IN THE MONEY
If your dreams of becoming rich
are fuelled by that chance of hitting the lottery jackpot, or choosing
the right number on the roulette wheel, it seems you may be backing
the wrong horse.
It seems it's ERNIE you should be following, in the form
of Premium Bonds, if the record number of investors are anything to go
Condemned by the church and dubbed a "squalid raffle"
by then opposition chancellor Harold Wilson, June 1, 1957 saw the first
ever winning Premium Bonds draw.
The country was hit with "Bond fever", and
it wasn't caused by 007.
Let the good times roll
During 1950s Britain, people were looking for some luck.
The aftermath of World War II left many families having to rebuild not
just their homes, but also their lives.
An escape from the everyday difficulties of life was
having a little flutter. Football pools grew in popularity, as did Premium
was involved in the first Premium Bond prize draw|
Jack Armitage, a post office engineer, remembers the
first Premium Bond draw.
"We all held our breath to see if it'd work, which
of course it did," he said.
It may have worked, but it wasn't a quick encounter.
After 15 minutes a winner was announced, but it took
10 days to carry out the rest of the first draw.
However, time was of no importance to the thousands who
became hooked on the low risk "gambling" of Premium Bonds and
the country was full of people queuing at their local post offices, waiting
to buy their £1 Bonds.
ERNIE enters the picture
|ERNIE fact file|
ERNIE stands for Electronic Random Number Indicator
The first ERNIE built in 1956 was the size of a
small van, yet at the time was state of the art
ERNIE is not linked to a network so cannot be hacked
The latest ERNIE (version 4) produces one million
winning numbers an hour, three times faster than ERNIE 3, 15 times
faster than ERNIE 2 and 500 times faster than ERNIE 1
If the original ERNIE was used today it would take
52 days to complete the draw
After the first prize draw ERNIE became the name stuck
to everyone's lips.
ERNIE could make you a fortune, or leave you wishing
- until the next prize draw at least.
ERNIE was built in 1956 to select the random numbers
that would match the Premium Bonds.
If ERNIE's number matched your Premium Bond, you were
Jack Armitage was there when ERNIE was being built.
"We met all the boffins who were going to build
the machine," he said.
"We thought at first it was going to be an electronic
switch machine with units but it turned out to be totally electronic.
"The man behind it all was Tom Flowers who had built
the Colossus machine at Bletchley Park," he remembered.
"They'd gone to see him because they knew he had
the technology already existing.
"The output part of the machine was a direct copy
of the circuits in Colossus, which was the world's first computer,"
"We weren't to find out that Tom Flowers and his
Colossus had broken the FISH code until the late 1970s."
Since his birth in 1956, ERNIE has become something of
a national treasure, attracting coach parties of visitors.
the fate of all Premium Bond holders|
ERNIE 2 came out in 1973, followed by ERNIE 3 in 1988
and August 2004 saw the launch of ERNIE 4.
Over the years it seems punters have become more and
more fixated on the mechanical monster if ERNIE's mailbag is anything
to go by.
Stuart Pilkington, the Prize Draw Supervisor commented,
"These are genuine cards. ERNIE's been going for 40 years, he's an
"People think they might get some extra luck by
sending him a card but as you and I know, it won't do any good at all,"
Jumping on the bandwagon
When Premium Bonds were launched they built up a "community"
of fellow investors.
Barry Mann began working at ERNIE's base in 1957 and
mused over the differences between now and then.
"I didn't realise what I was walking into. After
one day of work I went home very confused realising what it was about,"
"When Premium Bonds first started there were 300
to 400 people, a close knit family all on first name terms. We had our
own social club that members of staff built themselves.
filing system took up huge amounts of time and space|
"The system that was devised for Premium Bonds was
that people filled in application forms, photocopied and created two separate
filing systems. It was the biggest in Europe," Barry continued.
"When the prize draw was running numbers were generated,
attached to a card, given to an individual, who went to the numerical
"The whole process took quite a while," he
Original investors were competing
for a top prize of £1000. In 2004 the 23 million Bond holders are
vying for £1 million.
Bringing good news
Winners are told automatically if they have scored a
prize but the job of giving the good news to those who win the big one
comes down to Agent Million.
With possibly the best job in Britain, Agent Million
- who must remain anonymous - goes to people's homes to deliver the news.
"Every month I go to a winner's house, knock on
their door and tell them they have won a million pounds," Agent Million
"I think it's a fantastic job, to go out every month
driving along thinking I'm going to make a big difference to someone and
put a smile on their face at the end of the day."
|Try your luck|
According to the NS&I the luckiest regions
in the North West are:
Source: NS&I - Figures taken 2003/2004
Apparently there are a few things you should know when
it comes to increasing your chances of hitting the jackpot.
You're best buying your Bonds on Wednesdays, as that's
the luckiest day.
And if travel isn't out of the question it's best to
buy from Bolton, as that's the luckiest town in the North West.
For those who are willing to go the whole nine yards
for some cash there's always the option of deed poll.
Those called Hannah are the luckiest players and it seems
the lads are at a disadvantage, holding only four of the top 10 "luckiest
|"Buy as many Bonds as you can.
That's my advice"|
|Ian Hallworth - Premium Bond prize winner|
Ian Hallworth broke the "Hannah curse" and
has hit it big with Premium Bonds, although he is from Bolton so that
could explain it.
If you already own Premium Bonds, make sure you double
check you aren't already a winner. There's a staggering £2.7 million
in prizes that have been left uncollected by over 38,000 people.
The main reason for unclaimed prizes is that people move
without telling ERNIE, so he can't find them with the good news.
To buy or not to buy
Recent sales of Premium Bonds have broken all records
and it seems investors can't resist the low risk flutter involved.
However, according to financial experts, Premium Bonds
should be looked upon as a bit of fun and investors should not rely on
them alone for their future financial stability.
Certainly those visited by Agent Million may tend to
out the facts and figures behind Premium Bonds.