Who wants to be a millionaire?

(The bloke on the left talking to Chris Tarrant does - and so do 19 million others)
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pounds 100

Q: What girl's name is also a Christmas song?

a) Carol; b) Barbara;

c) Denise; d) Rachel

Easy, isn't it? There could be someone out there who looks forward to singing Rachels around the yule log this Christmas, but it seems unlikely. Then again, the whole point of this first question is to get everyone through the door - from five-year-olds upwards. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? prides itself on its egalitarianism - it could be you, the implicit promise is, and no game-show-guest groomer will intervene, auditioning you for whooping prowess or checking your dentistry. Some TV insiders arch their eyebrows incredulously at this claim to democratic hygiene - particularly those with experience of the alarming psychiatric sink-holes the British population contains - but the production company is adamant to the point of piety. Only the random beneficence of a computer and your own knowledge, they say, stand between you and pounds 1m.

pounds 200

Q: Which country is the Land of the Rising Sun?

a) Australia; b) China;

c) Japan; d) Argentina

Money for old rope, no? But now, perhaps, you're beginning to wonder just how far you can get, given the Norfolk-like incline of the learner slopes. The dimmer viewers will already be experiencing an unaccustomed flush of success; the smarter ones will be thinking about the prodigious power of sequential doubling, which will soon ratchet that pounds 200 into a figure worth daydreaming about. Besides, at this stage no one wants to put off those home telephone callers, since the economics of the programme depend on them. During the first three series, more than 10,000,000 people called in, keeping 4,800 lines almost permanently busy and also pouring a steady torrent of cash into the production company's prize fund. After the last series, the surplus stood at some pounds 1,250,000 - a comforting figure for producers who went into the first series without insurance against an early win.

pounds 300

Q: Which star sign is represented by a lion?

a) Cancer; b) Gemini;

c) Aries; d) Leo

Can there be any people out there who don't know the answer to this? If there are, they'll probably be watching, their sloping brows furrowed by mental effort. Because the programme's ratings figures have been astonishing. They're not unprecedented, exactly, but the precedents are pretty special - television events such as the Panorama confession of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her funeral. At its peak the programme was drawing nightly audiences of 19 million people. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, in other words, is the People's Quiz - not just a programme but a television phenomenon, the sort of broadcast that can lighten the traffic and put a kink in the National Grid's demand graph.

pounds 500

Q: Which game involves the use of a "puck"?

a) Squash; b) Rugby;

c) Ice hockey; d) Baseball

Is it my imagination, or are we beginning to head uphill? That one wasn't hard, exactly, but the nursery-school attenders are beginning to drop behind. And now we need an element of doubt to creep in, since the disjunction between the on-screen contestant - under pressure and with pounds 500 to lose - and the home audience is crucial to the programme's success. In the executive jargon, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is "appointment television", a holy grail for TV schedulers, and it possesses this priceless quality because it also has "shoutability" - the capacity to turn couch potatoes into jumping beans, bellowing their common knowledge at the poor sap on screen, who knew the answer two minutes ago and will know it in two minutes' time, but whose mind is currently broadcasting pure static.

pounds 1,000

Q: What is the term used in golf to indicate the stroke rating for each hole?

a) Handicap; b) Bogey;

c) Par; d) Birdie

Think carefully about this one because if you get it right you've reached the programme's first safety ledge. Make a slip from here and you don't fall all the way, another of the format's subtle accommodations to the British sense of fair play. Not just British, either - the show has been sold in more than 30 countries and recently took American audiences by storm, replicated with almost religious exactitude by the ABC network. Only the accents and the presenter are different, Chris Tarrant's role as questionmaster being taken by Regis Philbin, whose emollient lack of charisma has not damaged the show at all - raising the possibility that this is a format so strong that it is effectively presenter-proof. Nigel Mansell could front it and would probably still be a winner.

pounds 5,000

Q: Where did Manuel, the "Fawlty Towers" Spanish waiter, come from?

a) Barcelona; b) Madrid;

c) Valencia; d) Benidorm

Are you sure about that? Want to change your mind? You're willing to risk pounds 1,000 on that answer? It's roughly at this point that Chris Tarrant will begin to wobble the tightrope just as the contestant reaches its centre. Some have cited Tarrant's teasing, ambiguous procrastination as at least part of the show's success. Others point out that this is the first television programme on which his radio style has really worked, adding weight to the theory that the programme's essential motors of vicarious triumph and failure are strong enough to carry virtually any load. Tarrant, who has signed a pounds 2.5m contract to front 90 programmes, is the show's first pounds 1m winner.

pounds 4,000

Q: What is a young kangaroo called?

a) Billy; b) Joey;

c) Jackie; d) Roo

You had to think about that one, didn't you? Not for long, but long enough to make your well-wishers hold their breath. Sweat is another crucial ingredient in the programme's grip on its audience - in particular the beaded sheen that appears on the forehead of a contestant who is calculating the cost of false confidence. He or she is a long way from pounds 32,000 - the show's next safety ledge - and pounds 1,000 is a lot for most people to give away. Already the format's finely tuned mechanism of gain and loss is beginning to operate and this generates not the synthetic agonies of many quiz shows, but an unforced drama of temptation and risk.

pounds 8,000

Q: What name do we give to a smoked herring?

a) Bloater; b) Kipper;

c) Roll mop; d) Mackerel

Nobody who's been watching is going to switch over now - which is why Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? makes rival television executives sweat, too. In scheduling terms, David Liddiment, who bought the idea from its originators, David Brigges and Paul Smith, has got the neutron bomb - a programme so powerful that it can take the opposition apart. Even soaps, the impregnable fortresses of the prime-time schedule, aren't safe. This is not an arms race the BBC can even join - since the public-service remit makes it politically impossible for it to offer such large cash prizes - but it hasn't lost out entirely. Beforehand, when journalists asked what distinguished an increasingly populist BBC from its commercial rival, executives had to search for an answer. Now they just say "We would never do Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", giving this proud boast as much dignified Reithian top-spin as they can muster.

pounds 16,000

Q: Of which island is Kingston the capital?

a) Jamaica; b) The Bahamas;

c) New Zealand; d) Sri Lanka

Steady now; you're getting close to the second safety ledge, and if that question seems a little easier it may not be an accident. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? depends on its ability to pull an audience from one programme to the next. This sense of overnight urgency is artificial - the programmes are in fact pre-recorded. But it is also cleverly exploited by David Liddiment's one unquestioned contribution to the programme's success - the decision to strip-schedule over a series of nights. This just isn't done in television - or rather, it wasn't, since the programme's steadily increasing audience figures have demonstrated that there is no viewing habit that the right programme can't break.

pounds 32,000

Q: Which of these was built in 1961?

a) The PO Tower; b) The Berlin Wall; c) The Sears Tower;

d) The Pompidou Centre

Answer this one right and whatever happens you walk away with pounds 32,000. Notice how it suddenly got difficult again, though. The stakes are getting higher now, and while the production company desperately wants to have winners, it doesn't want to have too many. The desire to control these notionally ungoverned dramas has got some famous predecessors into trouble - most notably the original of The $64,000 Question, which was revealed to have been carefully coaching its contestants in order to amplify the tension. At the moment Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? scarcely needs to cheat - but no format lasts for ever. If the ratings were to dip, the producers might face some dilemmas of their own.

pounds 64,000

Q: In what field was Maria Montessori a famous figure?

a) Opera; b) Ballet;

c) Science; d) Education

Got a friend you can phone? A friend with a handy copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica? You can make the call, since some of the show's few innovations on the well-ploughed field of double or quits are the lifelines - three chances to alter the odds in your favour. One of these is "Phone a Friend", but it's a slender straw to clutch at, since you don't know what questions you're going to get and the friend has only 30 seconds to help you out.

pounds 125,000

Q: Name the last battle in which a British sovereign commanded his troops

a) Dettingen; b) Ramillies;

c) Ondenarde; d) Culloden

You've got a lot to lose now. And the producers want the home audience to know it. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is the first British quiz show to be through-composed, which means that every vacillation and interrogation is accompanied by mood-boosting music. A thin mist of smoke has been pumped into the studio to accentuate the effects of the lighting, and off-stage a pyrotechnics expert waits for the moment when someone will go all the way and he can finally release his fireworks.

pounds 250,000

Q: Which of these people was born four days after Charlie Chaplin?

a) JRR Tolkien; b) Lloyd George; c) WC Fields; d) Adolf Hitler

Nobody knows the answer to this but if you've been wise you'll have two lifelines left. You can knock out two wrong answers - leaving yourself with a 50-50 chance of kissing pounds 93,000 goodbye. Or you can consult the collective ignorance, reading an electronic record of the answers given by the studio audience. Nobody's ever got this far, but this is the stage at which early doubts that a lottery-jaded public wouldn't care about a mere pounds 1m prize are put into perspective. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is a scratch card everybody can play for free - and the instant thrills make up for a missing nought or two.

pounds 500,000

Q: After Mandarin, what is the second most commonly spoken first language in the world?

a) Spanish; b) Hindi;

c) Urdu; d) Arabic

Will anyone ever win a million? The programme-makers hope so, and probably, this far in, even David Liddiment does. But the fear that it would happen too soon or too often very nearly kept the programme off the air. Contestants are getting closer. A total of pounds 377,000 was given away in the first series, pounds 660,000 in the second and pounds 840,000 in series three - but no one contestant in this country has yet topped pounds 125,000 (the American programme had an early big winner who reached $250,000). Paul Smith persuaded Liddiment that human caution was the best insurance policy they had. You've got this far, used all your lifelines and there's only one question between you and a million. Would you risk pounds 468,000 on this?

pounds 1,000,000

Q: What was sailing's "America's Cup" previously called?

a) William IV Cup; b) 100 Guinea Cup; c) Squadron Cup;

d) Merchantman's Cup

`Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' returns to ITV at 9pm on Friday

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Answers from page 1

: a. pounds 200: c. pounds 300: d. pounds 500: c. pounds 1,000: c. pounds 2,000: a. pounds 4,000: b. pounds 8,000: b. pounds 16,000: a. pounds 32,000: b. pounds 64,000: d. pounds 125,000: a. pounds 250,000: d. pounds 500,000: b. pounds 1,000,000: a.