Weaver's Week 2006-09-10

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'


Five years on

This column doffs its hat in memory of Angel Juarbe, winner of Murder In Small Town X, killed on active service five years ago tomorrow.

Nicked! - The Anniversary

Is it really so long? Five years ago today, Charles Ingram spent many hours in the central chair on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He correctly answered all fifteen questions there, and walked away with a cheque for one million pounds. The cheque was never cashed, for producers Celador stopped the win and launched legal proceedings. In 2003, Charles, his wife Diana, and Tecwen Whittock, the next contestant on the show, were convicted of an attempt to defraud Celador of a million quid.

This column wrote a long and detailed summary of the case at the time, and will not reprise the detail here. Jon Ronson wrote a piece in the Guardian in July [1]. In it, he advocates a theory first proposed by James Plaskett. Mr Plaskett is a friend of the Ingrams, and won £250,000 on Millionaire earlier this year. In a nutshell, Mr Plaskett's theory [2] is that the infamous coughing did take place, but there is an innocent explanation for it.

"People are known to cough on unconscious triggers. People with coughs and throat irritations may experience the need to cough as the correct answer to a question - one which they knew - were read out. Nerves could account for it. Or perhaps Whittock (and/or those close to him) did not know with certainty the answers to some questions, but had eliminated the least likely options until a mental decision had been made, and then involuntarily coughed as those were recited. Then it was not chance. Neither was it cheating. One family member was not trying to help out another. Responsive coughing; that was all."

This column shares his view that some form of trivial encoding - coughing after a different wrong answer in the cycle of four - would be much harder to detect. That no such encoding was employed is perhaps surprising, and the concept of "responsive coughing" demands further inquiry.

Mr Plaskett is sceptical about our suggestion that visual cues from Contestants' Row would be the secondary plan. The sense we got from the evidence at the trial was that the primary plan - something involving pagers - had been dropped before reaching the studio, and a cruder back-up plan had been implemented.

Part of Mr Plaskett's analysis rests on the brevity of communication between Mrs Ingram and Mr Whittock on the night before recording. The original trial did not hear about any previous conversations that may - or may not - have happened between these two players. It is possible that a number of ideas had been discussed, and that the sole purpose of Mrs Ingram's call to Mr Whittock was to confirm that her husband would begin the next day's recording in the hot seat; and implicitly to put into action whatever plans they had agreed. The foregoing is possible - this column emphatically does not state that this is what actually happened.

That Mr Whittock did not communicate with Mr or Mrs Ingram after the recording is scarcely evidence of innocence. Mr Ingram's cheque was post-dated to 18 September, the scheduled transmission date of his win. He would not have access to the million pound prize before then. Had there been planning in advance, it's certain that it would have included a decision about Mr Whittock's share of the winnings, and a payment schedule after the cheque had cleared.

After the case finished, ITV engaged in a form of victor's justice by presenting only the evidence to support the prosecution case. Over the years, Mr and Mrs Ingram have missed no opportunity to declaim their complete innocence. In the course of researching this piece, we reviewed the biography of Charles Ingram at Wikipedia [3]. It concentrates almost exclusively on the Millionaire scandal, which is no surprise. The piece is heavily slanted, giving the impression that the case is a huge miscarriage of justice. The various versions and list of alterations show many changes have come from a user calling themself "Threaders" [4]. This person has uploaded a picture "made by ourselves, Charles and Diana Ingram" [5]. It appears that Mr or Mrs Ingram has been making substantial changes in order to present a partisan view of a controversy as the sole truth; this is contrary to accepted practice at Wikipedia.

Five years on, there are many unanswered questions surrounding the whole Millionaire coughing incident. This column stands by the conclusions it drew immediately after the case, in 2003. In a nutshell, this column believes it's probable that something was going on, which may or may not have amounted to illegal activity. Celador was within its rights to stop the winning cheque, and might have invited Mr Ingram to bring a civil action for the money.

Indeed, the Ingrams have openly acknowledged that they were looking to exploit weaknesses in the programme's selection criteria. It is certainly possible to construct a theory by which they may have attempted to gain outside assistance by some means or another. All three were convicted of doing just that, beyond a reasonable doubt, by a jury of their peers. This column also believes that their treatment at the hands of Celador and ITV was shabby, and - particularly in Martin Bashir's "Major Fraud" programme - tended towards character assassination.

Since the initial storm, Mr Ingram has raised many thousands of pounds for charity, and faced hell on earth when Jade Goody came to stay for a fortnight. Mrs Ingram and Mr Whittock have kept lower profiles. ITV has lost many millions of viewers and its chief executive. Martin Bashir has now left the country. In a very real sense, there are no winners.


First round, episode 23

Stephen Wells offers the Hammer Films 1945-73. It's a series of films about nasty people, a clear inspiration for The Banker. 9 (4) isn't a horror show.

Esther Kallen will be discussing the Little House on the Prairie novels. There's one error in this round. But only one. The final score, 19 (0), is a definite candidate for the Mastermind Hall of Fame.

Jon Warren takes the British Motorcycle Industry 1945-85. He also motors away down the road, scoring 16 (0).

Harry Hughes has a wide subject, The Rolling Stones. Regrettably, this round is also going to go down in history, as the final score is 3 (5). In his general knowledge round, Mr Hughes doesn't know about Oscar the Grouch, but does remember the pop group Bros. He finishes on 10 (10). Mr Wells talks about the Hammer house style. His final score is 16 (10).

Mr Warren has an antique motorcycle - older than the host. He struggles a little, finishing on 25 (5). Miss Kallen is a biological anthropologist, so she does biological anthropology - a straight answer to a straight question. En route to the almost inevitable victory, she gets no fewer than two questions wrong, and eases up once the win is in the bag. The record can wait for the semi; tonight's score is 28 (3).

University Challenge

First Round, Match 5: Brighton v Imperial College of Medicine

Brighton University is not to be confused with Sussex University, as only Brighton has a campus at Eastbourne. ICM stages a pub crawl at each stop of the Circle line, and generally circumnavigates the 27 stations twice as fast as a tube train. No-one from north of Bristol on the show this week, and three of the ICM team come from the western fringes of the District line.

We'll start with Starter Of The Week:

Q: Who or what is being described. "An upper right tooth is missing, the iris of the left eye is larger than the right, and there are ambiguous but controversial genitalia." Its origins lie in the attempt of the 17-year-old Swede, Daniel Malmedahl, to imitate a moped engine and its animation was created by a fellow...
David Shackleton, ICM: Crazy Frog.

Thumper goes on to ask a question about introducing fights between women and dwarves at the new Roman Coliseum. "Bit like the ITV daytime schedules," suggests someone who has never seen the ITV daytime schedules, because they're not that interesting. The Medics have by far the best of the opening round, and lead 55-20 when no-one can identify the stamp of Maisy Mouse.

Suddenly, Brighton are back in the game - two starters, one bonus, and one missignal have brought them within five, then level. Knowledge of New York's knickerbockers gives the south-coast side the lead, and we have a game. A question very similar to this was asked on Puzzle Panel about seven years ago:

Q: If the ordinal numbers from "first" to "twentieth" are written as words, and arranged alphabetically, which comes first?

The audio round is on piano sonatas, and Brighton's lead has extended to 100-50. ICM's one contribution to the second stanza was that missignal. With ten minutes to go, it's clear that we're not going to get a huge-scoring match, though it could yet be a close finish. Thumper suggests that there's a note called B-major - it's the one denoted by "H" in German, and is more commonly known as B-flat. Neither side is flat out of it just yet, but after Name That Flower Part, Brighton has a 135-85 lead.

The high-scoring losers

  1. Bristol 195
  2. Pembroke Cambridge 160
  3. Manchester 150
  4. Imperial Medics 130

Trailing by seventy with five and a half minutes to go, Imperial needs to get a move on, preferably with some bonuses. And get a move on they do, reducing the gap to 25 points. Then one of the medics buzzes on an anatomy question and errs, picking up a missignal. The game is within 30 with two minutes to play, when ICM buzzes hopelessly early on a question about CERN. We could see the partial swerve coming a mile off, and the result is assured. Brighton picks up a starter on the gong, to win 190-130.

Ray Thompson may have been miserable when he buzzed, but he was right for Brighton - five starters and 68 points as the team made 14/36 bonuses with two missignals. David Shackleton made the first four starters, then rather stopped buzzing - he had 54 points, the team 13/24 bonuses and three missignals.

Next match: Sept 18th, teams to be confirmed. "Eighteenth" is the starter from earlier.

This Week And Next

We're sad to report the death of Charlie Williams, perhaps best known as a footballer and a comedian, hosted The Golden Shot for a year from 1973. Mr Williams' contract was not renewed, so that Bob Monkhouse could return. He passed away last Saturday, after suffering from Parkinson's disease for some years. We will, perhaps, best remember him for the line from the one episode of his time on Golden Shot to have survived. "No-one tell Williams, he's only t'gaffer."

The Rusty Old Radio Times had some space to fill recently, and printed a list of the UK's 50 worst television programmes. All the blame should go to the one-man focus group, John Naughton. According to the BBC's official organ, the worst show ever was Naked Jungle, which brings another organ to mind. Yep, the just-after-prime-time version of Jungle Run starring Keith Chegwin was even worse than Minipops and Triangle. Of course, Naughton doesn't bother to criticise the real nonsense of television, shows that have been billed as the greatest thing under the sun, yet turned out to be singular rubbish. We're thinking of Red Alert, Boys and Girls, and The Big Call, or off-topic filler such as Night And Day, or the execrable h&p@bbc.

Thomas The Tank Engine and Through the Keyhole are unlikely neighbours in the top ten, and there are game shows in lower places. The Eurovision Song Contest ranks 25th, one place ahead of Celebrity Wrestling. Family Fortunes came in 31st, Going for Gold 39th, 3-2-1 40th, and Popstars: The Rivals (48th) was one place better (well, lower) than Fort Boyard. Which brings us to some additions to the phrasebook:

Félindra, tête de tigre!
-- Monique, the tiger is biting the critic's head.
Quel domage
-- (laughs up sleeve)

Weekly ratings for the week to 27 August, the first week AB (After Big Brother). With no Big Brother, we have to have a new number one, and it's the returning X-Factor (7.35m), just ahead of Init to Winnit (7.1m). Maria takes the bronze medal, with 5.65 seeing the results show - over a million more than saw the performances. Millionaire Celeb took 3.8m, and two episodes of Celeb Love Island (best: 3.35m) beat Dragons' Den (3.05m). In turn, UC (2.6m) and Mastermind (2.45m) both beat the Big Brother Winner's Week (2.4m). Link had 2.05m, and Come Dine With Me and The Story Of Light Entertainment both peaked with 1.95m.

ITV2's Xtra Factor remains the biggest digital programme, 1.55 million viewers there. 220,000 saw Raven The Island in its (counts carefully) third week. Challenge pulled a 160,000 rating for a Fear Factor episode, double those of the surrounding night - digital ratings are very dodgy. Deal on More 4 has 175,000.

Highlights for next week include The Match, tonight on Sky1; Celebrity Masterchef, weekdays on BBC1; Mock the Week, Thursday on BBC2, and Antan Dec's House Party, Saturday on ITV.

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