Doubt over Millionaire cheating scandal
Remember the "Coughing Major" scandal?
It was utterly bizarre.
An army major named Charles Ingram achieved the near impossible - he won £1 million on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, only the third person to do so in the UK at time.
But the producers were immediately on edge. Ingram had behaved very strangely, flip-flopping on the answers, saying he didn't know who Craig David was but then picked him as the answer anyway.
Suspicions were raised, the prize money withheld, and police called in. Ratings sensation Who Wants to be a Millionaire had a cheating scandal on its hands.
The producers had isolated 19 coughs in the studio while Ingram was listing the answers aloud, 19 coughs that coincided with the correct answers - hence the "Coughing Major" moniker given to Ingram even though he himself was not the source of the coughs.
It was splashed across the British tabloid press and Ingram, his wife Diana and a Welsh professor named Tecwen Whittock who was sitting in the "Fastest Finger" pit in the studio were put on trial for fraud. They were found guilty.
If you weren't familiar with the case, it may be because Ingram's episode was taped on September 10, 2001, and your attention may have been diverted elsewhere soon after.
But those who did follow the scandal was likely certain of the Ingrams' guilt. Among them was James Graham, a playwright and TV writer who has adapted the saga into a three-part miniseries, Quiz, starting tomorrow night on BBC First on Foxtel* and Fetch.
Graham told news.com.au: "I thought they were guilty, I couldn't believe how obvious it was. People were obsessed with this story and the interpretation of events that existed in people's minds was that they were guilty.
"You can watch the tape on YouTube and when you see it, you think 'ohmigod, it's so obvious, the coughs are so loud and the patterns are so distinct' but then you dig into the evidence and, yes, there were 19 coughs on the right answers but there were more than 190 other coughs on the wrong answer."
Quiz stars Matthew Macfadyen (Succession) and Sian Clifford (Fleabag) as Charles and Diana Ingram, the real-life couple whose lives were forever changed. The Ingrams were excoriated in the press and on the street, a notoriety that followed them for almost two decades.
They both maintain their innocence.
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Since Quiz was broadcast in the UK during the early weeks of the pandemic lockdown, many people have begun to doubt their guilt.
In presenting the scandal from both perspectives, Quiz has recast a national scandal as a cultural episode about objectivity and subjectivity, which Graham believes is highly relevant in our current, charged era in which facts and alternative facts are interrogated and fought over daily.
"I think given what's happening in the world at the moment in terms of truth and reality, and how vulnerable our perceptions of the world are through the frames in which we watch it, that's what I wanted to tap into," he said.
"To take something people have certainty about, or even an audience coming to this story anew, and then deliberately disrupting that and reminding an audience of all the coincidences and circumstantial evidence and lack of actual clarity around whether or not this man, strange as he was, knew the answers to these questions."
Graham's series, which was directed by Stephen Frears, does not indict the Ingrams as either guilty or innocent, and that was how stars Macfadyen and Clifford approached their roles as well.
"I think you can't play a person as guilty or innocent, certainly not in the story we were telling and not in James' script, it's too binary," Macfadyen said. "For an actor, you're just playing moment by moment, scene by scene. To play a colour of guilt or innocence through the whole series wouldn't have worked.
"Sian and I hadn't decided on their guilt or innocence and the show doesn't either. It just asks a lot of questions and there are shades of grey."
Graham worked with both the Ingrams and the Millionaire producers including creator Paul Smith on his series, and the stage play which Quiz was adapted from.
And since the original scandal almost 20 years earlier, new evidence and accounts have emerged which really muddies up the certainty of that guilty verdict - and people continue to contact Graham since the series aired in the UK.
The Ingrams have expressed their gratitude to Graham for putting forward their defence.
"I think they found some moments in the series uncomfortable, it was a traumatic experience for them," Graham said. "But I think having a platform for their defence is something they're really grateful for years of it being one-sided.
"Now people can make up their minds."
Quiz starts on BBC First on Foxtel and Fetch on Wednesday, June 24 at 8.30pm
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*Foxtel is majority owned by News Corp, publisher of news.com.au
Originally published as Doubt over Millionaire cheating scandal