Who Wants to be Millionaire scandal inspires new play: what occurred next to the coughing Major?
Sixteen years back, a former Army officer tried to sneak #1 million from the very popular quiz show on television.
The strange incident has now inspired a new play by James Graham, the writer behind political West End hit This House.
Graham’s play Quiz opens at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre in November. Described by the manufacturers as “a razor-sharp evaluation of the 21st century’s dangerous new mindset to reality and lies”, it tells the story of fraudster Charles Ingram’s appearance on a September 2001 episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Ingram was nicknamed “the coughing Major” from the press, but it was actually his wife Diana, along with a second accomplice named Tecwen Whittock, who guided him towards the right answers with some carefully calibrated coughs.
Looking back in the footage, his effort to deceive the show looks almost laughable. Ingram would slowly repeat all four potential answers, listening for a cough following the correct choice. Had he stopped earlier, it is likely that the fraud would have triumphed, but Ingram kept going until the #1 million question, while claiming to be imagining virtually every response at random.
While some other contestant may have looked nervous, Ingram gave a refreshed laugh before adding, “I’m not sure.”
By this point, the show’s presenter Chris Tarrant had his head in his hands: “Charles, you have not been ‘sure’ since query two”.
Ingram had indeed been surprisingly candid about not understanding any of the replies. Earlier, he had said “I have never heard of Craig David”, before picking the singer because his answer yet — following a cough that was noticeable.
At one point, the coughing voice could clearly be heard exclaiming “no!” When Ingram veered towards the incorrect answer.
What happened next?
The plot failed. Ingram never received the cash, and in 2003 he and his wife were each granted a two-year suspended sentence, and fines adding up to #115,000, including legal fees. The cost could have been a heavy burded: Ingram was allegedly already more than #50,000 in debt when he appeared on the show.
But that was only the start of the couple’s television career. The press furore surrounding his sentence came as a new wave of reality TV shows were being launched, and the Ingrams’s notoriety brought with it a kind of celebrity. They have since emerged together on The Weakest Link and Hell’s Kitchen, in Addition to an episode of Wife Swap where Diana exchanged places with Jade Goody.
Now 53, Ingram continues to protest his innocence. When the author Jon Ronson approached him in 2006 to inquire how the trick was intended, Ingram known as the query “utterly ridiculous and unjust”. Slowly, Ronson found himself less sure of the facts.
1 part of this bizarre situation was a bone of contention for many. The couple’s alleged accomplice, college lecturer Tecwen Whittock (a former TV quiz-show contestant himself) claimed to have suffered from a chronic cough due to their whole life. Several doctors and friends appeared in court to support his claim. Accepting the jury’s guilty verdict against Whittock, his medical state adds a different tier of farce to the attempted fraud. The Ingrams’s strategy relied on carefully calibrated coughing, but the 1 man they found to combine their strategy could not even be relied on not to cough at the wrong moment.