One of ITV’s big shows over the Easter weekend was “Quiz”, the dramatisation of the events of the Charles Ingram/Cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire scandal. While I enjoyed the show very much, to misquote Marx I wasn’t quite sure whether it was trying to present quiz history as tragedy or farce.
I’ll try to explain this. In 2003, following the trial of Ingrams, Diana Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock, ITV showed “Millionaire: A Major Fraud”, with clips from the actual show recorded in 2001 but never shown. This was in no doubt of their guilt, and presented the whole thing as farce – and, I have to say it, a very funny farce too, despite nobody dropping their trousers on screen. Then in 2015, Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett published “Bad Show”, which examined the evidence and found considerable reason to question the official ITV version of what actually went on during the show.
I think it’s probably fair to say that James Graham was influenced by the book when he wrote his play “Quiz” which debuted on stage in 2017. He wrote the TV adaptation.
What you end up with is a version which seems sympathetic to the Ingrams, and especially Charles. Matthew MacFadyen, even in the its replicating footage from the original show, certainly came across as far more of a sympathetic figure than the original major ever did then or in any of his subsequent TV show appearances. The problem, though, with James Graham’s stated intention of trying to play fair to everyone is that it makes it difficult to also deal with certain uncomfortable facts – Diana Ingram’s phone call to Tecwen Whittock – the business with the phone pagers – Charles’ own remarkable behaviour while actually in the hot seat. Not to mention the fact that the Ingrams were convicted of an unrelated fraud offence in 2003. Ah, you may say, but that’s unrelated to the show, so not relevant. To which I reply, well, neither is the fact that Charles is shown turning down large amounts of newspaper money to ‘confess’, or that the Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock have consistently maintained their innocence ever since, which the show made a point of telling us at the end of the last episode. In the case of the phone call it just shows that it happened. We’re not a party to what is actually said. In the case of the pagers yes, it says, they were there on the first night of the show, but not afterwards, and is a bit coy over whether they even worked in the first place.
As for Charles’ behaviour, well, this is another interesting thing. As a viewer, I have to say that Charles looked as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo. Put simply, people just don’t behave like that when they’re answering any set of quiz questions, let alone a set of questions for such a life changing amount of money. They just don’t. I’ve been playing in quizzes for three decades, with, and against all different kinds of people, and been question master many, many times as well. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, ever goes on such a run of changing answers of which they were certain, successfully. While the drama, if it did anything, made Charles out to be some vaguely Macbethic figure, who, if he DID cheat , did so reluctantly, on the urging of his wife. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. Only the three convicted know without question what happened on the nights of that show, but if you ask my opinion, than I’m sorry, but I think that something very funny was going on in that show.
For me, the drama fudged the issue. If, like me, you believe that Charles Ingram was in some way or other cheating, then I doubt that the drama did anything much to convince you otherwise. On the other hand, the most interesting thing about the show was that it asked a quite different question – regardless of whether he cheated or not, were the jury right to convict him? Bloody good question. And in essence, a question which is far more important than whether a British Army Major cheated on a very popular prime time British quiz show. It’s a question about law, legal process, and justice.
You see, the British legal system rests on a number of fundamental principles, one of which being innocent until proven guilty. Thus, in a British court, the legal burden rests with the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. A British court never finds anyone innocent, incidentally. You’ve either been proven to be guilty, or you haven’t. In fact, unless I’m much mistaken, there is a third verdict in Scotland – Not Proven – which strikes me as a sort of – we think you did it, but we don’t think the prosecution did enough to prove it.
So, I said earlier that I think that Charles Ingram cheated in some way. Does that mean I should vote that he’s guilty? Not without evidence. So what is my evidence? The coughing? Well, the evidence for that is the ITV recording. According to the show, the recording played in court was the ITV’s own recording where the sound engineers had worked on it to enhance the sound of the coughs. Not only that, but the evidence in the form of the original recording had not been given over to the police. Not only that, but even the sound engineer couldn’t be 100% certain over which contestants had actually made the coughs. Does that cast some doubt on how reliable the video evidence is? Yes. Reasonable doubt? Ah, it’s becoming a little more difficult and less clear cut now, isn’t it?
How about the contestant sitting in one of the fastest finger seats who said that he thought Whittock was cheating by coughing when the correct answers were read out? That’s pretty damning. But then there was medical evidence that Whittock couldn’t have helped his coughing, or couldn’t have controlled it to be able to cough at the right moment. Does that cast doubt? Yes. Reasonable doubt though?
When you get right down to it, the whole thing is a little uncomfortable. My feeling is that they did do it. So maybe I could make out a case that the outcome – a conviction with the judge handing down suspended sentences was just about right considering that you could make out a case that the prosecution hadn’t made the strongest of cases. But that’s a dangerous way of looking at it. When you start convicting people because you have a gut feeling that they are guilty, rather than because they’ve been proven guilty to you, then that’s dangerous.
Coming back to the show, I did think that Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Chris Tarrant was uncanny at times – his voice, it’s tone and inflections being startlingly close to Tarrant’s in places.