The extraordinary and sensational story of how Charles and Diana Ingram attempted an ‘audacious heist’ on the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is to be told in a three-part drama, Quiz announced ITV and AMC today. Major Ingram, his wife Diana and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, who was sitting in the audience, were accused of cheating their way to a million pounds on what was, the most popular game show on earth in 2001.
The couple stood trial for conspiring by coughing during the recording to signify the correct answers to the multiple choice questions posed to the Major by host, Chris Tarrant. Directed by globally renowned director, Stephen Frears (A Very English Scandal, Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena, The Queen) Quiz stars Matthew Macfadyen as Major Charles Ingram, Michael Sheen as TV presenter, Chris Tarrant, Sian Clifford as Diana Ingram, Mark Bonnar as Celador Television Chairman, Paul Smith, Helen McCrory as Sonia Woodley QC, Michael Jibson as Tecwen Whittock and Aisling Bea as ITV Entertainment Commissioner, Claudia Rosencrantz.
The drama is written by playwright, James Graham, (Brexit: An Uncivil War, Ink, This House, Labour of Love) and will be produced by leading international production company, Left Bank Pictures, whose chief executive officer and co-founder is former Head of ITV Comedy and Drama, Andy Harries (The Crown, Wallander, Strike Back). ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill, has commissioned the series.
Commented Polly Hill: “I am delighted to be bringing James Graham’s wonderful play Quiz to screen on ITV. It’s testament to James’ brilliant scripts that Stephen Frears is directing, which together with Left Bank Pictures producing, promises to deliver a very special drama. It’s an extraordinary and thoroughly British story and is going to be a real treat for our audience.”
Sarah Barnett, President of the Entertainment Networks Group at AMC Networks said: “If this tale was invented you’d think it too preposterous – the fact that it is true, and told so brilliantly, makes for an unmissable 3-part TV event that will entertain and enthrall Americans audiences every bit as much as their British counterparts. Quiz has the most remarkable bunch of talented people attached both in front of and behind the camera, and we, at AMC, are delighted to be part of it.”
Quiz gives an insight into what went on behind the scenes as Celador Television Chairman, Paul Smith and one of the show’s creators, David Briggs, originally pitched the idea of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to ITV’s newly installed Director of Programmes, David Liddiment. First airing September 1998, Millionaire fever voraciously gripped the nation with viewers avidly dialling the hotline to win a place on the show which ITV stripped nightly across its schedule to ramp up the excitement.
Based in a sleepy Wiltshire village, Charles and Diana Ingram . were among those who became fixated with appearing on the popular quiz show, which in its heyday attracted audiences of 19 million viewers to ITV. Their obsession and fascination with the format led to multiple attempts to appear on the show for both Charles and Diana and led to the infamous ‘Coughing Major’ appearance on 9 September 2001, which has sensationally gone down in television folklore.
A subsequent documentary Millionaire: A Major Fraud, fronted by Martin Bashir, followed in 2003 attracted 17 million viewers, setting a new record for a factual programme on ITV.
James Graham has successfully adapted Quiz for ITV from the critically acclaimed, Oliver-nominated play of the same title commissioned by William Village, which premiered in Chichester in 2017 before transferring to the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End in 2018 and played to packed houses. Olivier award winning James has also written numerous television dramas including Coalition and Brexit: The Uncivil War. His theatre includes the hit Westminster play This House, and Ink about Rupert Murdoch, nominated for a Tony on Broadway this year.
James Graham said: “I was gripped by this story over 15 years ago, and I’m still gripped now. 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. I have to pay credit to the late investigative journalist Bob Woffinden, who along with James Plaskett wrote the book Bad Show that kicked the whole creative process off by asking the question – what if the Major is innocent?”
Andy Harries said: “This is a uniquely British story, as relevant and funny today as it was 18 years ago because the brilliance of James Graham’s writing and his insight into British cultural life. And no one directs this sort of story better than Stephen Frears.“
Quiz is a Left Bank Pictures co-production for ITV and AMC and is distributed by Sony Pictures Television, which also owns and distributes Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? worldwide. Produced by Alice Pearse (Origin, Gregor), and executive produced by Dan Winch (A Very English Scandal, Broadchurch), William Village, James Graham, Stephen Frears and Left Bank CEO, Andy Harries.