Hi! Have you heard of this new miniseries Quiz from ITV? It’s based on the play which was based on true events and features something sure to give us all pause: lots and lots of coughing. It stars Sian Clifford from Fleabag(!!), Matthew MacFayden, Mark Bonnar (a fave!) and Helen McRory from the disastrous (to me) MotherFatherSon. Let’s take a look after the break!
It’s London in 2003, Charles Ingram (Matthew MacFayden from…everything. I did a double-take on his IMDb page, he looked exactly like John Cusack when young) and his wife Diana Ingram (Sian Clifford!! from Fleabag!!) are on their way into court to answer charges in their alleged rigging of his successful turn as a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? contestant.
They’re been charged in co-conspiracy with Tecwen Whittock (Micahel Jibson who looks exactly how you’d expect a boiled pudding on legs with Dutch manners would look. I do love a good Philip Seymour Hoffman / Truman Capote blend), whom they meet for the first time in the courtroom.
A highly entertaining prosecutor (whom I sort of recognise) sums up his case with a flourish and all sorts of game show lingo, I suppose I should have boned up on WWTBAM before watching but really: I preferred Slumdog Millionaire.
We zoom back to ITV’s Network Offices in 1997 with the introduction of a new head of programming: David Liddiment (Risteard Cooper). He wants to change the direction of programming to more events-based, perhaps game shows? Claudia Rosencrantz (Aisling Bea from The Fall!) has an idea and there are a million pounds at the end!
A bunch of other networks have turned down “Cash Mountain”, calling it a “fusty old game show”, Paul Smith (Mark Bonnar!! from Guilt and Unforgotten and Apple Tree Yard honestly, I love all his work) takes exception to that characterization.
People love pub quizzes! Drinking and being right, what could be better than that?
We cut to a pub where such a quiz is underway, Diana Ingram working hard with her dad to be interrupted by a phone call. Her husband Charles Ingram is on the line, their daughter wanted to her Diana hear her piano recital before bed.
*I know everyone out there is thinking “awwwww, how sweet, needed her mum to hear that” but if at least one of you isn’t thinking “IT’S ONE NIGHT. DOESN’T SHE GET ONE NIGHT??!!” I don’t know you at all.
Diana listens at first, her attention on the faltering notes diverted to the questions that continue to be asked by the Quiz Master (William Chubb). Parenting…is difficult, y’all.
One thing that was a fun bit of foreshadowing was another pub member shouting out “no phone calls!” and Diana returning “we don’t cheat!” Because if I’m remembering correctly, Phoning a Friend was a thing AND of course, we know that Diana and Charles are in court for cheating.
Paul Smith and David Briggs (Elliot Levey) (whom we shall call Briggs to avoid confusion) make their pitch to Claudia and new programming head David Liddiment, heavily playing up the psychological elements of their proposed quiz show. I hadn’t thought about it, but I can see how increasing the pressure and having to make decisions in the moment about risk tolerance would be quite difficult, and riveting to watch all the emotions at play.
Paul asks David to do a run through against Briggs using his own money. Well, his and Claudia’s money. It’s fun! David can see that too, he’s drawn in almost immediately, he wants to show how smart he is. He’s emotionally engaged as well.
*I heard recently that up to 65% of American people think their intelligence is above average, which is not only impossible, it explains our obsession with trivia and the like. I say “our” generally, you may hate quiz shows as I do. I adore trivia as it’s useless.
David is aware of the appeal of the show, he’s concerned about the financial risk so Paul Smith offers to go halfsies on the financial liability with ITV.
*People call in to give money? That’s what they’re working toward? Wouldn’t advertising pay for it as God and the children intended?
David orders a pilot, Paul heads off to shore up his financials.
Briggs reassures him, it’ll be fine, as long as the next few people are idiots.
Cut to Charles Ingram driving into to work.
Major Charles Ingram is starting a new role today, he’ll be teaching officers instead of leading them and it’s difficult to see how this ineffectually represented man was in Bosnia.
His first day starts with more musical theatre than I would expect for a soldiery position, although it’s not as though I’ve trod the military industrial complex boards myself.
Why…are he and his quartermaster singing Gilbert and Sullivan?
Hahahaha hai Michael Sheen, you master of disguise!
This is Chris Tarrant (Michael Sheen from Good Omens!), he’ll be hosting our nascent quiz show.
A pilot of Cash Mountain is filmed, Paul and Briggs fall all over themselves trying to explain how they’re going to make it better for David, who wants them to stop talking. He’s going to strip it, run it for seven days at peak times: there’s something in it. Just get rid of the “tits and teeth”.
Paul gives us a snapshot into how to make a quiz show darker, it involves speakers in the contestant’s chair and dimmed lights and a worker whistling “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” giving us a new title.
Diana Ingram was playing pub quiz with her brother Adrian Pollock (Trystan Gravelle) earlier, now Adrian’s over to watch the show and there is entirely too much pizza about.
*I love Sian Clifford, she can do so much with so little and there’s so much to work with here.
The show is a hit! 9 millions viewers says so! Watching a contestant named Rachel call her dad who knows as much about English counties as I do is riveting. Adrian calls the hotline to be a contestant immediately, and repeatedly.
Adrian is going to be on the show in the Fastest Finger First round, Diana will be his guest.
Adrian and Diana meet a couple at the show, they’re “serious” and have “intel.” What Maggie (Sarah Woodward) has is the number of someone who can help contestants make it onto the show from the initial staging.
Maggie does indeed have the Fastest Finger and makes it onto Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which wins every award going the next while, and 19 million regular viewers besides.
Of course the Americans come calling, in the form of ABC, which is really Disney, which is probably not evil.
ABC literally kneels on the floor in supplication before Paul.
Adrian is not finding the game show’s success without him as a contestant quite as thrilling, he’s got a huge phone bill and nothing left to lose.
*I just spent half an hour trying to figure out without success how the show makes money “off of people on phones” so if you know, please tell me!
He calls the number fellow prospective contestant Maggie gave him for help, hai Paddy Spooner (Jerry Killick)! Perhaps Paddy didn’t impress upon Adrian the cloak and dagger nature of his help, as Adrian brought his children to their meeting.
Some background on our secretive Paddy Spooner; he made it into the hotseat three times in three different countries, even thought the rules say you can only try once.
Paddy works with a fan group cum rabble-rousing serious community with intel, collecting the information the show is using to screen contestants. They call themselves The Syndicate.
*I feel this way about crossword puzzles, although I don’t talk to other people in small villages about them; crossword puzzles are written the same way and once you figure out what they want you to answer, it turns into a memory game.
**This is sounding like McMillions on HBO! They had a syndicate too!
Here are the steps for getting on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?:
- Don’t answer the phone as yourself when you get the show callback
- Call Paddy
- Paddy mobilizes*, coming to the lucky contestant with all the answers required. *If Paddy can’t make it, another agent will be dispatched from one of his “hubs”
- They offer a bespoke Phone-A-Friend service, routing any number of calls to a central think-tank full of expert pub quizzers (can you say *expert* pub quizzers?) with Encyclopedias at the ready for a mere 25% of overall winnings.
We watch Adrian and Maggie from before demonstrate these steps.
Adrian is not convinced that he needs such services, he goes home and makes his own model of the Fastest Finger touchpad so he can practice along at home. He tries and tries and tries at home, making it into the show to try his finger speed four times.
This draws the attention of Briggs, who points out the extremely unlikely coincidence to Paul Smith, along with the observation that literally all the contestants appear to be white, middle-to-upper class, southern and again: white.
Adrian makes it onto the hotseat, finally! They can’t play more than once, except in other countries apparently, but here he is! Let’s see how far he goes. He gets $32,000, he uses his Phone-A-Friend to call his dad, who thinks Labour Day in North America falls in May.
Adrian’s sister, you remember her: Diana Ingram, is right there playing Trivial Pursuit with their dad Arthur (Tony Turner) and she knew it was September all along.
Still, $32,000 is nothing to sneeze at! Except that Adrian has incurred some debt kitting out his garage to research the show.
He passes on his Fastest Finger machine to Diana, who accepts it with the unstated reverence and gratitude it deserves while Charles blathers on about “cheating” and some such nonsense.
So our Adrian is retired from chasing a million pounds, but perhaps not fully out of the game. He’s found one day in his garden by the bespectacled Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson) who we met above in court introducing himself to the Ingrams.
Tecwen saw Adrian appear four times in the Fastest Finger fight, he neeeeeds to be on. He needs the device the “community” has spaketh of. He offers money for a copy of the device.
Oh hai Diana, you’ve made it onto the hotseat! Oh, did you really want to bring Adrian as your guest, though? That’s perhaps an unwise choice. Host Chris Tarrant points out that we’re seeing Adrian AGAIN.
(Michael Sheen and Sian Clifford are killing me)
Briggs and Paul raise the security alarm.
Diana walks away with $32,000 pounds, almost half of which she shares with her brother which her husband Charles completely understands. Jk, he has a southern hissy fit wherein he offers one of his children to accompany the 14,000 pounds to Adrian.
Diana and Adrian plan to write a book about their tips and tricks, which Charles calls cheating and Diana vehemently denies.
A meeting is held at ITV with Briggs, David, Paul, Claudia, public relations head Ruth Settle (Seraphina Beh) and Nicola Howson (Jasmyn Banks), head of press. The problem is not just one guy getting on the show several times and his sister, it’s that the show is full of people who all look the same and clearly are talking to each other.
*I do wonder if the people watching fit that exact demographic, I would hazard a HELL YES.
Paul senses something bigger in the offing, the contestants are getting bolder. Ruth suggests the show cast the contestants, but Claudia defends their decision to never do that. It has to be democratic, but it’s not, is it?
Adrian has run out of time and he’s on the run away from his creditors like: the butcher. He leaves his book of Syndicate contacts with Diana.
Diana casually mentions that Charles will have to go on next, but let’s just say: Charles does not want to go on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. He doesn’t like quizzes, he doesn’t like how Diana acted before and after her turn, he doesn’t like anything about it! As Diana carefully turns things around to how they have, as a family, followed all of his military postings without a word, the ansaphone interrupts telling Charles that he’s made it to the opening round of our quiz show.
Diana’s been calling and leaving his name already.
Time for Charles to play! Diana sits in the galley looking anxious as Tecwen Whittock coughs in the stands.
Okay! I checked around (around = Wikipedia + 30 second Google search) and while this is based on true events, it’s amalgamated quite a few things, mostly into the adorable patoot of Paul Smith. That’s not unusual, given that it’s based on something based on true facts, but I did see one thing that seems stranger than fiction. 17 years after the successful prosecution of Charles and Diana Ingram, they’re now appealing their sentences. Interesting, yes? Until next time!