Quiz: the Coughing Major Millionaire Scandal at The Lowry, Salford and Touring

Quiz: the Coughing Major Millionaire Scandal at The Lowry, Salford and Touring


Posted 2023-10-27 by David Keyworthfollow

Tue 24 Oct 2023 - Sat 28 Oct 2023

Does it matter if a production company and commercial TV channel are cheated out of £1 million pounds? Does it matter if a more entertaining version of events overrides a more mundane, if quirky, episode of real life?

These questions are at the heart of James Graham’s play, based on the infamous 2001 ‘Coughing Major’ episode of the hit ITV series Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Image Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Lowry

Inspired by the Ask the Audience dimension of the show, we were all given voting pads as we entered the 1,730 capacity Quays Theatre. We were cast in the role of the jury, inspired by the trial of Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and fellow quizzer Tecwen Whittock - on the charge of conspiracy to obtain a valuable security by deception.

The first half of the play focused on the case for the prosecution - that a conspiracy of coughing enabled Major Ingram to find his way to the right answers, especially on subjects he lacked expertise on, such as the recording career of Craig David.

After the interval, we had the case for the defence, argued by Sonia Woodley QC (Danielle Henry). Her forensic argument was that the alleged crime was a non-starter in a hot studio and that the coughs were too random to influence Charles Ingram, even if he could have picked them out in the spotlight of the million pound chair.

Image: Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Lowry

The man with the questions and the cheque in his jacket pocket was Chris Tarrant. Rory Bremner gave such a note-perfect impression of the presenter that I wondered if he was only cast because he was cheaper than Chris Tarrant himself. Or maybe it is strangely more enjoyable to see a famous person portrayed by a top-class impressionist, rather than the real thing.

Rory Bremner was only really required to deliver a first-rate impression, while Lewis Reeves and Charley Webb had to delve deeper in their portrayal of the husband and wife at the heart of the drama, negotiating the strain of the hatred directed at them as they became a global news item.

Lewis Reeves was particularly convincing as the man at home in a military uniform but less comfortable amidst popular culture and the need to take on a bit of Tarrant-like ease in front of the lens.

Image: Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Lowry

The play, directed by Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen with design by Robert Jones, was tremendous fun. We barely had a moment to catch our breaths before the action switched from pub quiz to karaoke to domestic Wiltshire life, to studio, to behind-the-scenes, to Crown Court and back again.

It was a great night at the theatre but is it great theatre? I felt that in frenetically holding our attention, at the pace of an ad break, it only glanced at some more resonant stories. It would have been good to zoom in on the build-up to the coughing-episode itself. In particular, the back story and emotional, as well as financial investment, that the people behind the production company put themselves through, praying that the money won on the show would not exceed the cost of phone calls to it.

It would also have been fascinating to learn just what personal value people like the Ingrams and friends got out of quizzing before the prizes on offer were a million pounds.

In keeping us on the edge of our seats, James Graham sacrifices the close-up on human stories which his TV series Sherwood allowed.

For the record, the audience vote on the night I was there was 51% in favour of Not Guilty. As Oscar Wilde said "The truth is rarely pure and never simple", especially, he might have added, in a multi-media and digital world, even without the advance of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In the war for attention the patient and painstaking pursuit of the right answer can cause long-term damage to lives and livelihoods.

Quiz is at the Lowry until Saturday 28th October. It ends its national tour at Bath Theatre Royal on Saturday 25th November.

Lowry Pier 8, The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ
Box Office: 0161 876 2000



267293 - 2023-10-26 10:54:34


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