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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?


American version
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is a television game show which offers very large cash prizes for correctly answering successive multiple-choice questions. The maximum cash prize (in the original United Kingdom version) is one million pounds.

When it first aired in the UK in September of 1998, it was a surprising twist on the 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.

Ironically, given the large prizes that it offers, the show is named after a 1956 Cole Porter song which emphasized the desirability of love over material possessions: Who wants to be a millionaire? I don't. (...) And I don't 'cause all I want is you.

The programme originated in the United Kingdom, where it is hosted by Chris Tarrant and was 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 following description is of the British version of the show. For differences in other countries, see the end of the article.

Table of contents
1 Original British format
2 The Major Charles Ingram affair
3 Foreign variants
4 External links

Original British format

At the beginning of each show, the host introduces a set of ten potential contestants, giving their names and where they are from. The potential contestants have to undergo a preliminary round, called "Fastest Finger First", where they are all asked to put four answers in a particular order. The contestant who does this correctly and in the fastest time goes on to sit in the chair and play for a possible £1,000,000.

The contestant is asked increasingly difficult general knowledge questions by the host. To each question, they can choose from four multiple choice answers. Answering the first question correctly wins the contestant a small monetary prize, and the subsequent questions are played for increasingly large sums. If the contestant answers incorrectly they lose all the money they have won. However, the £1,000 and £32,000 prizes are guaranteed: if a player gets a question wrong above these levels then they drop down only to the previous guaranteed prize.

The sequence of prizes is as follows: £100, £200, £300, £500, £1,000, £2,000, £4,000, £8,000, £16,000, £32,000, £64,000, £125,000, £250,000, £500,000, £1,000,000.

The game ends after the contestant answers a question incorrectly or decides not to answer the question, or when they have answered all fifteen questions correctly, at which point they win the top prize of £1,000,000.

If at any point the contestant is unsure of the answer to a question, they can use one of their three "lifelines": they can "phone a friend" (being given 30 seconds to talk to their chosen friend, who must be taken from a list nominated by the contestant beforehand), "ask the audience" (getting a bar chart of the audience's answers), or go for a "50:50" (when the computer will remove two incorrect answers and leave the right answer and one wrong answer). Each of these lifelines can be used only once.

Variants on the format have been tried, such as celebrities playing for charity and couples games (where both partners must agree on the answer). Tarrant's catchphrases on the show include "Is that your final answer?" and "but we don't want to give you that".

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.

The Major Charles Ingram affair

In an episode of the British show recorded on September 10 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. When subsequently analysed it became apparent that another contestant, Tecwen Whittock, seated in "contestant row" was offering Major Ingram prompts in the form of coughs, indicating the correct answers. On many of the questions Major Ingram read aloud all of the four answers, until a cough was heard, before choosing his answer. In some cases he even dismissed an answer, read aloud the answers again, and picked an answer he had earlier dismissed.

Further investigation revealed 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. A number of pagers had been purchased and telephone records revealed what appeared to be a practice session for another plan to cheat the system that was not subsequently carried out. The plan was for the Major 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 a month, Major Ingram, his wife Diana and Tecwen Whittock were convicted of "procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception" on 7 April 2003. Ingram and his wife were each given suspended 18-month prison sentences and fined £15,000, while Whittock received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined £10,000. Together with legal costs, it is estimated that the Ingrams will have to pay £50,000 in total.

Despite the conviction, the Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock continue to deny that they colluded or acted dishonestly. They plan to appeal the court ruling. In an ITV1 documentary entitled "Millionaire: a Major Fraud" and presented by Martin Bashir, broadcast in Britain on 21 April, 2003 excerpts from the recording were broadcast with enhanced audio highlighting the coughs emanating from Tecwen Whittock. Immediately afterwards the full programme in its original format was broadcast on ITV2. The documentary included additional video recorded during the programme of Mrs Ingram sitting in the audience and apparently prompting the Major with her own coughing and making glances in the direction of Mr Whittock. The documentary also contained interviews with production staff and other contestants present at the recording of the original programme describing how they felt that something unusual had been happening. Major Ingram described the documentary as "one of the greatest TV editing con tricks in history". Celador Films, the sister company of the quiz show's producers Celador Productions, are currently planning to turn the affair into a film, and have commissioned a screenplay from award-winning television dramatist Russell T. Davies.

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

For another take on the case, see the article by James Plaskett at http://www.portia.org/latest/major.html

Foreign variants

Although it originated in the United Kingdom, the format of show has subsequently been exported to many countries around the world. As of early 2003 the producers' website lists the following territories as having licensed the show: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, the Caribbean, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, the Middle East, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Poland. Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the Philippines, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, United States, Vatican City, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Here are some details of the differences in some of those countries:-

The $10,000,000 prize offered by Super Millionaire is the largest prize on offer around the world, although unlike in the original programme the top prize is not paid in one lump sum but paid over 20 years. Because of the relative value of the British pound compared to other currencies, the British show offers the second largest prize money. In Germany there's a version where contestants can win 10 million Deutschmarks. After the introduction of the Euro RTL made 5 million of the price money.

A version of this game named "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - Play It" is an attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

External links