Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (UK game show)

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (UK game show)

Infobox Television
show_name = Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

caption = "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (UK)" titles
format = Game show
picture_format = 4:3 (1998–1999),
16:9 (1999–present)
runtime = 60 minutes
creator = David Briggs
presenter = Chris Tarrant
channel = ITV
first_aired = 4 September 1998
last_aired =
num_series =
num_episodes =
producer = Sony Pictures Television
related =
imdb_id = 0166064

In the United Kingdom, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is a television quiz show which offers a maximum cash prize of one million pounds for correctly answering successive multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. The show was exported to many other countries, all of which follow the same general format (see "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?").

The programme is hosted by Chris Tarrant and produced by Sony Pictures Television (previously 2waytraffic and before that Celador) for the ITV network. It is based on a format devised by David Briggs, who, along with Steve Knight and Mike Whitehill, devised a number of the promotional games for Chris Tarrant's breakfast show on Capital FM radio. The original working title for the show was "Cash Mountain".

When it first aired on 4 September 1998, it was a surprising twist on the gameshow genre. Only one contestant plays at a time (similar to some radio quizzes), and the emphasis is on suspense rather than speed. There is no time limit to answer questions, and contestants are given the question before they must decide whether to attempt an answer.

Rights to both the format and all UK episodes of the show were put up for sale by Celador in March 2006, as the first step toward the sale of Celador's formats division. These have been acquired by the Dutch company 2waytraffic, and in 2008 following 2waytraffic's acquisition, by Sony Pictures Television.

Notably, before Tarrant hosted this show, he hosted a show called "Lose A Million", a show with an objective completely opposite of the current show.

Broadcast details

Originally broadcast on successive evenings for around ten days, it now appears weekly on ITV in a primetime slot on Saturday evenings, and also occasionally on Tuesday evening. The show lasts for one hour (including commercial breaks). The first contestant was Graham Elwell, who won £64,000.

As of January 2006 it is in its 19th series, over 400 shows having been screened. At its peak in 1999 the show pulled in up to 19 million viewers (an astonishing one in three of the British population), often when it only had a half-hour timeslot, before declining to around eight million by 2003. [cite news
title = "Millionaire": A TV phenomenon
publisher = BBC News
date = 3 March 2003
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/2783505.stm
accessdate = 2007-09-25
] Current ratings as of 2006 are around six million.

The show is pre-recorded, but gives the impression of being shown live, for example by showing the broadcast date on close-ups of the cheque, and suggestions that the contestant's family will be watching their progress from home.

Older, re-edited episodes of the show are shown every weekday on the digital TV channel Challenge (and Virgin 1) under the title "Classic Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?".

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" was placed 23rd.

pecific UK format

The show follows the usual "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" format, but has some specific differences.

Members of the public apply to appear on the show by calling a premium rate telephone number or sending a premium rate text message. Applications can also be made at the ITV website, via a system of £1 "credits" as well as through a contestant casting audition. Such auditions are held around the UK at various locations. Contestants are chosen from the large number of applicants through a combination of random selection and ability to answer test general knowledge questions.

In one series the audience were asked to vote (secretly) on every question, and their answers were revealed, for interest only, after the question had been answered. This feature now seems to have been abandoned. The host does, however, sometimes reveal the answer chosen by the contestant's friend sitting in the audience ("I can tell you that your friend so-and-so thinks that it's such-and-such".)

Tarrant's catchphrases on the show include "Is that your final answer?", "But we don't want to give you that" (meaning that he would like the contestant to go on and win even more money), and more recently at the end of the show, "But the cashpoint is now closed for tonight". Tarrant is also famous for his "inscrutable" face – a quizzical grimace designed to give the contestant no clue as to which answer is correct.

Notably, unlike most other versions of the show around the world, whenever a contestant crashes out and wins nothing, there is no on-screen text stating it. Normally, at the end of every game, there is on-screen text stating the amount of money the contestant will leave with. However, if the contestant should leave with nothing, on-screen text displaying "Total prize money: £0" is omitted. This is one the few versions of the show around the world that omits on-screen text when a contestant leaves with zero units in prize money, although Tarrant is one of the few hosts around the world who consistently warns the contestants about this grim possibility. He usually reminds them of this possibility after answering the £500 question correctly, as they now stand at the last point at which they could go home with nothing. It has happened only seven times in the show's history, and in all but one case, the £0 winners missed the £1,000 question.

New format

In the summer of 2007, it was announced that the format has been changed for the new series. Where in previous series contestants have had to answer 15 questions to get to the £1 million, in the new series contestants have to answer only 12 questions with the first question be worth £500 instead of £100. After reaching £1,000 by answering only 2 questions which are considerably harder than in previous series, five questions will take a contestant up to a £50,000 "safe haven", previously £32,000. The theme music for each question round has also seen a change, with a more techno version of the original music being used. The format was unveiled in the first of seven celebrity charity specials beginning on 18 August on ITV, and will continue throughout the new series.

Text game

Since 2004, the UK version has included a feature called the "Text Game". Played before some commercial breaks, a question to which the contestant has given their final answer, but the correct answer has not yet been revealed, is offered as a competition to viewers. Entry is via SMS text message at a cost of £1 per entry, and the competition runs through the commercial break, after which the answer is revealed and the game continues. One viewer who answered the question correctly wins £1,000.

Previously, the text game was called "Walkaway" (as it is still referred as such to on the ITV website) [cite news
title = "Millionaire" - Walkaway Game
publisher = itv.com
date =
url = http://millionaire.itv.com/millionaire/howtoplaywalkaway.php
accessdate = 2007-09-25
] and was played when a contestant elected to keep their current prize rather than offer an answer to the current question.

Notable contestants

Top prize winners

Six contestants have correctly answered all 15 questions and won £1,000,000 (Charles Ingram had his prize withheld due to suspicions of cheating; see "Controversies" below)

*Judith Keppel, November 20, 2000
**Winning question: "Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?
***Correct answer: "Henry II"
*David Edwards, April 21, 2001
**Winning question: "If you planted the seeds of Quercus robur, what would grow?
***Correct answer: "Trees"
*Charles Ingram (Show scheduled for September 18, 2001 but not actually broadcast until April 21, 2003.)
**Winning question: "A number one followed by one hundred zeros is known by what name?
***Correct answer: "Googol"
*Robert Brydges, September 29, 2001 (used the 50:50 lifeline in the final question)
**Winning question: "Which scientific unit was named after an Italian nobleman?
***Correct answer: "Volt"
*Pat Gibson, April 24, 2004 (used the 50:50 and Phone a Friend lifelines on the final question)
**Winning question: "Which of these is not one of the American Triple Crown horse races?
***Correct answer: "Arlington Million"
*Ingram Wilcox, September 23, 2006
**Winning question: "Which boxer was famous for striking the gong in the introduction to J. Arthur Rank films?
***Correct answer: "Bombardier' Billy Wells"

Final question wrong

*Laurence and Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen, February 11, 2006 (celebrity charity special; they were invited back after originally answering a flawed £1 million question incorrectly and losing £468,000 - see trick question controversy below)

£500,000 winners

There have been nine contestants who have had a look at the £1 million question and decided to leave with £500,000. They are:

*Peter Lee, January 2000
*Kate Heusser, November 2000
*Jon Randall, November 2000
*Steve Devlin, January 2001
*Mike Pomfry, March 2001
*Peter Spyrides, October 2001
*Roger Walker, February 2002
*Laurence and Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen, February 11, 2006 (celebrity charity special; they were invited back after originally answering a flawed £1 million question incorrectly and losing £468,000 - see trick question controversy below)

£500,000 question wrong

*Duncan Bickley, October 2000 (used the 50:50 lifeline in the question)

Question asked: "What was the name of Amy Johnson's plane in which she flew solo to Australia in 1930?"

Answer given: "Pegasus"

Correct answer: "Jason"

*Rob Mitchell, October 11, 2003 (used the Phone a Friend lifeline in the question)

Question asked: "How many inches tall is an Oscar statuette?"

Answer given: "Eleven"

Correct answer: "Thirteen and a half"

Contestants who walked away with less than £1,000 (but not £0)

*Sheridan Booth, March 1999 (walked away with £500)

£0 winners

There have been nine contestants who have answered a question incorrectly before reaching £1,000, and therefore have left with nothing, including one couple and one player on the live 300th episode. In order, they are:

*John Davidson, January 1999
*David Snaith, March 1999
*Michelle Simmonds (first female contestant to win nothing), February 2001
*Peter and Valiene Tungate (couples edition), March 2001 (first and only couple or team thus far to win nothing)
*Martin Baudrey (live 300th show), November 2002
*Emma North, January 2003
*Bill Copland, April 2004
*Dave Scholefield, January 2005


(please expand list and their winnings)
*Piers Morgan (sat in hot seat twice, playing both 15 and 12-question formats)
*Emily Maitlis (won £50,000 when she played with Piers Morgan)
*Jon Culshaw and John Thomson - £20,000 (first contestants ever to play the 12-question format)
*Mark Durden-Smith and Judith Chalmers - £20,000
*Ann Widdecombe (won £16,000 when she played with Piers Morgan)
*Simon Cowell
*George Michael and Ronan Keating - £32,000
*Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull - £150,000
*Vanessa Feltz and Ben Ofoedu - £150,000
*Sir Alan Sugar and Jeremy Beadle
*Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean - £20,000
*Martin Kemp and Gary Kemp - £10,000
*Will Young and Emma Bunton - £8,000
*Jeremy Vine and Tim Vine - £1,000
*Sir Steve Redgrave and his wife - £1,000
*Carol McGiffin and Sherrie Hewson - £75,000
*Bonnie Langford - (first won £32,000 , then £20,000)
*Eamonn Holmes and Sir Alex Ferguson - £32,000
*Peter Kay and Patrick McGuinness - £1,000
*Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife Jackie - £500,000
*Lesley Garrett and Paul O'Grady - £32,000
*Adele Silva and Nick Miles
*Dermot O' Leary
*Matt Lucas and Vic Reeves - £125,000
*Carol Smillie and Michael Aspel - £1,000
*Jo Brand and Ricky Tomlinson - £64,000
*Samia Smith and Jennie McAlpine - £50,000 (Coronation Street Special)
*Sally Whittaker and Michael Starke - £1,000 (Coronation Street Special)
*Denise Van Outen and Johnny Vaughan - £50,000
*Michelle Collins and Sean Gallagher - £20,000


Variants on the format are screened from time to time as specials – such as celebrities playing for charity, couples games (where both partners must agree on the answer), Mother's Day specials, etc.


Incorrect answer to question accepted

On 8 March 1999, contestant Tony Kennedy, a warehousman from Blackpool, faced the question for £64,000, "Theoretically, what is the minimum number of strokes with which a tennis player can win a set?", with the answers 12, 24, 36 and 48. He worked out that you need 4 shots to win a game, and there are 6 games in a set, so the answer is 24. He declared this and won the £64,000 question.

However, this answer proved to be wrong. Some viewers noticed that a player can win a game without playing a shot if their opponent is serving, as he may double-fault every time - as a result, the correct answer is technically 12.

The Daily Mirror newspaper reported this the next day, with the pun headline 'Fault!'. The programme acknowledged the mistake and apologised for it, but Kennedy was allowed to keep the money he won (£125,000, as he got the following question correct as well).

Trick question

On a special Valentine's Day celebrity edition of the show on 11 February 2006, which aired three days before the actual Valentine's day, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen reached the million-pound question, which was "Translated from the Latin, what is the official motto of the United States?" The Bowens chose answer A, "In God We Trust," but the correct answer was actually answer B, "One Out of Many," which is the English translation for the Latin "E pluribus Unum". Because they answered the million-pound question incorrectly, they lost a staggering £468,000, the greatest loss of prize money ever on any UK game show. However, the question turned out to be ambiguous, as "In God We Trust" is also used as a motto for the United States; the phrase is found on many American monetary coins. Because of this, they were invited back to play again, reinstating their previously-lost £468,000 to bring them back up to £500,000. Now the question for £1,000,000 was "Who was the first person to go into space twice?" (correct answer: Gus Grissom) and the contestants did not attempt to answer this time, leaving with £500,000.

No other contestant has ever lost £468,000; the most money ever lost was £218,000, which has occurred twice when contestants have answered the 14th question incorrectly, lowering their prize from £250,000 to just £32,000. The two contestants were Duncan Bickley and Rob Mitchell in October 2000 and October 2003 respectively.

Major Charles Ingram affair

In an episode of the British show recorded on 10 September 2001, Major Charles Ingram won the £1,000,000 prize. During the recording it was noticed that a suspicious pattern of coughing could be heard. The Major's unusual behaviour in the hot seat also drew attention. Analysed, it was believed that another contestant sitting behind him was offering him prompts in the form of coughs, indicating the correct answers. On some of the questions the Major read aloud all of the four answers, until a significant cough was heard, before choosing his answer. In one case he dismissed an answer, read aloud the answer again, and then picked the answer which he had earlier dismissed. It also appeared on the tapes that one of the contestants, possibly Tecwen Whittock, said 'No!' while someone was coughing at the same time as Ingram was repeating an incorrect answer.

After the Major won the million, Tecwen Whittock won the next Fastest Finger game and so took to the hotseat. He reached the £8,000 mark, but dropped back to £1,000 after answering a cookery question incorrectly.

The Prosecution suggested that the Major's wife, Diana (who had won £32,000 on a previous show, as had his brother-in-law), had organised the scam. Pager telephone records revealed what appeared to be a practice session for another plan to cheat the system that was not subsequently carried out. The Prosecution claimed that this, the first, plan was for Major Ingram to hide four pagers on his body that would vibrate when an accomplice called the pager indicating the correct answer.

Following a trial at Southwark Crown Court lasting seven weeks, Major Ingram, his wife Diana and Tecwen Whittock were convicted of "procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception" on 7 April 2003. Major Ingram and his wife were each given suspended 18-month prison sentences and fined £15,000, while Tecwen Whittock received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined £10,000. Together with legal costs, the Ingrams had to pay £115,000.

Despite the conviction, the Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock continue to deny that they colluded or acted dishonestly. They appealed the conviction. An ITV documentary entitled "Millionaire: A Major Fraud", presented by Martin Bashir, was broadcast in Britain on 21 April 2003 with a follow-up two weeks later, "Millionaire: The Final Act". The first advert in the first advertisement break in "Major Fraud" was for cough medicine, after a brainwave in the broadcaster's advertising department. Excerpts from the recording were broadcast but with enhanced audio highlighting the coughs emanating, the Prosecution alleged, from Tecwen Whittock. Immediately after "Major Fraud" the uncut recording but again with enhanced audio was broadcast on ITV2. "Major Fraud" included additional video recorded during the programme of Mrs Ingram sitting in the audience and apparently prompting Major Ingram with her own coughing and making glances in the direction of Tecwen Whittock. "Major Fraud" also contained interviews with production staff and some contestants present at the recording describing how they felt that something unusual had been happening. Notably, none of the defendants were interviewed. Major Ingram described Major Fraud and the programme broadcast on ITV2 as "one of the greatest TV editing con tricks in history".

On 24 July 2003 the British Army ordered Charles Ingram to resign his commission as a Major.

James Plaskett has argued in favour of the innocence of Ingram, his wife and Whittock. [cite news
title = Playing the Game
publisher = portia.org
date = 3 December 2005
url = http://www.portia.org/chapter14/major.html
accessdate = 2007-09-25
] Plaskett's essay led to journalist Bob Woffinden, who had a long time interest in miscarriages of justice, publishing a two page article in the 9 October 2004 edition of the British newspaper the Daily Mail entitled "Is The Coughing Major Innocent?" Jon Ronson, who attended the trial and had written two articles about it in The Guardian wrote a piece published on 17 July 2006, entitled "Are the Millionaire three innocent?". [cite news
title = Are the "Millionaire" three innocent?
publisher = The Guardian
date = 17 July 2006
url = http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jon_ronson/2006/07/could_the_who_wants_to_be_a_mi.html
accessdate = 2007-09-25

In January 2006, Plaskett himself made it into the hot seat and won £250,000. An unusual ambience between player and host was noticed and remarked upon in the media. He subsequently donated £25,000 to a charity of Major Ingram's choice.

Phoney a Friend

In March 2007 various UK newspapers reported that an organised syndicate had been getting quiz enthusiasts on to the show in return for a percentage of their winnings. The rate varied between a quarter and a half depending on the stage reached by the contestant. For this the contestant received help in getting onto the show. In many cases the initial calls were made on their behalf. In other cases the contestants made the calls and had the costs refunded but received help with the call back tie-breakers via Skype. In most cases when the contestants were in the hot seat they again received help with the phone a friend question which involved the syndicate googling for answers. The person behind the syndicate was Keith Burgess from Northern Ireland. Burgess admitted to helping around 200 contestants to appear on the show since 1999, for which he estimates to have made around a half a million pounds. The show producers are believed to have been aware of this operation. [cite news
title = Phoney a Friend
publisher = SundayMirror.co.uk
date = 18 March 2007
url = http://www.sundaymirror.co.uk/news/tm_headline=phoney-a-friend--&method=full&objectid=18772147&siteid=62484-name_page.html
accessdate = 2007-09-25

An earlier version of a Phoney a Friend syndicate was reported in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo during 2003. [cite news
title = Millionaire syndicate is probed
publisher = northamptonchron.co.uk
date = 23 April, 2003
url = http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/Millionaire-39syndicate39-is-probed.518314.jp
accessdate = 2007-10-05

poofs and parodies

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" was spoofed on an episode of "Dick and Dom in da Bungalow" on 4 March 2006. The Chris Tarrant impersonator, Chris Muckey, asked the contestants a variety of 'hilarious' questions with rather obvious answers (e.g., What are you sitting on? A) Chair, B) Tree, C) Hippo, D) TV?). Those contestants who got a wrong answer were 'gunged' with Creamy Muck-Muck.

Whilst not exactly a spoof, since the real set was used and Chris Tarrant did appear, the show appeared in a sketch on the BBC Northern Ireland comedy sketch show "Dry Your Eyes", starring the "Hole in the Wall Gang". The paranoid "Irishman" character Gerry Murphy was in the hot seat and accused Tarrant and the English producers of deliberately making it hard for him just because he's Irish. He won the million pounds in the end, but when Tarrant said "I know someone who'll be having a few celebratory drinks tonight!", he ranted "Just because I'm Irish, I must be an alcoholic? Wee Gerry Murphy can't wait to spend half a million pounds on the Guinness, and blow the other half-million on a horse!" He then tore up the cheque, shouting "Well, let me tell you, I want no more to do with your English million pounds, you can stuff it!", and he stormed off, before returning and saying "I still get to have a pint of Guinness in the green room, don't I?".

BBC wanted to use Tarrant and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" for part of the plot of "If They Could See Us Now", the 2001 Christmas special of "Only Fools and Horses". However, ITV wanted in return the rights to show old episodes of "Only Fools..."; the BBC refused, and the agreement was not made. (Instead for the episode, a generic game show with strong "Millionaire" influences, "Goldrush", hosted by Jonathan Ross, was created.)


ITV are planning a spinoff called "50/50" and is going to be based on the "50/50" lifeline on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". [cite news
title = ITV opts for "50/50" spin-off
publisher = The Sun
date = 30 August 2007
url = http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2001320029-2007400375,00.html
accessdate = 2007-09-25


External links

*itv.com|id=millionaire|title="Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
* [http://www.ukgameshows.com/index.php/Who_Wants_To_Be_A_Millionaire%3F "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"] at UKGameshows.com
* [http://www.wedigtv.com "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"] at WeDigTV.com
*imdb title|id=0166064|title=Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (UK)
* [http://www.2waytraffic.com 2waytraffic]

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