The Quiz show ‘Who Want To Be A Millionaire?’ was at one time the most popular quiz show on TV. The show offered its contestants a once in a lifetime opportunity to play for a life-changing sum of £1,000,000. The show expanded into numerous countries, and made many millionaires. Yet for all of the joy, the show attracted considerable controversy. The biggest storm arrived in 2001, where contestant Charles Ingram won the Million on the British version of the show, only to be sensationally accused and ultimately convicted of cheating to win. In this article, we take a look back at this incredible case.
As mentioned, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was a hugely popular show which attracted many applicants. In 2001, the show was prospering, and welcomed a contestant named Charles Ingram. Ingram was an Army Major. Ingram’s performance on the show was one like never seen before. He would routinely change his answers on the show, despite being ‘sure’ a few seconds earlier of another answer. Unbeknownst to viewers at the time, Ingram was reacting to coughs from an accomplice in the audience – Techwen Whittock. His wife Diana was also implicated in the row. Ingram would specifically say each answer, before waiting to hear a reaction from Whittock.
Ingram correctly answered the million pound question, causing the crowd in attendance to give him a standing ovation. Yet in the aftermath of Ingram’s victory, his payout was suspended in light of cheating allegations. Unsurprisingly, the Ingram’s and Techwen Whittock were hauled into criminal proceedings. The court were showed recorded evidence which appeared to show that Whittock was coughing in a manner that instigated a reaction by Ingram, and fraudulently helped him win the grand prize.
Ingram denied the allegations of cheating, as did Whittock. Yet the court were told how 192 coughs were recorded during Ingram’s run, with many of these coughs branded ‘significant’. Host Chris Tarrant denied hearing any coughs, suggesting he was ‘too busy’ to notice. Yet another testimony quashed hope of an acquittal for the Ingrams and Whittock. Larry Whitehurst – another contestant, suggested he detected a coughing pattern from Whittock, and purposefully watched Whittock during the final question. He felt they had been cheating after noticing the process leading to the final question being answered.
Whittock also denied wrongdoing. In his testimony, he suggested that he had suffered from a persistent cough for his entire life. He also said the fact his coughs were aligned with correct answers were a mere ‘coincidence’. Whittock also denied knowing the answer to some of the questions Ingram answered. However, Police found evidence to the contrary, with a handwritten notebook full of general knowledge trivia at Whittock’s home including the answer to one of the disputed questions.
At the end of evidence, the jury took three days to deliberate. The Ingram’s and Whittock were all given suspended two-year prison sentences. They were also fined heavily, with the total payout topping £100,000. Ingram was also forced to resign as Army Major. Ingram has always maintained his innocence. The Ingram’s would return to court two years later for unrelated charges based on fraud. It is believed they have led solitary lives since the incident, which was heavily covered in the world’s media. You can see the complete run of Ingram’s effort in the YouTube video below.
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Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is a show like no other, and this truly was a controversy like no other. Many have suggested that Ingram was innocent, but court proceedings and general public opinion state otherwise. Others purely state that Ingram should’ve been allowed to keep the money, and that the game itself should have made such a coughing event never happen. An interesting case, and one that will always divide opinion. Ingram will always be known as the ‘Millionaire Cheater’ – yet only he knows the entire truth from this tale.