Who wants to be a quiz show cough cheat?
PUBLISHED: 17:03 25 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:03 25 May 2018
The sorry tale of an army Major convicted of cheating on a TV quiz show has been turned into a moment of cultural significance by playwright James Graham.
The writer behind hit politics plays This House and Labour of Love offers a characterstically entertaining take on the ‘coughing Major’ scandal - complete with interactive key pads for audiences to vote.
But along the way, he examines the British love affair with fair play and game shows, and the rise of global popular entertainment.
West Hampstead actor Sarah Woodward, (the daughter of The Wicker Man actor Edward) plays a QC in Quiz which rakes over the half-forgotten story of Charles Ingram who allegedly won after being tipped off by coughs from his wife in the audience.
“I thought This House was one of the most exciting things I had seen in years and I wanted to be part of it,” says Woodward, who went on to appear in the 70s-set play in the West End.
“The politics of the day comes out in all James Graham’s plays whether it’s about a game show or Parliament, he makes them of the time but they speak to us now.”
Quiz, she says, combines politics with the medium of a game show and “a bit about the history of game shows and TV,” including Keir Charles, who plays Chris Tarrant, taking off Jim Bowen, and Leslie Crowther.”
The moment when the Chris Tarrant-hosted quiz spread to 160 countries marked a sea change when popular entertainment went global.
“As a country we are quite quiz obsessed,” says Woodward.
“The play follows the media hype around the show, but it’s also about the Ingrams. Why they cheated, if they did. It’s good fun and funny as well .”
Like the real show, which has just been revitalised with Jeremy Clarkson as host, Quiz is interactive, with audiences asked to vote on the couple’s guilt by pressing a button on their key pads.
“People think they are not real but they are. At the end of each half the audience is asked what they think and we put the voting percentages up on the screen. At the end the audience decide.”
Woodward says even the actors are split on the issue of guilt.
“We give a bit more information than was allowed in court. A lot of evidence was struck off before the case, and a lot of it would have got them off. Even on the evidence heard, they should not have been convicted. It was all circumstantial. Even if they are guilty, they didn’t do it by coughing.”
She adds: “There’s also a bit of politics about how so much is manipulated on TV and how the President of the United states can be elected because people recognise him from a reality show rather than his politics.”
But Woodward adds that it’s also a comment on “British values and fair play”
“We don’t really like unfairness or cheats. As a nation we step on them. People were furious about the idea that Ingram who was in the army, could have cheated.”
Quiz runs at the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End noelcowardtheatre.co.uk