| Accused swindler Major Charles Ingram (left) and his wife Diana in London. (Reuters)
London, April 7 (Reuters): A British army major was found guilty today of an elaborate swindle to win the jackpot on the worldwide hit TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire'.
Major Charles Ingram and his wife Diana hatched a plot with college lecturer Tecwen Whittock to con their way to the £1 million ($1.58 million) top prize in front of TV cameras by using a series of coughs to indicate the correct answers.
The Ingrams were fined £15,000 each and given 18-month jail terms, suspended for two years. Whittock was fined £10,000 and given a 12-month suspended jail sentence.
Millionaire has become one of the most successful global television formats, broadcast to hundreds of millions of people and syndicated to more than 100 countries since it first aired in Britain in 1998.
Ingram, who served in Bosnia with the British army’s Royal Engineers, thrilled the 300 people in the audience as he battled through 15 general knowledge questions to the jackpot, despite often appearing baffled.
Each question comes with four possible answers and Ingram would ponder aloud before making a final decision. It was during this time that the coughs from Whittock were heard.
For example, on the million-pound question — the correct name for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros — he mused: “I think it is a nanomole but it could be a gigabite... I don’t think I have heard of a googol.”
As he mentioned googol, the cough was heard and Ingram chose it as the right answer.
With the audience erupting in cheers, the show’s host Chris Tarrant told him: “You are the most amazing contestant we have ever had. I am so proud of you.”
But sound staff on the show, which has spawned catchphrases such as “phone a friend” and “ask the audience”, became suspicious when they noticed the unusual amount of coughing. They detected that 19 coughs came from the direction of Whittock — another contestant, sitting just 10 feet behind him waiting for the chance to play.
Programme makers Celador Productions called in police, suspecting that Ingram had been helped, and cancelled his £1 million cheque. The show on which Ingram “won”, recorded in September 2001, was never broadcast and he began legal action to recoup his lost winnings.
Detectives said Diana Ingram had set up the plan, speaking frequently to Whittock before the show and on the night between Ingram’s two appearances for the show’s filming.
Charles Ingram maintained he never heard anything other than clapping, gasping and cheering during the show.