ITV to air drama on coughing Major Ingram's Who Want to Be a Millionaire? cheat plot

The extraordinary story of how a couple attempted to cheat on the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is to be told in a three-part drama.

Sian Clifford and Matthew Macfadyen as the Ingrams. Credit: ITV.
Sian Clifford and Matthew Macfadyen as the Ingrams. Credit: ITV.

Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, who was sitting in the audience, were accused of cheating their way to a million pounds on the popular game show in 2001.

The couple stood trial for conspiring by coughing during the recording to signify the correct answers to the multiple choice questions posed to the Major by host Chris Tarrant.

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In April 2003 the trio were found guilty of conspiring to cheat the show. The Ingrams were sentenced to 18 months in jail suspended for two years while Whittock received a 12-month sentence, also suspended for two years.

Charles Ingram in 2007. Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire.

-> Meet the Leeds filmmaker whose new horror feature is a hit in HollywoodThe show, called Quiz, will air on ITV and American channel AMC.

Directed by Stephen Frears (A Very English Scandal, Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena, The Queen), Quiz stars Matthew Macfadyen as Major Charles Ingram, Michael Sheen as TV presenter Chris Tarrant, Sian Clifford as Diana Ingram, Mark Bonnar as Celador Television Chairman, Paul Smith, Helen McCrory as Sonia Woodley QC, Michael Jibson as Tecwen Whittock and Aisling Bea as ITV Entertainment Commissioner, Claudia Rosencrantz.

The drama is written by playwright James Graham (Brexit: An Uncivil War, Ink, This House, Labour of Love) and will be produced by leading international production company, Left Bank Pictures, whose chief executive officer and co-founder is former Head of ITV Comedy and Drama, Andy Harries (The Crown, Wallander, Strike Back). ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill, has commissioned the series.

She said: “I am delighted to be bringing James Graham’s wonderful play Quiz to screen on ITV. It’s testament to James’ brilliant scripts that Stephen Frears is directing, which together with Left Bank Pictures producing, promises to deliver a very special drama. It’s an extraordinary and thoroughly British story and is going to be a real treat for our audience.”

-> How Yorkshire-backed BBC hit Peaky Blinders acts as a 'calling card' for new drama in regionSarah Barnett, President of the Entertainment Networks Group at AMC Networks said: “If this tale was invented you’d think it too preposterous – the fact that it is true, and told so brilliantly, makes for an unmissable three-part TV event that will entertain and enthrall Americans audiences every bit as much as their British counterparts.

"Quiz has the most remarkable bunch of talented people attached both in front of and behind the camera, and we, at AMC, are delighted to be part of it.”

The show will give an insight into what went on behind the scenes as Celador Television Chairman, Paul Smith and one of the show’s creators, David Briggs, originally pitched the idea of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to ITV’s newly installed Director of Programmes, David Liddiment.

First airing September 1998, Millionaire fever gripped the nation with viewers dialing the hotline to win a place on the show.

Based in a sleepy Wiltshire village, Derbyshire-born Charles and Diana Ingram were among those who were interested in appearing on the popular quiz show, which in its heyday attracted audiences of 19 million viewers to ITV.

This led to the infamous "Coughing Major" appearance on September 9.

A subsequent documentary Millionaire: A Major Fraud, fronted by Martin Bashir, followed in 2003 and attracted 17 million viewers, setting a new record for a factual programme on ITV.

James Graham has successfully adapted Quiz for ITV from the critically acclaimed, Oliver-nominated play of the same title commissioned by William Village, which premiered in Chichester in 2017 before transferring to the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End in 2018 and played to packed houses.

Mr Graham said: “I was gripped by this story over 15 years ago, and I’m still gripped now. It’s a very English heist. Putting it onto stage at Chichester and the West End was such a lot of fun, and with a new team we now get to re-imagine the whole story afresh for television. I have to pay credit to the late investigative journalist Bob Woffinden, who along with James Plaskett wrote the book Bad Show that kicked the whole creative process off by asking the question – what if the Major is innocent?”

Mr Harries said: "This is a uniquely British story, as relevant and funny today as it was 18 years ago because the brilliance of James Graham's writing and his insight into British cultural life. And no one directs this sort of story better than Stephen Frears.“

Filming is under way in London.