When Kaun Banega Crorepati? first hit India, it was a national phenomena, offering the everyday citizen not just entertainment but also the hope that anyone could get rich quick. It was, in case you didn’t know, based on the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? which started in 1998. And while the Indian version of the show had a lot of great, memorable moments, it never saw something as notorious, as unbelievable as the story below.

Major Charles Ingram. Remember the name, all of England did in 2001 when he became the most unlikely contestant to ever win a million on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It was the 10th of September, and this dubious man had somehow stumbled and bumbled his way to the top. He’d conned the host, scammed the system and achieved one of the most improbable hustles in TV history, if just for a while. His secret? A cough.


On the 9th of September, Charles Ingram was on the hot seat, getting grilled by host Chris Tarrant and clearly struggling to make it through the first few rounds of questioning. By the time he’d hit £4,000, he’d already used up two of his lifelines and things weren’t looking good. However, it was time for recording to end for that day, which meant Ingram’s run would continue on the next day. Nobody thought he’d make it too far, but rumour has it that Charles and his wife Diana were desperate. That they were £50,000 in debt and they really, really needed the money.


So they hatched a plan. Diana knew someone who’d be in the audience, a college lecturer named Tecwen Whittock. Together, they created a system in which Charles would read out the 4 answers to the question while pretending to wrack his brain, and Tecwen would cough after he read out the correct answer. It sounds like the method of a simpleton, but boy did it work. The only problem was Charles himself.


This was not a man used to pulling off daring heists à la Ocean’s Eleven. This was a man who was so out of his depth, he didn’t really know what to do except keep plodding along. The trio’s original plan was to stop around the £64,000 mark so they’d be able to pay off their debt and not arouse too much suspicion, but it seems something snapped inside Ingram. He kept going, and every question that brought him closer to the win also made it more obvious that something was seriously awry. This was a man who couldn’t act to save his life, a man who had no spontaneous ability for improv whatsoever. For some inexplicable reason, he’d keep claiming that he had no idea what any of the answers meant, before reading them out, hearing the cough, and doing a complete u-turn. It was a beautiful disaster, like watching a 5-year-old trying to steal the Kohinoor. Watch him ‘answer’ the final question below.


Of course, the producers realised what had happened soon after, and Charles, Diana and Tecwen were arrested, but for one magical moment, they’d made it. As it was, the massive payout of £1,000,000 was supended, and Charles, Diana and Whittock were convicted of ‘procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception’. They were each given prison sentences suspended for two years, each fined £15,000, and each ordered to pay £10,000 towards prosecution costs. The Ingrams also incurred additional defense costs, and the couple had to pay a complete total of £115,000. The Major was also stripped of his title by the Army Board, after 17 years of service. Harsh.


I actually feel kind of bad for the dude, especially after learning that he sliced 3 of his toes off in 2010 while mowing the lawn. I mean this is a guy who really just needed a win. But such is life. The couple later went on to participate in several other shows such as Wife Swap and Hell’s Kitchen, owing largely to their criminal infamy. They now reside in Easterton, Wiltshire with their 3 daughters, and strangely enough, continue to profess their innocence. The ludicrous trajectory of the lives of these aristocratic swindlers is a tragicomedy of Shakespearean proportions, and lends itself well to a legend of its own, otherwise known as The Tale of The Coughing Major.