IT was a scandal which gripped the nation; a moment when entertainment crossed over into a full blown legal case and saw an army major branded a cheat.

The story of Charles Ingram and his failed attempt to win a million pounds on a TV game show is now the subject of an award-winning play which is heading to The Lowry, Salford next week.

Quiz stars Rory Bremner as a ridiculously convincing Chris Tarrant, host of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? who presided over what became known as the ‘Coughing Major Scandal’ live on air.

Lancashire Telegraph: Rory Bremner as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? host Chris Tarrantin in Quiz

Charles Ingram became only the third contestant to win the top prize of a million pounds but producers were suspicious he had received outside help from both his wife and a friend in the audience who coughed at various moments to tell him the correct answers to various questions.

An investigation led to a criminal trial and despite protesting their innocence all three were found guilty and the million pound prize was never paid out.

“It really is a fascinating story which captured the public imagination at the time,” said Rory. “This production has been so well received by audiences around the country.

“You’ve got this amazing blend of tension in the TV studio as Charles Ingram, played by Lewis Reeves, gets ever closer to the million pounds and then wrapped round that you’ve got the courtroom drama which followed. Then an added element is the audience in the theatre who effectively become the jury.”

Everyone attending the show is given a keypad and at the interval is asked to vote if they believe Ingram was guilty of cheating or won the prize fairly. At the end of the show, the audience votes again and Rory admits the results have been surprising.

“When it comes to the vote, it’s alway an exciting moment,” he said. “So far we’ve often seen a 30-40 per cent swing from the first half vote to the final verdict.

“At the end of the first half which covers the TV show the vast majority vote guilty but after hearing all the evidence in the courtroom - some of which has not been made available before - a lot of people change their minds.

“I think that’s what’s fascinating about this case. In many ways it is still a live case and I’m pretty sure we haven’t heard the last of it. I think there might well be another appeal and the Millionaire scandal will be in the news again.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Rory Bremner as Chris Tarrant and Lewis Reeves as Charles Ingram in Quiz             (Picture: Johan Persson)

Quiz is an interesting blend of comedy, drama and almost true crime documentary.

“It is hugely entertaining,” said Rory, “but we can’t forget the couple who are at the heart of this. As well as the humour there is the element of personal tragedy. Charles Ingram was ruined by this. He was forced to give up his commission in the army, he and his wife effectively had to restart their lives.”

Quiz is written by James Graham who was also responsible for a three-part ITV drama in 2020 starring Matthew Macfadyen.

“If there was a subtitle for the show it should be Reasonable Doubt,” said Rory, “as there is certainly enough evidence to mount a case that he didn’t cheat.”

“It’s fascinating. The prosecution used a tape which showed that on 19 occasions there were coughs which they said influenced the answers being given on the show. But during the filming there was 192 separate instances of people coughing. I’d love The Lowry to do a count of how many times people cough in the audience during a performance, it happens a lot.”

Quiz also introduces the audience to the shadowy world of ‘the syndicate’ - keen quizzers who helped contestants get on to TV game shows and then helped them with answers to win prizes.

“We know that the syndicate existed. They took a percentage of any winnings in return for helping contestants,” said Rory. “When some contestants on Millionaire opted to phone a friend, the number would be to a group of top quizzers ready to help - for a price.”

But before we get too caught up in the murky world of conspiracies, Rory is quick to point out that Quiz is a hugely entertaining night at the theatre. And audiences have been loving his impersonation of Chris Tarrant.

In his various TV shows and live tours Rory will often impersonate scores of different characters. In Quiz, he is Chris Tarrant for two hours.

“I look at it as being nice to take an impression out for a walk,” he said. “I have known Chris for a long time; his voice been in my head for a while and that’s what you need when you are doing an impression.

“They work best when you have a very strong picture in your head of how that person looks. You are watching them in your mind’s eye and you are providing the soundtrack.

“For Quiz I’ve got to channel Chris so he inhabits me.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Rory Bremner

So what does Chris think of Rory’s impression?

“We have this constant banter about it,” said Rory. “He says (launching into a perfect impression of Chris Tarrant) ‘you are nothing like me at all. Who are you being?’

“But I think he knows he’s in good hands and is quietly amused by it.”

Having performed many solo shows, Rory is loving being part of a touring cast.

“I’ve got to say it’s a joy to work with them all,” he said. “I really am loving it. It such an intriguing story; so well written.”

Quiz, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, October 24 to Saturday, October 28. Details from