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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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 Inside Out - North West : Monday September 20, 2004

IN THE MONEY

The first winning Premium Bond
Bonds have created winners since 1957
PREMIUM BONDS FACTS

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 by.

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 Bonds.

Jack Armitage
Jack Armitage 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 Equipment

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 a winner.

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," Jack said.

"We weren't to find out that Tom Flowers and his Colossus had broken the FISH code until the late 1970s."

Celebrity Status

Since his birth in 1956, ERNIE has become something of a national treasure, attracting coach parties of visitors.

ERNIE
ERNIE decided 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 institution.

"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," he said.

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," Barry said.

"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 Premium Bonds
The original 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 files.

"The whole process took quite a while," he said.

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 said.

"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."

Lucky break

Try your luck

According to the NS&I the luckiest regions in the North West are:

  1. Bolton
  2. Wigan
  3. Preston
  4. Crewe
  5. Manchester
  6. Lancaster
  7. Oldham
  8. Stockport
  9. Warrington
  10. Chester

Source: NS&I - Figures taken 2003/2004 period

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 name" positions.

"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 disagree!

Find out the facts and figures behind Premium Bonds.

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Are Premium Bonds Worth It?
Premium Bonds Up For Grabs

On the rest of the web
National Savings and Investments
Financial Services Authority - Consumer Information

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

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Sheila Belk
I was given my first premium bond in 1957 by a grateful patient whose baby I delivered, what is the chance of it ever winning?



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