British army major Charles Ingram was found guilty of fraud in 2003 after claims he cheated on TV game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
British army major Charles Ingram was found guilty of fraud in 2003 after claims he cheated on TV game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Inside the greatest game show fraud

"A NUMBER one followed by one hundred zeros is known by what name?"

A, Googol, B, Megatron, C, Gigabit, D, Nanomol.

While you might know the answer now thanks to a certain search engine, back in 2001 it was the million-pound question on popular game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

In perhaps the most famous piece of game show fraud in history, British army Major Charles Ingram repeated the option back to himself, as an accomplice in the audience provided loud coughs at key moments to point him in the right direction.

"I think it's a nanomol, but it could be a gigabit," Ingram mutters while fishing for the telltale sign.

"I'm not sure I can do this one. I don't think it's a megatron. and I have to say I don't think I've heard of a googol," he said as a hacking cough can be heard on cue.

Major Charles Ingram with wife Diana arriving at the Southwark Crown Court in London in 2003 where they faced fraud charges over an appearance on the TV program Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Picture: AP
Major Charles Ingram with wife Diana arriving at the Southwark Crown Court in London in 2003 where they faced fraud charges over an appearance on the TV program Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Picture: AP

Suddenly he changes his tune: "Googol, googol. By process of elimination I think it's a googol but I don't know what a googol is."

"COUGH COUGH"

"But you thought it was a nanomol and you'd never heard of a googol and there's a million pounds involved," the incredulous host points out, baffled that he is going to take a punt rather than walk away with £468,000 ($A857,392) he has in the bag.

Ingram locks it in and sits through an agonising commercial break before host Chris Tarrant tells him he has won £1 million.

"You are the most amazing contestant we have ever had!" Tarrant yells as they celebrate with a hug.

Major Charles Ingram mulled his options out loud before a loud cough would indicate the right result. Picture: AP Photo, Celador/HO
Major Charles Ingram mulled his options out loud before a loud cough would indicate the right result. Picture: AP Photo, Celador/HO

Only the celebrations were short-lived with staff already suspicious over electronic interference they had detected on set the previous day, believing that pagers on Ingram's body could have indicated the correct answer.

A later investigation revealed the blatant coughing that ushered him through to the million pound prize with the army major, his wife and accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, later hauled before the courts. In 2003 Ingram was convicted for fraud and given a 20-month suspended sentence despite proclaiming his innocence.

Now, the question of whether he was really guilty or not will be put to the audience in a new show in London's West End, Quiz, in a fictional portrayal of the event dubbed "the most British crime of all time".

James Graham, who wrote the show earning rave reviews, said he thinks "the story about whether or not a few middle class people tried to steal a million pounds with questions and coughing, feels like the most British crime of all time".

"And almost ludicrous in its simplicity," he told the BBC. "It just felt really delicious to me, and I thought if we could just try and turn that into an Ocean's Eleven-style thriller, but with a major and a Welshman coughing, that felt really exciting as a proposition."

Major Charles Ingram later left the army. Picture: AP Photo/Barry Batchelor-pa
Major Charles Ingram later left the army. Picture: AP Photo/Barry Batchelor-pa

Original host of the infamous show, Chris Tarrant, recently told the Mail Online that despite the new interest, Ingram was "guilty as sin".

He said the Coughing Major "seemed nice but dim" on set and "made ludicrous guesses, plumping for names when moments before he had said he'd never heard of any of them".

"In the tension of the studio, I hadn't heard it - but the microphones picked up every sound. Coughs from the audience were telling Ingram how to answer.

"On each question, he had mulled aloud over all four possibilities. Who was Jackie Kennedy's second husband? Adnan Khashoggi? (Silence) Ronald Reagan? (Silence) Rupert Murdoch? (Silence) Aristotle Onassis? (Cough!) It happened every time, and the coughers seemed to be Diana Ingram and another contestant, Tecwen Whittock, a college lecturer.

"When our producer phoned Ingram, to say that the million-pound cheque would be cancelled, he didn't seem surprised. He simply said: 'Thank you for letting me know.'"


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