NS&I are celebrating the 65th anniversary of the first premium bond draw.
Sixty-five years ago, the first Premium Bonds prize draw was held on 1 June 1957, with a top prize of £1,000.
This month’s draw is the 781st Premium Bonds prize draw and ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment), the machine that generates the winning numbers, has now paid out more than 562 million prizes worth £22.9 billion.
Harold Macmillan (left) launched Premium Bonds in 1956 – but Harold Wilson (right) labelled it a squalid raffle.
There are now 21.1million Premium Bond holders – not far off a third of the UK population – holding between them over 113billion eligible £1 bonds.
NS&I pay out around three million tax free prizes ranging from £25 to £1million every month to Bond holders, whose numbers are chosen by an electronic random number generator known – the latest version is ERNIE 5.
There are now two £1 million prizes and from this month, the number of £100,000 prizes will rise from six to 10, and £50,000 prizes from 11 to 19.
To celebrate the 65th anniversary of the first Premium Bonds draw, we have put together 65 facts about the much adored product.
The first Premium Bond draw was made in Lytham St. Anne’s, near Blackpool, Lancashire on 1 June 1957. The jackpot prize was £1,000.
We also spoke to two savings experts on the subject, as well as hearing from Agent Million, the person who tells two lucky Premium Bonds holders each month that they have won the £1million jackpot.
Why do savers love Premium Bonds?
James Blower, founder of the Savings Guru replies: Premium Bonds still hold huge appeal to savers who love the hope that they will scoop that big prize. Are they still worth it though?
The answer is it depends on what you want to achieve from your savings and how much savings you hold.
If you want a guaranteed return then Chase (1.5 per cent) and Yorkshire Building Society (up to 1.38 per cent) are a better bet as savers will earn interest each month whereas the prize pool rate of 1.4 per cent is across all Premium Bonds.
To pay for the big prizes, those with average luck will get less than the 1.4 per cent on average because lots of people have to get nothing to pay for the two £1m prizes.
A £10,000 holding will give savers with average luck around 1 per cent and even those with £30,000 are only looking at around a 1.30 per cent return.
It’s the hope of a £1m win that keeps savers interested, the 100 per cent safety of them and the fact that, unlike the lottery, savers don’t lose their stake.
With 10 x £100,000 prizes (previously 6) and 19 x £50,000 (previously 11) there’s still plenty of savers who will sacrifice their interest for a hope of a big prize and Premium Bonds popularity is unlikely to wane soon.
Given they account for around 55 per cent of NS&I’s entire savings book, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon either. The nation’s love affair with Premium Bonds has a way to go yet.
The early days…
1. The first Premium Bond was purchased by the then Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd on 1 November 1956.
2. By the end of the first day on sale, more than £5million of Bonds had been purchased.
3. The public had to wait seven months for the first draw on 1 June 1957.
4. There were 49million Bonds eligible for the first draw belonging to around six million Premium Bond holders.
5. The first draw was made in Lytham St. Anne’s, near Blackpool, Lancashire.
6. Harold Wilson, the Shadow Chancellor at the time of the launch of Premium Bonds, referred to them as a ‘squalid raffle.’
7. Church leaders also expressed concern that Britain would become a nation of gamblers and warned people not to get involved.
8. The jackpot prize for the first draw was £1,000 – the jackpot has since increased 99,900 per cent, currently standing at £1,000,000.
9. The smallest prize for the first draw was £25 as is still the case today.
10. The maximum investment in 1956 was £500 – today it is £50,000.
11. It was thought the first draw should take 30 hours to complete, but it went on for over two days because the engineers and staff needed to rest.
12. There were 23,142 prizes paid out in the first draw – There are 141 times’ more prizes now.
13. IFK341150 was the first ever Premium Bonds number drawn and was held by a Premium Bond holder in Cumbria.
14. 394,007 Bonds bought prior to the first ever draw are still eligible to this day.
15. Over £118bn is saved in Premium Bonds
Premium Bonds have captured the imaginations of multiple generations becoming a British institution loved not just in the UK, but across the world.
16. Yesterday’s draw was the 483rd and 484th millionaires that ERNIE made.
17. The longest amount of time a winner has waited to win the £1million jackpot is 16,587 days (or 45 years and 5 months). This was a winner based in Newham in London, who held £17 in Premium Bonds. The winning Bond was purchased in February 1959 and won the jackpot prize in July 2004.
By the end of the first day on sale in 1956, more than £5m bonds had been purchased
18. The winner from Newham also coincidentally had the smallest holding ever to win the £1million Premium Bonds jackpot.
19. On the flipside, 12 winners have waited just two months to win the £1million jackpot, winning in the first draws in which their Bonds were eligible.
20. 12 people holding £1,000 and under have scooped the £1million jackpot prize.
21. 2. More than £22.9 billion in prize money has been paid out by ERNIE since the first draw in 1957.
22. The oldest ever £1million winner was aged over 90 at the time of their win.
23. There has been a millionaire from every English county apart from Rutland.
24. In October’s Premium Bond draw both the £1million prize winning bond numbers were purchased in January and February of the same year. In fact in the past 12 months, nearly half of the 24 £1million prizes were won by bond numbers purchased either in 2020 or 2021.
Odds of winning
25. The odds of winning for each £1 bond in the first ever draw were 9,600 to one.
26. The odds of a £1 holding winning the £1,000 jackpot in 1956 was estimated to be around 1 in 505,079.
27. If you held the maximum £500 in Premium Bonds at the time, your odds of winning the jackpot increased to around 1 in 1,010.
Are Premium Bonds still a good investment?
Anna Bowes, co-founder of Savings Champion replies: As well as cuts to the savings accounts that were made last year, the rate applied to the Premium Bond prize fund was also cut – from 1.4 per cent to its current level of 1 per cent.
This meant that the odds of each £1 bond winning a prize fell from 24,500/1 down to 34,500/1.
Ultimately, it comes down to what is more important to you; the excitement of possibly winning big or at least sometimes, or being guaranteed to earn a regular interest.
With interest rates at their current low level, albeit having risen a bit recently, the risk that you might win no prizes at all has less impact than when interest that you might earn elsewhere is more meaningful.
But for those who rely on earning at least something each month or year, Premium Bonds may not be the right option.
For example, if you were to put £50,000 into the current highest paying easy access account with Cynergy Bank paying 0.66 per cent, a saver who is not using their Personal Savings Allowance elsewhere, could earn £330 over the year – so this could be the amount they miss out on in the very unlikely event that they win no prizes at all on their Premium Bonds.
29=8. NS&I cut the amount it pays in monthly prizes from 1.4 per cent to 1 per cent in December 2020 and prizes were frozen until now meaning odds were one in 34,500 last month.
29. Now the chance of winning a prize today is more remote – at 24,500 to 1 for every £1 bond.
30. According to data scientist, Andrew Zelin, those who invest £1,000 into Premium Bonds will have to wait 3.2million years for a 50:50 chance of pocketing the top £1million prize.
31. The Premium Bonds draw was often a star spangled affair, with the likes of Bob Hope, Dame Judie Dench and Sir Bruce Forsyth all starting the draw at some point.
32. The £1million Premium Bonds prize was launched in April in 1994.
33. In the May 2022 prize draw, there were a whopping 117,819,813,615 Bonds eligible to win tax-free prizes.
The original ERNIE 1 used the signal noise created by neon tubes to generate numbers and could generate 2,000 numbers per hour
34. 5. Since ERNIE turned 60 in June 2017, this number has almost doubled from 64,057,711,819
35. The figure has almost quadrupled from ERNIE’s 50th Birthday – In November 2006, there were 32.3billion eligible Bonds.
The jackpot prize for the first draw was £1,000 – the jackpot has since increased 99,900%, currently standing at £1m
36. Bond number 200VB673507 is one of the luckiest on record – purchased in January 2013 and belonging to a Premium Bonds holder from the West Midlands, the Bond won four £25 prizes between July 2017 and March 2019.
37. Ten children under the age of 16 have won the £1million jackpot.
38. Almost nine in ten of the more than 3.2million prizes paid each month are automatically reinvested into more Premium Bonds or paid directly into customers’ bank accounts.
39. The average holding size of the £1million jackpot winners is just over £17,000.
40. The average time that jackpot winners hold their winning bonds for prior to winning £1million is 1,870 days or just over five years.
41. A staggering 97.3 per cent of the current eligible bonds have been purchased since 1 January 2000 and according to NS&I’s figures, 36.9 per cent of Premium Bonds now available for the draw were purchased since 1 January 2020.
42).In December 2006, NS&I made five people millionaires to celebrate 50 years since Premium Bonds went on sale.
Ernest Marples starting the first Premium Bond Draw in June 1957
43. In June 2007, NS&I again made five millionaires – this time to celebrate 50 years since the first Premium Bonds prize draw.
44. In the run up to the December 2006 draw, during one day in October, NS&I sold more than £220million of Premium Bonds as people rushed to make sure they were eligible for the chance to win one of the five £1million prizes. This remains a record for the most Premium Bonds sold in one day.
ERNIE is the machine that generates numbers for the monthly prize draws.
45. The first incarnation of ERNIE was developed by the team behind the World War Two codebreaking machine Colossus at Bletchley Park.
46. ERNIE is now in his fifth incarnation to keep up with the sheer volume of numbers that needs to be generated each month.
47. ERNIE 1 could generate 2,000 numbers per hour.
48. If ERNIE 1 were still in use today, it’s estimated that it would take around 175 days to generate the numbers needed for the monthly prize draws.
49. ERNIE 1 used the signal noise created by neon tubes to generate numbers.
50. ERNIE 3 was the longest serving ERNIE, in use from 1973 until 1988.
51. ERNIE 5 is the first incarnation of ERNIE to use quantum technology to generate numbers.
52. ERNIE 5 is more than 40 times faster at generating the numbers needed that its predecessor, ERNIE 4.
53. On average, it now takes ERNIE 5 around 13 minutes to generate the random numbers required for the monthly draw.
54. ERNIE has drawn more than 567 million winning Bonds numbers since the first draw
55. Having moved out of Lytham for a while, ERNIE is now back in the seaside town where the first ever draw took place.
56. ERNIE is so loved by people across the UK that he has received a swathe of Valentine’s day, Christmas and Birthday cards over the years.
57. There are currently more than 2.2million unclaimed Premium Bonds prizes.
IFK341150 was the first ever Premium Bonds number drawn and was held by a Premium Bond holder in Cumbria
58. The value of unclaimed prizes is more than £77million.
59. The largest unclaimed prize is worth £100,000.
60. London has the most unclaimed Premium Bonds prizes in the UK with more than 389,000.
61. This is closely followed by the South East with more than 329,000 unclaimed prizes.
62. The oldest unclaimed prize is worth £25 and is from November 1957 and is due to a holder in South Yorkshire.
63. Agent Million has always been able to deliver the £1 million jackpot.
64. As there is more than one jackpot prize each month, there are four Agents Million.
65. There have been five £1million winners based overseas, meaning that Agent Million has had to leave the UK to deliver the jackpot prize.
What’s it like being Agent Million?
Agent Million is the person who tells two lucky Premium Bonds holders each month that they have won the £1 million jackpot in each month’s Premium Bonds draw.
We were unable to speak directly to one of the Agent Millions due to the role being a top secret within NS&I, but a spokesperson agreed to respond on their behalf.
How many Agent Millions are there?
There are currently four people who take the title of Agent Million and two are required each month to deliver the good news
How are you chosen to become one?
The Agent Million team start in customer-facing roles, and are selected on their behaviours and ability to be adaptable in a number of scenarios.
Agent Million needs to be good at interacting with different people, possess strong communication skills, show the ability to stay calm under pressure, be patient, show empathy and be trustworthy.
How hard it is keeping anonymity?
Our Agent Millions keep their role a closely guarded secret, not telling friends or some even their family.
We asked Agent Million and they said: ‘It’s not a burden, it’s exciting and it’s delicious.’
What’s the job like?
Agent Million has described it as being ‘an absolute privilege.’
They love the anticipation of meeting the winners, talking to them, and each delivery stands out quite clearly.
How do people react to being told they have won?
NS&I asked Agent Million for their best moments:
Agent Million gave the news to the winners’ responsible parent as the winner was a child at the time of the win. The parent was just about to have her second child so the news came at the most welcome time.
On another occasion, Agent Million dragged a winner out of bed, and told the news of the jackpot win while they were still in their pyjamas.
Agent Million once gave the news to a holder who only had £1,001 in Premium Bonds, showing that you don’t have to have the maximum £50,000 invested to win the jackpot.
One winner said they were off to buy McDonald’s to celebrate. Agent Million suggested that they buy champagne to go with it as a treat.
A winner’s wife aimed a hosepipe at Agent Million asking why they were wanting to speak to her husband. It all turned out okay in the end, and the wife dubbed Agent Million ‘her guardian angel.’
Agent Million told a winner just as they were about to go out. When told about the win, the winner and their partner both jumped up from the sofa they had been sitting on the edge of, and danced and hugged each other and then hugged Agent Million. The family had been supporting both of their children through university and had both had to take on extra jobs to keep everything paid. The jackpot win gave them the opportunity to fund their children’s futures.