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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
What do you mean it's only a game?
Phone a friend? There'll be no shortage of them for Paddy Spooner now
The top prize remains elusive, but Who Wants to be a Millionaire? contestant Paddy Spooner may have found a novel way to win the golden sum.

Mr Spooner walked off with 250,000 following his appearance on the top British TV quiz show on Thursday night.

But he was no rookie. The 33-year-old backpacker from Hampshire had already pocketed a fortune when he appeared on the Australian version of the show.

In April last year, he made headlines on the other side of the world when he scooped what was then the record prize of 250,000 Australian dollars.

Mastermind chair
Mastermind - the Holy Grail of many quiz pros
And given that Mr Spooner sees himself as a "hemispheric commuter" who travels the world escaping from winter, there's a good chance he will soon pop up on the American version of the programme.

Clearly his grasp of general knowledge and doggedness - he called the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? hotline 400 times before being selected - outline him as a budding quiz show professional.

Careerist game show contestants are nothing new. In the 1950s, US TV networks came unstuck when evidence emerged that sponsors had rigged top-rating quiz shows to favour the contestants most popular with viewers.

Telly addicts in Britain may notice a small number of familiar competitors popping up on their screens with alarming regularity ... like Daphne Fowler.

A self-styled quiz show queen, Mrs Fowler is reported to be the biggest game show winner in Britain by a long way.

Paddy Spooner
250,000 - enough for a few trips down under
Since first appearing on Winner Takes All in 1979, she has notched up money and prizes worth 45,000 - small fry perhaps compared to Mr Spooner, but only recently were the rules restricting prize money relaxed.

Among the shows she has appeared on are Going for Gold and Sale of the Century. Her prizes include a car, a trip to the Seoul Olympics and cash jackpots of 10,000 and 15,000.

She postponed her honeymoon to appear on Jeopardy, and walked off with a two-week holiday in California instead of the planned fortnight in Cornwall.

And in 1997 she became the first woman in 10 years to win BBC Radio 4's Brain of Britain.

Trevor Montague is another quiz show fanatic. His "credits" include the Krypton Factor, Connections, Winner Takes All, Today's the Day, Fifteen-to-One and Mastermind.

Look out for them - other quiz show "pros"
Father David Smith - chaplain at Heathrow Airport and winner of six-person Jacuzzi (Price is Right) and trip to Vatican City (Busman's Holiday)
Elisabeth Jardine - seaside landlady and veteran of more than 16 game shows
Lance Haward, 62-year-old signed up with Open University to appear on University Challenge
Mr Montague, a trained accountant, puts his intelligence down to his love of reading and says his motivation is not money but the belief that "I might go along to a show and learn something new".

"I don't have a photographic memory but I certainly have a very good memory. As a child I would memorise the sequence of packs of cards," he says.

A keen athlete, he started out on the Krypton Factor because he fancied a go at the assault course and after that joined a local quiz league. He spends about two hours a day reading and memorising facts.

"Initially I read a lot of quiz books. I always loved books and literature. Then you start reading books about books - encyclopedias, almanacs, that sort of thing." He regularly fires off letters to publishers pointing out factual mistakes in their publications.

A veteran of 36 different shows, his eagerness eventually got the better of him when he appeared on Fifteen-to-One twice - under two different names.

Contestant kissing partner
Next stop for Mr Spooner? US version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The second time he disguised himself, pulling his hair back, sporting gold earrings and calling himself Steve Romana. When a keen-eyed viewer put two and two together, the programme makers successfully sued Mr Montague for the return of his prize - a 3,000 vase.

He maintains it was a joke but his broad intelligence has won him enemies elsewhere. Mr Montague has been banned from quiz nights at his local pub in Crawley, West Sussex, and now must settle for the company of his local quiz league friends.

"The gatherings are very social. Occasionally someone will bring along questions and we will test each other but we're not at all the anoraks people might think."

Many game show producers keep an open mind about allowing "professional" contestants in front of the cameras.

Pat Pearson, producer of ITV's Catchphrase, says it all depends on exposure.

Once was enough for Clare Barwick, 1m winner on Virgin Radio
"We try not to have professional contestants. But we are a peak-time show on Friday evening and so if someone has appeared on a lunchtime show before and is absolutely brilliant then we might consider them," says Ms Pearson.

"If viewers see the same old faces then they start to think it is unfair, like we are picking our favourite contestants. They would suspect rightly or wrongly it's a fix."

Who Wants to be a Millionaire however, does not have the same exacting standards. Competitors are picked randomly after phoning a premium rate phone number. The only criteria is that they must be over 16 and not have an unspent criminal record.

Which, a spokeswoman for the show admits, means Mr Spooner could return. It would probably just take another 400 or so phone calls.

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See also:

29 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Celebrities take Millionaire challenge
17 Dec 99 | Entertainment
UK's first quiz show millionaire
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