ITV's dramatisation of the "Coughing Major" scandal is slow-paced and generally uneventful.
Quiz is a three-part ITV miniseries based on the ‘Coughing Major’ who cheated his way to the jackpot on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Starring Matthew Macfadyen as the major, Michael Sheen as host Christ Tarrant and Helen McCrory as the defendant’s lawyer, the show had the capability to be an exciting watch. However, its pace and agenda let it down, leaving viewers both disappointed and cross.
In September 2001, British Army Major Charles Ingram won his place in the hot seat of ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?’ after having the fastest finger in the deciding challenge. Both his wife (Diana, played by Sian Clifford) and brother-in-law, a pair of avid quiz lovers, had previously appeared on the show, each scooping £32,000. He just about won himself £4o00 using two lifelines and taking some risks. He was to return the next day as filming rolled over, where he miraculously managed to win the ultimate million-pound prize. But what initially appeared as an astonishing piece of luck (Ingram seemed to be making wild guesses and changing his mind at the last minute) turned out to be a master plan. Ingram’s wife, Diana, and another contestant – Tecwan Whittock, who was sat in the fastest finger first seats – took turns to cough on the correct answers as Ingram read them aloud. On one event, Ingram was so set on an answer but didn’t confirm it to be his final choice as he hadn’t heard a cough, so he rolled through the choices again until he heard his signal on an answer, Craig David, he had previously claimed to never even know about it. The production company, Celador, became suspicious and eventually, the cause was brought to trial where all three implicated individuals were found guilty by a jury of ‘procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception’. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison with a two year suspended sentence and were all ordered to pay £10,000 towards prosecution costs and fined £15,000; Ingram was forced to resign his commission. To this day, the Ingrams have maintained their innocence and have largely remained in the public eye by appearing on TV shows including Wife Swap and The Weakest Link. Charles was also tweeting in response to comments viewers made about the drama. The story itself is incredibly interesting and clearly could’ve led to an enthralling drama, but it wasn’t. Far from it.
The show was set across three nights with 5.3 million views tuning in for its premiere. This episode depicted the beginning of the trial and gave a glimpse into the Ingrams’ life on an army estate in Wiltshire, where they lived with their 3 young girls. First, his brother-in-law Adrian’s attempt to get into the seat is shown where it appears he played the system and managed to get to the fastest finger first section four times. Next, Diana’s attempt to scoop the £1 million is shown. However, her failure leads to them persuading Charles to have a go, despite him not having the same passion for quizzes as the other two. Episode two, the most entertaining of the three, shows Charles’ turn in the seat. The story flicks between Charles answering the questions, the producers became suspicious due to Charles’ lack of certainty in any answer he gives and a sound engineers nothing a coughing pattern. The show ends with Charles winning the money and the engineer approaching the producers with a tape he had made that seemed to confirm the latter’s suspicions. The final episode shows the conclusion of the trial and the implications the accusations have on the Ingrams’ life – include their dog being shot, the major being spat at and their car being egged when they pick the girls up from school. The most potent of which, though, was the action that earned Charles his nickname, the ‘Coughing Major’, due to the persistent coughing Charles heard anytime he went out in public. In the end, the three are found guilty by the jury.
The show’s pace is very slow and the story felt very drawn out making it a boring watch. Another criticism of the show is its depiction of the Ingrams. There seemed to be some sort of political agenda with the objective of giving the impression that the Ingram’s are, in fact, innocent. A peculiar notion, particularly because not only does it imply the judicial system has behaved in an unjust manner but also because the show was also originally distributed by ITV meaning they are appearing to implicate themselves. The characters, unfortunately, gave drab and unemotional performances – not seeming particularly interested in the content themselves. There were also several occasions where odd scenes were cut too, including the Ingram’s performing a musical number, that simply made no sense and was ultimately, cringeworthy. Additionally, several scenes seemed implausible, including Charles being in the lavatory with the manager of Celador, which only contributed to the downfall of the show.
Personally, having watched the series, I was left feeling sorry for the family, as well as Whittock – something other Twitter users also commented on. It came across as if this lie had been fabricated and the trio had simply been caught in the middle. I decided to look back through original clips of Ingram on the game show. Though I have the benefit of knowing what he was accused of, the coughing seems blatantly obvious and entirely unmissable. Since the famous scandal, the Ingrams have been involved in other crimes, including insurance fraud, which have diminished their reputation further. Even Chris Tarrant has noted that he had no doubt that they are guilty as well as other individuals sat in the fastest finger first section.
Nonetheless, Quiz earned two stars from me because the content of the story was exciting. Whilst the pace was slow, and its retelling appeared uneventful, the story it was based on was gripping, and viewers naturally wanted to see it through. Michael Sheen’s performance of Christ Tarrant was uncanny, with the former even saying he’d like to ghost an episode. Leaving aside any intentions, McCrory’s performance was engaging and believable as well.
Perhaps my opinion is affected by the circumstances within which we are living right now, in that good TV feels harder to come by as I don’t find myself doing much else right now. However, this drama just fell flat and definitely dint help the days to go any faster!
Quiz is available to watch via the ITV Hub. All episodes are now available.