Difficult questions, intense music… Perhaps, “Who wants to become a millionaire?” is a very famous game show. Today I will tell you about a unique case when an ordinary military man from the UK won a million, but after a couple of days a case was opened against him. In 2001, 39-year-old Major Charles Ingram joined the list of scholars who won the British version of the show.
His victory caused an incredible surprise to the organizers of the contest. The editors of the program considered Charles to be a participant who does not shine with intellectual abilities and has no chance of winning. But this energetic person is used to developing his tactics in any business. Yes, Major Ingram’s tactics were unusual. Before becoming a participant in the program “Who wants to become a millionaire?” each applicant must complete a task.
It is not even for intelligence, but rather for the speed of reaction: with the help of a clicker, it is necessary to correctly place the words in a sentence. Charles studied at home, and on the set of the show, he became the first to correctly place these words. Calmly, but much more slowly, the officer answered 5 questions. Answering the 6th and 7th, he was visibly nervous and had to use hints, but still managed to get to 4,000 pounds.
On the second day of the game, the major came to the studio in a very good mood, his whole appearance expressed calmness and confidence. The organizers of the program could not believe it: Charles was unmistakably moving straight to a million pounds. When Charles heard the next question, he monotonously repeated it and all 4 possible answers – it was as if he was talking to himself. And in a completely incomprehensible way he managed to choose the right option.
And so Ingram came to the last question, followed by the long–awaited million: “Google, megatron, gigabit, nanomole – which of these words denotes a number consisting of one and a hundred zeros?”. He repeated all the answers again, and then, clearly nervous, began to think out loud: “It seems to me that this is a nanomole, although perhaps a gigabit. It’s probably not Megatron. I don’t know anything about Google… Google – I think this is the right answer….”. The major repeated all this thoughtfully and slowly several times.
“It’s Google!” he gave the final answer. “He stopped at that word only because he hadn’t heard it before! Charles, I don’t know what your method is, but it turned out to be effective!” the enthusiastic presenter commented on what was happening. And Ingram covered his face with his hands and almost cried at the moment when his wife Diana came up to him from the hall. But the Ingrams never received the money they won.
Charles held out in the status of a millionaire winner for a couple of days. All because Charles, Diana, and another participant of the show – Tekven Wittok – opened a criminal case of fraud. The fact is that the workers involved in the installation noticed one strange circumstance. After carefully viewing the recording, the editors began to claim that the major was a fraud, and that they figured out how he could win.
The manager of Celador, Paul Smith, reported this suspicion to the police, after which an investigation was launched. One of the strangest trials of this century took place in the court of London. The meetings lasted for a whole month. The main evidence was a recording of the program, which the participants in the trial watched about 200 times. What was so strange about the recording of the broadcast?
The fact is that all Charles Ingram’s reflections on the questions were accompanied by a strange cough from the audience. According to the location of the microphone, the editors found out that Tekwen Wittock was coughing – a regular participant in a wide variety of quizzes, who never achieved much success. Prosecutors alleged that Ingram and Tekwen Wittock, who met shortly before the show, developed a fraudulent plan that led Charles to a million.
The plan was for Charles to pronounce all the possible answers very slowly, and when the correct answer was given, Tekwen would signal by coughing. That’s why the major repeated himself repeatedly… Prosecutors calculated that Whittock’s cough coincided 19 times with the correct answer. A total of 192 different coughs were recorded, 36 of which were made by Wittock.
Phil Davis, the hall manager, said that coughing is always heard, and that they could have come from Wittok. Moreover, Wittok’s doctor confirmed that he was allergic to dust. But, as Davis noted, coughing was never compared with the game, and in this case such a connection was clearly traced. Neither Wittock nor the Ingrams have pleaded guilty. The major noted that the video was edited so that Whittock’s cough sounded like a hint.
He also explained how he managed to answer all 15 questions correctly: “In the service, you have to reduce risks in order to cope with the task. I did the same thing on the quiz. I just excluded the most ridiculous answers. In addition, I listened to how the audience reacted to my reasoning, and it helped me.” It must be said that there were attempts to prove the innocence of the Ingrams.
Their lawyers noted that there are indeed several strange anomalies in the records, proving that the cough was just a coincidence. Journalist John Ronson came to the conclusion that the would-be millionaire may indeed be innocent. In his reasoning, Ronson argued: one cannot hope that an allergic person coughs at the right moment if he coughs almost all the time.
In addition, for some reason, the court was not interested in whether Wittock really knew the answers to all the questions. A year and a half after the show was recorded, all three suspects were found guilty of fraud. All received a suspended sentence: Diana and Tekwen for 18 months, and Charles – 20. Everyone was fined a large sum. The Ingram couple became stars with negative fame, they visited many TV shows and reality shows, they were declared bankrupt.
In one interview, they admitted that they felt disgraced and complained that the investigation was taking into account the interests of only one side. Initially, the Ingrams did not intend to appeal, but in the spring of 2020 they had a new lawyer – Rona Friedman. Friedman believes that the Ingrams are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Now she is collecting evidence confirming their innocence in order to file an application to the Court of Appeal for a review of the case. It is unlikely that we will be able to find out the truth. It may well be that Charles really tricked him into winning the quiz. But it is also possible that the company simply did not want to pay the money won and accused the winner of fraud. What do you think about this?