ITV drama Quiz: inside the cheating scandal that rocked one of Britain's most popular game shows

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A series of well-timed coughs was all it took to pull off one of TV’s most audacious heists. Here’s everything you need to know about ITV drama Quiz, based on real-life events from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Once upon a time, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was one of British TV’s most popular shows. Millions of viewers tuned in every week to see who could navigate their way through host Chris Tarrant’s series of nail-biting multiple answer quizzes, set to a tense and iconic synthesized soundtrack. 

But few could guess that the very same show would be the source of one of the greatest cheating scandals ever to have graced our screens.

Now a new three-part ITV series is set to revisit the heist – here’s everything you need to know:

What’s the story behind Quiz?

Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford in Quiz
Quiz on ITV: Charles and Diana Ingram were said to have used "coded coughs" to win the show

In 2001, British army major Charles Ingram landed the £1 million jackpot on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? – one of only a handful contestants ever to have reached the coveted final prize. However, he never claimed his windfall after producers raised the alarm over a string of uncannily timed coughs from audience members.

Ingram, his wife Diana and a third accomplice, university lecturer Tecwen Whittock, were later all found guilty of deception following a high-profile trial at Southwark Crown Court. 

It turned out that the trio had used “coded coughs” to alert Charles to the right answers on the games show, although all three have always maintained their innocence. Tecwen blamed his coughing on hayfever, and said the timing of it as Major Charles considered his answers was merely “coincidence”. 

“It was this incredibly audacious heist,” Quiz writer James Graham tells the BBC. “I thought of it like Ocean’s Eleven or Mission: Impossible, but with very middle-class people in Wiltshire.”

The cheating episode was never aired on TV, although it  was shown to the jury as part of the prosecution case.

Who stars in Quiz?

The stellar cast of Quiz is led by Spooks’ Matthew Macfadyen in the role of Major Charles Ingram and Sian Clifford – last seen as everyone’s favourite highly-strung sister Claire in the BBC comedy Fleabag – as his wife, Diana Ingram. 

Michael Sheen takes centrestage as charismatic quiz host Chris Tarrant, while the brilliant Helen McCrory of Peaky Blinders fame takes on the role of the Ingrams’ criminal defence barrister, Sonia Woodley QC. Tecwen Whittock is played by Les Miserables and 1917 star Michael Jibson.

Is there a trailer for Quiz?

There sure is: feast your eyes on it and get a taste for what lies ahead, below.

What happened to Charles and Diana Ingram?

Following their guilty verdict, the Ingrams were sentenced to 18 months, suspended for two years, and each were fined £15,000. The judge told them to “thank your lucky stars that you are not going to prison”, a decision that he made on the basis of their three children, all aged under 12 at the time of the trial.

However, they suffered considerably as a result of the very public scandal: their daughters were bullied, their dog was attacked and killed, strangers coughed at them on the street and Major Charles lost his army title and job. Soon after the trial, they appeared on a series of reality TV shows together, including Hell’s Kitchen (Gordon Ramsay served them a cough sweet) and Celebrity Wife Swap.

What about Tecwen Whittock?

Tecwen Whittock was handed a 12-month suspended sentence for his part in the heist and later quit his job as a Business Studies lecturer. He has maintained a very low profile in the years since the scandal.

And how did Chris Tarrant react?

Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant in ITV drama Quiz
Michael Sheen plays Chris Tarrant in the drama

Chris Tarrant went to the Ingrams’ dressing room and drank champagne with them to celebrate immediately after their win, it emerged during the trial. This was true even after the production crew alerted him of their suspicions. “They seemed as normal as people who have just won £1 million would be in that situation. They did seem fine,” he said at the time.

He later said he had little sympathy for the couple, despite details of the hardships they suffered. 

“Some may feel poor old Charlie Ingram has paid a high price for his ham-fisted attempt to cheat at a quiz game,” Tarrant remarked in 2018. “But this was a scheme to defraud a public company out of £1 million. Anyone who tried to steal that from a bank would be looking at a long sentence.” 

Tarrant continued as the host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? until it continued its original run in 2014 (a 2018 comeback version starred Jeremy Clarkson in the hot seat).

What do the Ingrams make of the drama?

Charles and Diana Ingram have been in touch with the production crew and visited the set while Quiz was being filmed. They even went so far as to meet their cast equivalents, Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford. It’s thought that they are relieved to have a spotlight at least partially focused on their side of the story. 

“Diana Ingram was painted as this Lady Macbeth character, and I don’t think that’s who she is,” Clifford says. “She struck me as an introvert and a nerd, and someone who’s actually quite shy, quite sweet, definitely naive.”

Are the original Quiz trio actually innocent?

Sian Clifford and Matthew MacFadyen in Quiz
Some believe the Ingrams were innocent all along

In the years since their conviction, plenty of rumours and conspiracy theories have emerged to suggest that Charles and Diana Ingram, and their so-called conspirator, Tecwen Whittock, were actually innocent all along. 

“There have always been troubling aspects to this case, the most troubling being Tecwen Whittock’s persistent cough, a medical fact that went undisputed by the prosecution,” wrote reporter Jon Ronson, who attended the trial, in this 2006 article.

In a 2015 book on the topic titled Bad Show, authors Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett argue the case for “a grave miscarriage of justice”, drawing partly on the fact that there is no evidence Charles was ever in touch with Tecwen, either before or after the show.

Quiz star Helen McCrory, who plays the Ingrams’ defence barrister in the show, also has her doubts. “The fact that a lot of people at the time didn’t hear the cough… Chris Tarrant didn’t hear the cough, the person sitting opposite didn’t hear the cough, people either side didn’t hear the cough, yet for some reason he [Charles Ingram] heard the cough – really?” she told the Mirror in a recent interview.

When does Quiz air?

Quiz, a three-part series, airs every evening at 9pm on ITV from Monday 13 April to Wednesday 15 April. Get the popcorn in now.

Images: Leftbank Pictures for ITV

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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