colours mean something, as we will get to in a moment.
- The adjudicator is Max Favalelli, crossword compiler and effectively the guardian of the dictionary. But he has a secondary role as well. He begins by laying down the law on what words are and are not acceptable.
- To begin, Christine flips a coin to determine who will select first – a light in front of the players keeps track of whose go it is.
- On your go, you call out for consonants and vowels to fill up the seven spaces. Christine deals them out from her card shoes, but as she’s on the far left of the desk the contestant on the left tends to place them in the correct spots. The players have 45 seconds not only to make their letter selections, but also to think about what word they’re going to use.
- For the game, the viewers basically get a static shot for the entirety of the 45 seconds – the stopwatch in built into the desk up the top, with two blocks of seven “spots” underneath – the letters for the current game go on the top set, the made words will go onto the bottom.
- When time has expired the person in control now makes their declation, in the first game he’s apparently only come up with a two letter word by directly dropping the letters from the selection down.
- To steal the round, the opponent must declare a longer word – a word of the same length is useless. Again he’s just moved the letters directly down, whether this was deliberate or whether the contestants weren’t aware that you were allowed to rearrange them I don’t know, but they start rearranging them and forming longer words from the next round.
- A three letter word means three spaces round the track. But hold on – he’s landed on a black square so there is an added complication. To keep the spaces earned, he has to answer a question set by Max correctly. If he is right, he can stay in the new position, if he is wrong then he makes no move after all. Some of the questions may involve graphical slides.
- Scores are kept on the racetrack using lights (there’s also a lap marker above each contestant’s name). There’s a lady sitting next to Max, presumably she’s controlling the lights.
- Interestingly, letters not used in the previous round are kept for the next round.
- At one point, one contestant has goes for the interesting tactic of filling up with seven consonants. I wish my French was a bit better here, but it looks like at the end of the time all the cards are wiped and he seems to get another go.
- Late on in the game a short piano tune plays. Christine informs us that that means there are five minutes of the game remaining.
- A tinkle on the piano five minutes later (mid-round, which the contestant does not seem to get to finish) and it’s game over. A quick look on the board suggests that Monsieur Harment with one lap and two spaces is our champion.
- The board can’t be that easy to read because Christine almost gives the consolation board game to the wrong person. Preusmably the champion gets to return on the next episode. They also win 300 old French Francs.
- It’s time to say goodbye, and to do that Christine spells out “Bon Dimarche” in cards.