With its networks of highly competitive middle class retirees, secret syndicates and quiet obsessives, the very British pursuit of top-level television quizzing is known to be a small world. Judging by last night’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, however, it may be even smaller than once thought.
On Friday’s episode of ITV’s long-running quiz show, Donald Fear, a 57-year-old history teacher from Shropshire, became the first person to win the jackpot in 14 years when he correctly answered all 15 questions put to him by host Jeremy Clarkson.
Just a year earlier, Fear’s older brother, Davyth, 60, also appeared on the programme, taking home £500,000 when he decided against guessing at the £1m question.
Fear’s victory – the sixth in the show’s history and first since it was relaunched with Clarkson presenting – comes just months after ITV aired James Graham’s drama Quiz, which told the story of how “the coughing major”, Charles Ingram, gained a place on the programme with the help of a somewhat shadowy (but entirely legal) syndicate of British quiz fanatics that won millions over several years. The syndicate included Ingram's brother-in-law.
While there is certainly no suggestion anything was untoward about the show’s newest millionaire, Fear, who watched and enjoyed Quiz, admits to having been “hooked since the first episode” in 1998. He knows the questions given to the show’s past winners from memory, watches most TV quizzes avidly, and has previously applied to appear on Channel 4’s Fifteen to One.
After his brother’s success last year, Fear was inspired to give Who Wants to Be a Millionaire a go himself, but says it is only “luck” that led him to go one better.
For the £1m cheque on Friday, host Jeremy Clarkson asked, “In 1718, which pirate died in battle off the coast of what is now North Carolina?” Fear, who has taught history at secondary school level for 33 years but now plans to retire early at the end of this calendar year, described it as “a simple question.”
“I saw ‘1718’, the synapses went, ‘Blackbeard.’ Most history teachers worth their salt would know it. As million pound questions go, I’d say that was one of the easier ones,” he says. “A quiz is very easy if you know the answers, and I did.”
There are, he insists, no hard feelings between he and his brother, who celebrated the victory together.
“We went to spend a night in a hotel with our wives last week – we got absolutely plastered. We’ve had sibling rivalry our entire lives, but he could not be more delighted, as I was for him. He’s a lot cleverer than I am, but I was luckier with the final question.”
Starting four weeks from now, Fear’s winnings will appear in his bank account in four £250,000 payments, but he plans to give the majority away to friends and family. Using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, he has apportioned his four adult children equal amounts, with the rest split between extended family, friends and a few chosen charities.
He and his wife of 33 years, Debs, a nurse, will keep around £300,000 for themselves, but plan only to splash out on a motorhome. They celebrated the win with a caravanning holiday around Northumberland.
“If I had a million pounds I wouldn’t know how to spend it. I could have an Aston Martin but I could never get out of it, I’m fat. I could move house, but I’m very happy with our house, so I might as well give the money away to people I love,” he told the Telegraph.
Asked how he plans to spend his early retirement, his answer, true to form for a quizzer, was unequivocal. “Oh, I’ll apply to other quiz shows, I think. I’m hoping Eggheads gets recommissioned.”