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Me - I Want To Be A Millionaire! (part 4)



Getting ready Marc and I were still getting ready when Stefan, one of the production team, knocked on the door of the dressing room. We hastily finished titivating ourselves and followed him down to the studio.

Once there, we were split up – Marc joining the other contestants’ partners waiting to be shown to their places in the audience, while I queued for make-up. As it happened, all ten contestants on this particular show were men, some of whom seemed more nervous about having to wear make-up than they were about appearing on television’s biggest-money quiz show. It was here that I got talking to one particular fellow contestant whom I hadn’t met earlier in the day: a fireman from Stoke-on-Trent with an infectious smile and the fantastically unlikely name of Ed Case.

After make-up, we were wired for sound and, eventually, led into the studio – an experience that felt strangely like being last to arrive at a party that’s already in full swing. Ray Turner, the warm-up man, had been doing his work, and the audience were clearly enjoying themselves. As we settled into our seats, Chris Tarrant arrived and traded a few (probably well-worn) insults with Ray and the studio crew. Floor manager Phil Davies gave some last-minute instructions to the audience, and asked anyone with a persistent cough to alert a member of the crew who would fetch them a glass of water. Everyone laughed: although Major Charles Ingram had not at this point been tried and convicted of cheating his way to the million pound prize using a system of coded coughs from an accomplice, the police investigation into the affair had been widely reported in the press. But Phil wasn’t joking. As he said, "We are extremely sensitive about people coughing in the audience now." Finally, it was time to start the recording. The music boomed out, the titles appeared on the studio monitors and the audience applauded as Chris walked onto the set.

The show began with Craig Stenson, a rollover contestant from the previous show, in the hot seat. Eight minutes and two questions later, he retired from the game with £8,000 in prize money; at this point there was a break in recording while the podium and chairs were removed from the set in readiness for the ‘fastest finger first’ round. The podium removed (This used to be a little ritual that went unnoticed by the majority of viewers, many of whom still harbour the illusion that the programme is broadcast live. To allow the cameras an unobstructed view of all the contestants during ‘fastest finger’, the central podium would be unplugged and wheeled off set, then replaced while the successful contestant was being readied for the hot seat – all of which, of course, would be edited out of the transmitted programme. However, on November 30, 2002 – less than two months after my appearance – Celador and ITV marked the show’s 300th UK broadcast with a special edition which, for the first time, actually was live. Removing and replacing the podium for each ‘fastest finger’ round was clearly impossible on this occasion, and so instead new camera angles were devised that eliminated the problem. Since then, the podium has always remained in place throughout the show, even though no more live editions have been produced; removing it was obviously more bother than it was worth.)

It was time for my big moment. The music pounded, and Chris began to call out the names of the ten new contestants waiting for a chance in the hot seat. My moment of fame As we each heard our own name and saw the red cue light appear on our pre-assigned close-up camera, we smiled and waved. Nobody wants to cock this up. If anyone looks at the wrong camera or accidentally mouths an obscenity, cameras, lights, music and autocue all have to be reset and the whole introduction sequence redone from scratch. (There are, however, no retakes if someone simply looks a gimp – the recording would never be finished.) In the event, we got through without a hitch on the first take; and I think I managed a reasonably natural smile and a casual, unforced wave. I’m not ashamed to admit I’d practised this bit extensively beforehand. Having watched the programme many times in the past, I was well aware of just how stupid it’s possible to make yourself look at this point. (You may be surprised, as I was, to discover that contestants are not actually told to wave at the camera when being introduced. It’s just something that pretty much everyone seems to do. When you’re there, it feels right: the odds are against you progressing any further in the game, so if this is going to be your sole moment of glory, you want to make the most of it.)

Then the music dropped, the lights dimmed, and Chris asked for quiet in the audience. Suddenly, three dramatic chords rang out, and there was the fastest finger question on the screen in front of me:

Put these bands in the order they had their first UK top ten hit.
  • A: 2 Unlimited
  • B: Three Degrees
  • C: Four Seasons
  • D: Five

First fastest finger My mind went absolutely blank. I knew that the Four Seasons predated the Three Degrees; but I couldn’t for the moment place Five. And who the stuff were 2 Unlimited?

With sinking heart I pressed the buttons more or less at random and sat back in my chair. It came as no surprise when the results flashed up: my name wasn’t highlighted green, to indicate a correct answer, and it was little consolation to see that only four out of the ten of us had in fact got it right. The fastest was Dave Kilty, a sales manager from Cheshire, in 4.35 seconds.

Now the pressure was off for a while once more, as I watched Dave playing the game. We were still barely a fifth of the way through the show’s running time, and there would certainly be at least one more crack at ‘fastest finger’ before it was up. Dave did well and eventually walked away just before the second commercial break with £32,000.

The breaks last about as long during recording as they do on transmission: basically a few minutes to give the contestants and production team a breather, while Chris and Ray exchange more banter with the audience. As this one came to an end, Chris welcomed the audience back for part three and the second ‘fastest finger’ round of the evening.

The tension among the remaining contestants was palpably greater now than before. This could be our last chance. At least now, with nine contestants left instead of ten, the odds of my getting through were shortened slightly.

Up popped the question:

Put these golfers in the order they first won the British Open.
  • A: Severiano Ballesteros
  • B: Bobby Jones
  • C: Arnold Palmer
  • D: Tiger Woods

Second fastest finger For a split second, I blanked again. Sport! Why did it have to be sport? And I’d never even heard of Bobby Jones.

But only for a split second. Almost immediately, the logical half of my brain kicked in. Tiger Woods is obviously a world famous contemporary player. Arnold Palmer I remembered from my childhood: when my father started playing golf back in the early 1970s and took me along to a few professional tournaments, Palmer was one of the elder statesmen of the game. And, in the 1980s, Seve Ballesteros was almost as well known for advertising American Express as for winning golf titles. That left Bobby Jones. Could the reason I’d never heard of him be that he was playing before I was born? I had to answer, so I went with it. I pressed B, C, A, D, hit the green button, and sat back.

Not fast enough Well, I was right. And all of the tortuous mental and physical process described above took, as it turned out, just 4.24 seconds – faster, you’ll note, than Dave Kilty’s winning time in the previous round. But not, on this occasion, fast enough. David Heppleston, a Yorkshire dentist, answered in three seconds flat and was next to take the hot seat.

I watched David’s performance with a mixture of emotions. He was a fellow contestant, and I wished him well. But it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I was willing him to go far. As we began recording the final segment of the show after the third commercial break, I was more and more conscious of the minutes ticking away. If he got a question wrong now – or decided he didn’t want to risk the next question and left with the money he’d accumulated so far – there could still be time for another ‘fastest finger’ round and another opportunity for me to get into the hot seat. But as David worked his way higher and higher up the money ladder and the questions got harder, he took longer and longer to ponder his answer to each one. When he eventually called it a night, £64,000 richer, I still hoped it might not be too late: but the klaxon sounded to indicate that we were out of time, and that was the end of the dream for me and seven other hopefuls.

Putting a brave face on it While Chris posed for photographs with the winners and their cheques, Marc and I filed out of the studio with the rest and headed for our dressing room, where Marc did his best to console me.

All I wanted now was to get to the bar; but first I had to ring round my phone-a-friend volunteers to let them know it was all over and they could relax. (This took a frustratingly long time because they were all under instruction to let the phone ring at least five times before picking up.) While the atmosphere had undoubtedly been tense in the studio, in many ways it must have been worse for them, waiting at home by the phone for a couple of hours with no idea of what was happening at Elstree. Then a quick call to Michael, and it was off to find myself a very large drink.

Me and Lisa Lisa, our researcher and someone to whom I had instantly taken a shine when we arrived that morning, had advised us that the studio bar at Elstree – which was free – would remain open until 11pm; after that, the coach would be waiting to take us to our hotel, where free food awaited us, but where we would have to buy our own drinks. Not surprisingly, everyone took this as a cue to get as many drinks down them as possible before the studio bar closed.

Me, Chris and Marc Not least among those taking advantage of Celador’s hospitality was Chris Tarrant himself. The show’s producers were there too, but rather than sitting in a corner with them, Chris devoted the bulk of his time to chatting with contestants, signing autographs and posing for photos: nothing was too much trouble.

(And no, I have no idea why Marc and I were wearing identical shirts.)

All too soon, it was 11pm and time to say goodbye to Elstree. I was glad to know that Lisa and several of the other researchers, including camp Andy and the lovely Stefan, were staying overnight at the hotel and would be accompanying us on the coach.

Give me the moonlight I wish I had an excuse for this photograph; it’s hard now for me to look at it without emitting an involuntary yelp of embarrassment. I suppose I could blame Lisa: the coach trip from Borehamwood to the Brent Cross Holiday Inn took about 25 minutes, there was a PA system on board and, to pass the time, she asked if anyone wanted to sing a song... The only saving grace about the picture is that, since the camera is pointing at me, you can’t see the faces of the other thirty or so passengers being forced to suffer my drunken rendition of Pennies from Heaven.

I have no idea how much I drank that night. Both the Davids (Kilty and Heppleston) were staying at the hotel and bought rounds for everyone with their winnings (on top of the free drinks we’d been treated to at the studio). Marc generously bought a round too; and I’m sure I must have had at least one drink that I bought myself.

One of my last memories before leaving the bar is of hunky fireman Ed Case flinging his arms round me and saying, "Phil, I know I’ve only met you today, but I think the world of you" (to the mild surprise of Andrea, his wife). I retired to my room and passed out on the bed with that fulsome compliment still ringing in my ears. Who wants to be a millionaire?

WWTBAM logo I haven’t given up. The rules of Millionaire? allow you to re-apply as often as you like provided you haven’t been in the hot seat. I’ll get there one of these days.

My thanks to Marc Buckingham, for being such good company on the day and for taking all the behind-the-scenes photos on these pages, and to Dave Chamberlain for the stills of the show itself, which I stole without permission from Dave’s own irreverent analysis of my performance.

This page last updated: 24 August 2009   Home | Performing | Travelling | Quizzing | Living  
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