The tale of Who Wants to be a Millionaire‘s infamous “coughing scandal” is the subject of UK miniseries Quiz.
The three part series is based on real events, but some incidents and characters have been changed for dramatic effect. And the effect makes for splendid viewing even if you only vaguely remember the 2001 incident.
The scandal centres around Charles and Diana (yes really) Ingram, played here by Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford, respectively. The unassuming couple would go on to attract headlines around the world when Charles was accused of cheating in WWTBAM? and winning £1,000,000 prize. Did he choose answers from multiple choices based on coughs from someone in the audience?
TV fans will enjoy seeing UK producers Celador pitching “Cash Mountain” to ITV executives in the late 1990s. The gameplay was inspired by pub quiz nights … also known as Britain’s two greatest loves: “drinking and being right.”
Both ITV and Celador have concerns about the show sending them broke, but producer Paul Smith (Mark Bonnar) is convinced those odds are so remote as to be negligible. There’s a cute moment where the lame title is renamed after a crew member is spotted whistling Cole Porter’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Buy him a Guinness.
Chris Tarrant (Michael Sheen) is coaxed to host the show. He’s an acerbic host, milking the drama and frustratingly flipping to a commercial break in quizzing cliffhangers. The show becomes event TV across the UK, with US networks even calling on Celador to sign up the US rights. “Basically Mickey Mouse is coming up the stairs…”
It is Diana’s brother-in-law Adrian Pollock (Trystan Gravelle) who drags the couple into his ambitions to win Millionaire and it isn’t long before the couple slip into the rabbit hole. There’s even an underground community of quizzers who set up a network of experts for training and the 50 / 50 lifeline. “They don’t check” we learn….
Without spoiling too much, the actions of the Ingrams put Celador on alert, especially when a sound technician plays back the sound picked up by audience microphones. Soon the Ingrams are on trial for fraud. The wonderful Helen McCrory then steps in as Sonia Woodley QC to defend them.
Writer James Graham cleverly casts doubts across the entire scandal and in the hands of director Stephen Frears this becomes an easy and fascinating watch. Authentic sets also add to the credibility.
Matthew Macfadyen, who is quite superb in Succession, is solid as the former army major who may or may not have fooled a network, beautifully supported by Fleabag‘s Sian Clifford.
Lock it in.
8:30pm Wednesday June 24 on BBC First.