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Tyrone man claims ploy to milk Who Wants To Be A Millionaire made £5m


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Keith Burgess appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

Keith Burgess appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

Keith Burgess

Keith Burgess

Keith Burgess appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

Viewers are this week once again set to revel in the gripping story of TV quiz cheat Major Ingram, who swindled his way to £1m on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

But a Dungannon man claimed to have helped others pocket up to five times that from the must-see ITV game show.

Charles Ingram's ploy, hatched and carried out with his wife Diana and coughing accomplice Tecwen Whittock, is dramatised in Quiz on the same channel tomorrow night.

But unlike the Ingram trio, who got suspended prison sentences for the cack-handed ruse, Keith Burgess stayed on the right side of the law.

Burgess claims his was "the biggest operation" milking the hit programme for millions through weaknesses in its set-up.

He and sidekick Paddy Spooner themselves made over £1m by exploiting the premium phone lines to get players on the show. The pair would take between a 25% and 50% cut of any money won by the contestant, even providing answers for the "phone a friend" help option.

It's estimated they managed to put hundreds of millionaire hopefuls in the famous chair facing host Chris Tarrant.

At one stage there is believed to have been up to eight similar syndicates trying for big cash returns.

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Matthew Macfadyen as Major Ingram and Michael Sheen as quizmaster Chris Tarrant

Matthew Macfadyen as Major Ingram and Michael Sheen as quizmaster Chris Tarrant

Matthew Macfadyen as Major Ingram and Michael Sheen as quizmaster Chris Tarrant

In the run-up to the first episode of Quiz, Burgess recalled how he and Spooner used weaknesses in the show's set-up to earn a fortune.

"Ours was the biggest operation. But there was no consortium, it was just me and Paddy," he told The Sun. "We weren't doing anything wrong. We were just helping people get on the show. The Ingrams cheated so ridiculously, though, and Charles didn't know anything at all.

"I started off little. I got two guys on and one of them only made £8,000, from which I took my share.

"Then me and Paddy met as contestants on the Irish Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And he's smarter than me - another level."

After both appearing on the show themselves, they realised the application process involved asking a small, set series of questions to prospective contestants.

To get someone past this they would call the phone numbers hundreds of times, but when a producer rang back they would be told the person wasn't in and to call back.

When they did this, Burgess and Spooner would have their answers ready.

Burgess (63) claims he once got five men on the show in the space of just one hour. If the person made it past the "fastest finger first" round to get in the hot seat, Burgess and Spooner would also be on hand as a bogus "phone a friend".

In the days before the likes of Wikipedia the pair had a "data room" filled with files with answers to questions on all manner of subjects.

While the Ingram plot was carried out in 2001, and by 2003 all three had been convicted at court, Burgess and Spooner were operating from 2002 onwards.

Burgess, now 63, inadvertently spilled the beans in 2007 when he was recorded in a Sunday newspaper sting talking about their scheme. He said they took 50 per cent of winnings or 25 per cent if a contestant won over £32,000.

He said: "I've put 200 people on and they've won a total of £5m. That's about 10% of what the show has given away in total.

"It's my living. I'm clean. I haven't broken any rules."

But he refused to speak about it further when Sunday Life contacted him this weekend.

The first episode of Quiz, which airs on Monday at 9pm on ITV, touches on how the syndicates tricked the show.

Belfast Telegraph