Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? 'I was there - and they're guilty as sin'

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On the set of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? back in 2001 there were technical crew behind the scenes who had been working in television for decades.

They had "seen everything, absolutely everything", says Phil Davies, the senior floor manager for the show at the time.

Or they thought they had.

Major Charles Ingram and Chris Tarrant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 2001
Image: The moment Ingram was declared a millionaire - but it didn't last long

"These are people who'd been in the industry 20 years, 30 years. Afterwards, they were all saying, 'I've never seen anything like this.' Well, neither had I."

Davies is recalling his account of the now infamous coughing scandal, which later saw contestant Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and accomplice Tecwen Whittock, who was waiting to play himself in the "fastest finger first" seats, convicted of cheating and handed suspended sentences following Ingram's remarkable million-pound "win".

Almost 20 years on, the story is in the spotlight once again thanks to new three-part ITV series Quiz, which started on Monday and concludes this evening.

The drama, starring Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford as Charles and Diana Ingram, and Michael Sheen spot-on as host Chris Tarrant, attempts to share both sides of the story, as the couple have always maintained their innocence and are now set to appeal.

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Criminal defence solicitor Rhona Friedman, who is now representing the Ingrams, says new analysis incorporating technological advances casts doubt on the safety of their convictions, and that it is now possible to identify coughs made by Whittock at moments that weren't significant to Charles Ingram getting the correct answers, as well as coughs made by other members in the audience.

Their legal team also says that new investigation into the case also shows that the integrity of the audio evidence of coughing given to the jury at trial may have been compromised.

"Although none of the defendants were sent to prison, all three had their reputations ruined and they continue to be publicly mocked for crimes they did not commit," the legal team said in a statement.

Phil Davies was the senior floor manager when Charles Ingram cheated on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Image: Phil Davies was the senior floor manager for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? at the time
Then senior floor manager Phil Davies (blue t-shirt on the right) on the set Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in 2004
Image: Davies (wearing a blue T-shirt on the right), Tarrant (middle left, in red) and other staff on set in 2004

But Davies, who had worked through hundreds of recordings of the show, and gave evidence at the trial, says there is no doubt in his mind that the trio had devised a plan: Whittock would cough when the correct answer was read out.

Situated just metres away from both Ingram in the hot seat opposite Tarrant, and Whittock in the waiting seats for contestants, he says he was able to see - and hear - what was happening.

"I was next to Camera 4, which is the one that Tarrant looks at," he says. "It was Tarrant's close-up camera.

"It's a very small set. Like a lot of TV sets, you see them in real life, and they look about a quarter of the size that they do on the telly because of the wide-angle lenses. So I could move about and sit and watch contestants as and when I needed to, which is what I did on that night. I was the only one who could do that. I was pretty close."

Ingram had already been in the hot seat the previous day, making it to £4,000 with just one lifeline left. Hopes were not high for his second day. In fact, rehearsals - carried out meticulously every day, says Davies - were worked through on the basis of him leaving at the £8,000 mark. Maybe £16,000, if he was lucky.

Ingram, an army major at the time, seemed "very nice, very polite, unexceptional".

He was, says Davies, "exactly what you'd expect a bumbling army major to be like. 'Oh hello, how are you? Jolly good, tickety-boo. Where am I going? Am I? Oh, okay.'

"Just what you'd expect."

 ITV/Shutterstock
Image: The show Quiz stars Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford as Charles and Diana Ingram, and Michael Sheen (below) as Tarrant. Pics: ITV/Shutterstock
 ITV/Shutterstock

Diana Ingram was not as warm as her husband, but again, there was nothing suspicious about her, Davies says.

"Maybe she was shy, maybe she was nervous. I don't know. You just accept the different types, you know who you can chat with and have a bit of fun with and who you can't. But he was polite and easy to get on with. No problem at all. There was nothing untoward [at first] at all."

As is portrayed in Quiz, Diana Ingram had already appeared on the show herself, winning £32,000. Davies says he can't remember if he was aware at the time.

"We did dozens and dozens and dozens of these things. It wasn't at all unusual. The amount of times someone would come up to you and say, 'Oh, hello Phil. I knew, you know, Jeffrey who was in episode nine four years ago, you must remember me'.

"It used to happen all the time."

Charles Ingram (R) and his wife Diana arrive at Southwark Crown Court March 3, 2003 in London, United Kingdom. Ingram has been charged with deception and conspiracy after he and his wife Diana, and a business lecturer, Tecwen Whittock allegedly cheated to win the jackpot on the television quiz show 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'
Image: The Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock (below) pictured at the time of the trial in 2003
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating accomplice Tecwen Whittock arrives at court in 2003

So there was nothing about the Ingrams that raised suspicion until his second day in the chair.

As he started to answer question after question right, seemingly with no knowledge and luck on his side, some of the crew started to smell a rat.

"We always said to the contestants, you've got to verbalise what you're thinking. Because, as Tarrant used to say, otherwise it's not much of a show. There's not much to see on Millionaire, it's just someone sat in a chair.

"Tarrant was very good, he used to prompt them. 'What are you thinking?' 'Anything you can eliminate?' Or 'what are you leaning towards?' He used to prompt them all the time. And they would always tell you what their knowledge was, their working out."

It was the £32,000 question that sealed it in the minds of the crew, says Davies.

"Who had a hit UK album with 'Born To Do It', released in 2000?" After using his 50-50, his last lifeline, Ingram was faced with two options: A1 or Craig David.

The £32,000 question

"The major said, 'Oh, I've never heard of Craig David'. But he went with it.

"In the hot seat, the contestants always talk through their knowledge and they always eliminate answers. Always, always, always. I've seen hundreds of these things, hundreds of contestants. They'll say it was definitely not that because X happened 10 years before, or that band had broken up by then. There was always solid information.

"The major was supposed to be in Mensa, have a strategy… and yet it was all missing, every bit of that was missing.

"The other thing that doesn't really get mentioned, is that the show gets edited down. It gets edited down because it's not unusual, particularly on the higher questions, for a contestant to sit there for 10, 12 minutes. Easily, on one question. Imagine that, watching that for 12 minutes. Them sitting there going, 'erm...'.

"With him, there was [no reasoning]. It was, 'well, I don't know. I've never heard of that. Or that. Third one... No. The fourth one, not either'. It kept going on like this and we were just flabbergasted."

Despite their suspicions, the crew were told they had to keep going.

"The first night, he was rubbish," says Davies. "He got up to £4,000 and he'd used two lifelines. People who do that, they don't get very far. They just don't.

"But [the next day] he kept on getting them right."

Chris Tarrant promo for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Pic: ITV/Shutterstock
Image: Tarrant did not notice anything suspicious during filming, but now believes the couple were guilty. Pic: ITV/Shutterstock
Charles Ingram (C) and his wife Diana leave Southwark Crown Court followed by the media April 7, 2003 in London, England. Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and business lecturer, Tecwen Whittock walked free after being convicted of cheating to win the jackpot on the television quiz show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Each receIved a suspended sentence
Image: The high-profile court case attracted intense media interest

The plan for which they were convicted involved Whittock coughing when the correct answer was read out. Simple enough. But it also relied on trusting completely, or knowing for certain, that Whittock had got it right.

This is another part of the case the Ingrams' lawyers take issue with, saying the plan would have centred on "total faith" that Whittock's answers were "infallible, as at every stage of Charles Ingram's appearance, a wrong answer meant elimination and the loss of tens of thousands of pounds".

Davies says he can't explain that part.

"I mean, as a floor manager, that's beyond my remit. I don't know. Apart from the fact he was a college lecturer, he was obviously a clever man.

"Maybe he just had a lucky run. But I think that Diana was doing a bit of coughing as well.

"All I can say is the only times [Whittock] coughed were when the major was trying to answer a question, and at no other point - like, no other point.

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"I can assure you he was indicating answers.

"And [Ingram] just kept gambling huge, huge, huge amounts of money. Imagine, you're on £500,000, you can take home half a million quid. And then the next question you say, I don't know the answer.

"You wouldn't, there's just no way, no way on Earth would you do that. And it had happened again and again and again and again and again."

Davies says he started to look around the set.

How Quiz tells the story behind the infamous cheating scandal

How Quiz tells the story behind the infamous cheating scandal

"I was crouched down and I was watching. And Tecwen, there he was, coughing. One single cough. At an appropriate point he'd turn around towards the hot seat and do one cough and turn away again.

"He said during the trial that it was very dusty in the studio. I'm sorry but you could have eaten your dinner off that set. It was immaculate, absolutely immaculate. And he didn't have his cough in rehearsals either. It only appeared on the night."

The Ingrams were searched as soon as filming stopped, says Davies, but he's not sure about Whittock. Nothing was found.

Davies went on to be a witness during the trial and spoke about the coughing.

"I just said quite honestly what I saw. I didn't elaborate anything. I didn't make anything up. I have absolutely no doubt at all that it happened and the conviction was correct.

"In court, I said the thing that was really odd is that he made no attempt to stifle it. Normally, any coughs were natural, embarrassed, and with an attempt to stifle them, because we were filming. This was an artificial cough. But we had to keep going because there was no proof."

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After going through all the different options for the million-pound question - "A number one followed by one hundred zeros is known by what name?" - Ingram eventually went for "googol".

It was the right answer. But the atmosphere behind the scenes was "as dead as a dodo" following the win, Davies says.

"The fact that it went all the way up to the million and then... as we did the million question and he got it right, everyone was just silent. Not Tarrant, not the audience - that was mayhem as you'd expect - but everybody else was just really quiet.

"It was then that Tarrant was like, 'What's the matter? What's going on? They were cheating? Really? I didn't notice anything'."

Judith Keppel was the first contestant to ever win £1 million on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Image: Now an Egghead, Judith Keppel was the first contestant to ever win £1 million on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, in 2000

It should have been a huge moment. After three years on air, only two people before Ingram had ever won the top prize.

"Even the cleverest people could go off with £16,000, £32,000, £64,000," says Davies. "It only takes one thing that you don't know anything about, one little gap in your knowledge.

"The super smart ones generally you'd say, yeah, they'll probably get to £64,000. Even £125,000 was quite rare. It really was that unusual."

But the more questions Ingram answered, the more evidence there was against him.

"As a lot of us said afterwards, if he'd stopped at £125,000 or even £250,000, he probably would've got away with it."

Davies has since left the world of television, and now lives in France running a family holiday resort.

But the Ingrams' cheating scandal is a part of his career he won't forget, and he is completely unconvinced by any suggestions in Quiz that the trio could be innocent.

"He's guilty as sin," Davies says. "As was Tecwen. Whatever the drama might say, that's what happened on the night."

The final episode of Quiz airs on ITV at 9pm tonight