LONDON (AP) - An army major, his wife and a college teacher were convicted Monday of using ``coded coughs'' to win the top prize on Britain's ``Who Wants to be a Millionaire?''
Charles Ingram maintained that luck, military training and strategy had helped him answer the $1.55 million question - ``A number 1 followed by 100 zeros is known by what name?''
But prosecutors said college professor Tecwen Whittock used a system involving coded coughs from his seat in the audience to guide Ingram to the correct multiple-choice response: a googol.
The jury found 39-year-old Ingram, his wife Diana, 39, and Whittock, 53, guilty of deception in trying to win the contest.
Judge Geoffrey Rivlin upbraided the defendants for a ``shabby schoolboy trick.''
But he spared them jail terms, giving them suspended sentences of a year to 18 months because they had been ``shamed in the most public way and your reputations ruined.'' They were also ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.
``I am not at all sure that it was sheer greed that motivated this offense,'' he said. ``I am sure all three of you were besotted with quiz programs and the ambition to be successful on a major television show.''
``Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'' - in which contestants must answer 15 increasingly difficult questions to win one million British pounds sterling was created in Britain in 1998. Versions of the show have since spread to dozens of countries, including the United States.
Ingram, an officer in the Royal Engineers who had served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia, told ``Millionaire'' host Chris Tarrant during the September 2001 taping that he was relying on a particular ``strategy and counterstrategy'' to win the top prize.
But producers became suspicious of Ingram's odd behavior and of coughs coming from the audience. The winner's check was stopped while they investigated, and the episode was never broadcast.
Tarrant said Ingram was ``the most extraordinary contestant, constantly changing his mind from one possible answer to another, and behaving in the most erratic and hard-to-follow fashion.''
Prosecutors at the three-week trial said Ingram had become obsessed with winning the top prize. Both Ingrams had previously appeared on the show - Diana Ingram won $50,900 and Charles Ingram failed to get past a qualifying round.
Diana Ingram wrote an unpublished book, ``Win A Million,'' in which she said her husband had spent $3,100 on calls to the show's contestant hot line. After winning a chance on the show, he practiced daily on a mock-up ``Fastest Finger First'' keypad his brother-in-law had made from an old calculator casing.
Prosecutors said the Ingrams were tens of thousands of dollars in debt and had considered using a system of vibrating pagers to win the top prize.
In the end, they colluded with Whittock, a business lecturer, who was in the audience during the taping. He blamed hay fever for his coughing.
``It goes without saying that in any large group of people, and here there was space for about 200 people in the audience, in any group of that size you will probably hear a lot of coughs, splutters, throat clearing, or whatever,'' prosecution lawyer Nicholas Hilliard told the jury.
But analysis of the episode revealed a pattern of ``coughs made on mike'' from Whittock's area of the audience.