I spent five years as Programme Associate on the UK version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Five very happy years that also just happened to include a little bit of global TV history.

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A studio pass that I clearly must have forgotten to return at the end of a series.

The job of Programme Associate encompassed rather more than just writing amusing links for the host Chris Tarrant. In my time on
Millionaire, a whole day was usually given over for the recording of a single edition of the show, with huge numbers of people being employed behind the scenes to check questions, verify contestants, arrange their travel plans from all over the UK, handle their wardrobe, and so on.

I usually arrived at Elstree Studios - the resident home of the show’s iconic set - at around 9am on show days. Most of my morning would then be spent interviewing half of that day’s ten contestants and their partners, with the remainder being handled by the lovely Mel Rogers, the Associate Producer.

In Elstree’s slightly down-at-heel dressing-rooms, Mel and I would quiz the contestants on what they would do if they won a million quid (standard answer: retire, clear the mortgage, take the kids/grandkids to Disneyland), plus a whole host of other questions that we hoped would allow us to present them to the watching millions as interesting, entertaining individuals.

This wasn’t always easy. In the five years that I was with the show, I calculate that I must have interviewed about a thousand contestants.
However, few remain as memorable as the most recalcitrant of my interviewees, an old Welsh lady farmer. Quite why she had applied for the show was beyond both her understanding and mine, as she was exceptionally modest in her ways and the idea of winning a vast amount of money actually seemed to appall her. When pressed, she was prepared to admit that she might celebrate winning a million by downing a bottle of lemonade.

My suggestion that she would be able to afford a crate of the stuff elicited the response: ‘Oh no, that would be excessive.’

She was equally unforthcoming when asked about pets (so often a fertile line of enquiry with gameshow contestants). Instead of pets, she had a couple of nameless semi-feral cats, ‘Because their smell keeps the mice down in the barn.’

Sadly she didn’t get within a whisker of making it into the hotseat.

The remainder of the morning would be spent with Mel and I typing up our scribbled notes into a form that could easily be read by CT if and when a contestant made it into the hotseat. I would then use these same forms to write a brief light-hearted introduction for every contestant
that would be rolled in over Portaprompt (Millionaire’s
preferred brand of on-screen display) for Chris to read out on camera.

Including celebrity editions of the show, I wrote getting on for two thousand of these introductions, as well as show openings, break bumpers, trails, phone line exhortations, and closing statements.

Echoes of a few of my intros even made their way into CT’s 2001 book
Millionaire Moments. I got a signed copy in return.

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It was a delight to work with CT, having been a huge fan of his ever since watching him in the very first series of Tiswas back in 1974. (I grew up in Leicester, which was then part of the ATV television region.) He is hugely charming (as well as just plain huge), loquacious and lightning witted, and it was a proud day when he came up behind me on the
Millionaire set and hoisted me out of my seat by both ears.

I joined
Millionaire in September 2001, when the show was still in its pomp, and looking for its third million pound winner. Once I got over my initial nerves, it was a joy to be involved with such a fun programme. There was a great team spirit, which came from the top down, and was born in large part by the knowledge that everyone was working on a show that was genuinely popular and genre-changing. My mum was dead proud of me too.

The show’s co-creator David ‘Briggo” Briggs (not to be confused with the noted organ scholar of the same name) was also its producer. He is one of the world’s most affable and generous people, and can be found in this crew photo from 2004, as can I.

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Briggo is the only person wearing a tie.

Shortly after I began working on
Millionaire it was hit by the scandal of the cheating army major, Charles Ingram. As always during recordings, I was sat behind the set next to the Portaprompt operator while The Major made his inexplicable way to winning - and then eventually losing - one million pounds. It was very exciting but utterly baffling, and even at the time I was personally convinced that he must be cheating, though I had no idea of the method being employed (cough).

The fan-site
christarrant.net has a useful account of the Major’s time in the hotseat, which you can access here. I just know that in my five years on Millionaire no one before or after took such a curious approach to answering the questions.

The Martin Bashir documentary that was made about the scandal,
A Major Fraud, got UK viewing fgigures of almost 17 million viewers. As it rebroadcast all my original links and introductions, this remains the biggest audience for my work (so far!).

During my time on
Millionaire, contestants could take as long as they wished to answer any question. Thanks to the saving grace of editing, viewers at home might not have been aware of this, but it was not unknown for some contestants to take 45 minutes or longer over a single question. The director’s language over talkback at these times was colourful, to say the least.

I would occasionally pass these huge temporal lacunae by caricaturing contestants on the blank white record cards used by Tarrant to make notes about the contestants. In the four examples below, they are all staring fixedly at the four answers on the screen in front of them.

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Some bloke.

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Another bloke, this time with glasses.

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A hairy bloke.

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A scary bloke.