It all started with a well-timed cough. In 2001, a former British army major, Charles Ingram, was a contestant on the wildly popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Ingram unexpectedly won the £1,000,000 jackpot but was subsequently tried and convicted for cheating, along with his wife and another accomplice. Now the Ingram story is coming to AMC in the new miniseries Quiz, adapted from the 2017 play of the same name by James Graham.
Michael Sheen (Good Omens) lights up the trailer as game-show host Chris Tarrant, so small wonder the miniseries proved to be ratings gold when it premiered last month in the UK. Directed by Stephen Frears (A Very English Scandal), the three-part TV adaptation also stars Matthew Macfadyen (Succession) and Sian Clifford (Fleabag) as Charles and his wife Diana Ingram. Michael Jibson (1917) plays the Ingrams’ accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, while Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders) plays Sonia Woodley, the Ingrams’ criminal defense barrister.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was among the most popular shows in the UK in 1999, and Ingram’s wife and her brother had both been contestants on the show when Charles decided to follow suit. Producers didn’t expect him to proceed beyond the second day of taping—his performance was fairly erratic—but instead he won the top prize. Tarrant didn’t suspect anything was wrong as he celebrated with the Ingrams in their dressing room after the show. But production staff became convinced that Ingram had cheated after reviewing the tapes. Diana and Whittock kept coughing noticeably right as Tarrant read the correct answer.
Following a four-week trial, a jury found the Ingrams and Whittock guilty. The couple received an 18-month suspended sentence; Whittock received a 12-month suspended sentence. But there were those who believed the Ingrams were innocent, including a former contestant on the show named James Plaskett and journalist Jon Ronson. Plaskett, for instance, thought the coughs were just unconscious triggers. (Whittock testified under oath that he suffered from a persistent cough.)
Screenwriter Graham was a teenager when the scandal broke and was fascinated by the ensuing trial, eventually penning his play Quiz. Graham also found inspiration in a book written about the scandal, Bad Show: The Quiz, The Cough, The Millionaire Major, by investigative journalist Bob Woffinden and Plaskett, that advanced Plaskett’s belief that the Ingrams might have been innocent after all. The play premiered in Chichester in November 2017 before moving to London’s West End the following March.
“I was gripped by this story over 15 years ago, and I’m still gripped now,” Graham told Radio Times last year. “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.”
The trailer briefly shows us the origins of the quiz show and its meteoric rise in the ratings, before introducing us to the Ingrams, including Diana’s own appearance on the show. (Sheen’s dubious “ooohhhh” when contestant Charles tells him his wife had been on the show is priceless.) Charles admits to Tarrant that, at home, he guesses wrong “about 87 percent of the time.” But with a few well-placed coughs, we see him win the jackpot, interspersed with shots of an increasingly suspicious production team. And McCrory gets to dramatically insist on her client’s complete innocence in a brief scene of the trial. All in all, it looks like an entertaining show, along the lines of the 1994 film Quiz Show, which portrayed the Twenty-One quiz-show scandals of the 1950s.
Quiz premieres on AMC on May 31, 2020.
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