Six decades on, Ernie’s still churning out the numbers

A section of the staff at work at the Premium Bonds Headquarters, Moorland Road, St Annes as "Ernie"  celebrated his 4th birthday. Dated 25/10/1960

A section of the staff at work at the Premium Bonds Headquarters, Moorland Road, St Annes as "Ernie" celebrated his 4th birthday. Dated 25/10/1960

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Premium bonds celebrated their 60th birthday this week – and it all started in St Annes.

Their popularity over the decades means around one in three adults now hold the investments – collectively more than £63 billion-worth of premium bonds.

National Savings Office /Premium Bonds, Moorland Road, St Annes, in 1981

National Savings Office /Premium Bonds, Moorland Road, St Annes, in 1981

The scheme was the brainchild of then Chancellor Harold Macmillan.

Alderman Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, then Lord Mayor of London, bought the first premium bond on November 1, 1956. The second was bought by Coun William Crook, Mayor of Lytham St Annes. By the end of their first day on sale, £5m worth had been sold.

The first draw took place at National Savings’ home on Moorland Road, St Annes, on June 1, 1957. There were 23,000 prizes on offer.

Its Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment – commonly known as ‘Ernie’ – has transcended its status as the “machine that churns out the numbers”, to become the face of National Savings. One of the original Bletchley Park code breakers was behind Ernie’s technology.

Premium Savings Bonds office  in readiness for the first Premium Savings Bonds draw. Pic: PA Wire

Premium Savings Bonds office in readiness for the first Premium Savings Bonds draw. Pic: PA Wire

There have been four generations of Ernie since Premium Bonds was launched and the latest model is smaller and faster than its predecessors.

In 1975, National Savings moved from Moorland Road, to Mythop Road in Marton.

The amount bond holders can individually invest has changed significantly. In 1956, the maximum limit stood at £500 – the figure is now £50,000.

The top prize has also changed over the years, from £1,000 to the current £1m jackpot.

Ernie /Premium Bonds at offices in St Annes, in May 1957

Ernie /Premium Bonds at offices in St Annes, in May 1957

A total of 350 premium bonds millionaires have been created since the bonds first went on sale. And 41,000 bonds sold in November 1956 are still eligible for the draw.

The way people buy and check their premium bonds has also changed, reflecting advances in technology.

Originally from the Post Office, customers now buy them online, over the phone, or by post. Nowadays, bond holders can now go online to see if they have won anything.