Athalie Matthews and James Sturcke report
SHE may not be as famous as the ubiquitous Carol Vorderman, but primary teacher Margaret Young has proved a trailblazer for the cult TV quiz Countdown.
The Channel 4 afternoon show, hosted by the nattily-attired Richard Whiteley, has been popular with students and puzzle-lovers for more than 20 years.
And the format, where contestants pit their mental agility against each other to solve linguistic conundrums and mathematical problems against the clock, was very familiar to two of the show's winners, John Davies, 25, and Graham Nash, 23. They had played the game on Friday afternoons at school.
Both attribute their TV success to Margaret and the hours she spent playing word and number games with them as nine-year-olds atSt Andrews C of E primary inAshton-on-Ribble, Lancashire.
Graham, now a supermarket manager, from Preston, believes that the emphasis Margaret placed on developing mental agility at a tender age sowed the seeds of his success on the show earlier this year when he beat all the programme's winners for the last four years, having already won an earlier series.
He said: "What Margaret taught me was that learning and solving problems is great fun. She would present us with a string of letters and encourage us to come up with words. I really enjoyed her classes as I usually came top."
John, 25, a baker from Preston, also believes that Margaret's inspirational influence helped him to beat 1,500 hopefuls to win the 49th series of Countdown last month.
He said: "She was one of my favourite teachers and always got the whole class motivated."
Margaret, now a grandmother of two, still occasionally helps out at the school. She said she had first started playing Countdown with her class in 1987.
"There were far fewer restrictions on what teachers could do then and so I was able to devote time to conundrums.
"I never really thought of myself as an early Carol Vorderman but I was thrilled to see the boys do so well on TV."
Richard Whiteley said: "I was amazed and thrilled that one teacher taught John and Graham. They both have brilliant minds."