GMB: Chris Tarrant discusses ‘Coughing Major’ scandal
When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. Our Privacy Notice explains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.
It’s an all-familiar part of the game, something the ebullient television presenter has done countless times before. But what he does not know is that the person in the hot seat in front of him won their place on the quiz show thanks to a so-called “syndicate”. And not only that, at the very moment the lifeline call is answered, as many as eight people are packed into a room and huddled around a muted telephone ready to research and confer on the answer to help net their client the big-money prize.
Time is of the essence. The contestant has already been instructed to dispense with any pleasantries such as “hello, how are you?” so as not to eat up any more of the tense 30-second time window in which the question needs to be read and answered.
Such fine margins can be the difference between a contestant winning £125,000 and – on 13 occasions – the ultimate prize, £1,000,000.
Maintaining cool heads, however, is the speciality of serial quizzers Keith Burgess and Paddy Spooner, the brains behind the multi-million pound syndicate that cheated the system on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? who reveal for the first time the secrets that made them rich.
Together they fronted an organisation that landed the biggest haul of TV prize money in UK history, netting £4.2million over five years from the blockbuster ITV show.
It’s a high-pressure situation, complicated on some occasions by having more than one of their teams on the show at the same time, meaning Phone A Friend calls would be coming in thick and fast.
In fact, on one single episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? all four contestants – and the reserve – got on to the show with their help, and were relying on them if they needed to use their lifeline.
Knowing the game inside out – Paddy has been a contestant on Millionaire across three countries while Keith appeared on the UK, Irish and Australian shows – meant the men were able to cheat the system.
It was in the green room of the Irish version that Keith and Paddy first met. It led to the pair masterminding a mega-money plot that netted millions for their clients under the noses of quiz show bosses. Now Paddy has finally laid bare how he bent the rules of the show and pocketed riches before bosses clamped down.
For the first time, Paddy and Keith have lifted the lid on the tricks of their trade – including the “data room” – and how they got punters placed on the series.
Their £4.2million haul represented 26 per cent of all the winnings in a five-year spell between 2002 and 2007.
The operation included having Phone A Friend numbers re-routed to their safe house, quiz experts mixed with genuine friends and a neutral person “The Voice”, who would answer Tarrant’s call.
There was a woman on a computer using Google and a phone that’s mute button did not click as the group conferred on answers.
To help contestants get on the show, Paddy and Keith spent thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours dialling premium rate telephone registration lines. Once through, they played recordings of their would-be contestant leaving a message giving their name and number.
In their new tell-all book – Quiz: The Consortium, The Truth – to be released today, the pair reveal how in the green room of the Irish show, Keith told Paddy how he had “made over £40,000 over the last few weeks helping people to get on the show”.
Paddy had been expecting to make it at least to the €125,000 question and was stunned to bomb out with just €1,000, believing he had deliberately been thrown tougher questions than the opening rounds traditionally used.
He had lost thousands of euros in calls getting onto the show in the first place and was angry. But after a chat with Keith, the syndicate was born.
“At the time, I considered this a waste, although, in hindsight, it obviously wasn’t because I would never have met Keith and shared the fantastic highs and a few lows that followed,” Paddy says. After going for a few pints the men joined forces, sharing a 25 per cent cut of all the winnings, something they agreed on – and stuck to – on just a handshake in a Dublin pub.
British-born Keith was living in Northern Ireland and Paddy was based in Bournemouth. At one point, Keith made so many trips back and forth he feared police might think he was a drug smuggler or a terrorist.
“Our dedication to the cause was so great that Keith flew over the Irish Sea well over 100 times,” recalls Paddy. “He bought a car that he stored at his sister Jane’s to enable him to travel the length and breadth of Britain, helping wannabe Millionaire contestants to realise their hopes.”
Before Paddy got on board, experienced quizzer Keith had already agreed to help two friends get on the show in return for a quarter of anything they won.
“They were both busy men with good jobs and calling the show in the volume required was very time consuming; therefore, we decided that I would make a proportion of the entry calls for them,” says Keith.
“At least that way, I would know that the calls were made. It was necessary to purchase a Dictaphone to record their voices; therefore, I hot-footed it to Argos the following day. Next, I recorded my friends repeating their names and phone numbers 10 times with a few seconds in between.
“Moreover, both were told not to answer their landlines and to ask their wives to inform any unknown caller that they were away for a few days and ask them to call back at a time predetermined by me.”
Keith and Paddy’s meeting took this scheme to the next level.
“At first, Paddy had been a little reluctant to go 50-50 as he believed that he had the better, ‘stable’ of quiz talent, though it didn’t take long to persuade him of the benefits of this proposed undertaking. Over the next five years, this joint enterprise secured 200 callbacks from the team that selected contestants and of those, 55 of Paddy and Keith’s “plants” found themselves in the hot seat opposite Tarrant.
As they honed their operation, the men decided to set up their Phone A Friend enterprise in the Midlands.
“Ranked at the top of my quizzing ‘stable’ was a gentleman called John Forster (previously a £125,000 winner on the show),” says Paddy. “For the next three years, his apartment was to be our Phone A Friend base.”
Such was the success of the operation that Keith and Paddy enjoyed lavish holidays in Barbados and the United States, knocking back black Russians during marathon casino sessions in Las Vegas before sight-seeing in Hollywood and San Diego.
By this stage, the syndicate’s core team for Phone A Friend was Paddy, Keith, John, Google girl Poppy, their “popular culture expert”, and Craig the Brickie. But by 2006, Celador stopped call-backs, meaning Paddy and Keith had to be on stand-by by a punter’s phone all day, eventually putting an end to the operation.
It is 20 years since so-called “Coughing Major” Charles Ingram cheated his way to a million in a scandal that inspired the ITV drama Quiz.
Paddy featured in the hit ITV series last year, starring Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant, Matthew Macfadyen as Ingram and Sian Clifford as his wife. Ingram won using plants in the audience coughing to indicate the correct answers.
Paddy and Keith had no involvement in Ingram’s scam but their syndicate was a sub-plot of Quiz, with an actor playing Paddy.
Two years ago, Celador supremo Paul Smith asked to meet Paddy in a pub before the hit drama – based on a West End play – was made.
“He appeared relieved when I confirmed that Keith and I didn’t have anybody on the inside feeding us the questions,” says Paddy, “and that the effort that we were prepared to go to could not have been foreseen by Celador, indeed by anybody.
“He was especially interested in photos of my data room, a name he conjured up. Whereas I wanted our operation to be more accurately portrayed on TV than it was on stage, Paul wished to show that he could not have reasonably expected the extent to which we were prepared to go.
“I don’t know what Paul thinks of Keith and me. He must have disliked us in the days when he ran the programme. Although we hope that he respects our dedication, perseverance, and ability.”
- Quiz: The Consortium, The Truth by Keith Burgess & Paddy Spooner is on sale from today on Amazon.
Source: Read Full Article