NS&I’s Premium Bonds, Britain’s best-loved savings product, celebrate their 65th birthday on Monday.
The first ever Premium Bond was purchased on 1 November 1956 and since then the idea of a lottery where you can get your stake back has soared in popularity.
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.
Harold Macmillan (left) launched Premium Bonds in 1956 – but Harold Wilson (right) labelled it a squalid raffle.
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 two £1million prizes on offer each month and five £100,000 prizes, 11 £50,000 prizes and 20 prizes worth £25,000.
To celebrate the 65th anniversary of Premium Bonds, we have put together 65 facts about the much adored product.
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.
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.
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.
Why do savers love Premium Bonds?
James Blower, founder of the Savings Guru replies: I think savers love them for several reasons. The big thrill is the two £1million prizes which everyone dreams of landing.
The fact that both last month’s jackpot winners bought their bonds this year, and £1million has been won by a holder of just £17 worth of Bonds, shows that size of holding and time invested don’t have to be great to win – it’s this romance which appeals most to savers.
Another appeal is that Premium Bonds have usually paid competitive prize rates so most savers in them have felt that they’ve got a competitive rate of return, even with less than average luck.
The current prize pool of 1 per cent dwarfs the best easy access rate of 0.65 per cent.
It’s probably not surprising therefore that they’ve boomed in popularity as a result, with Premium Bonds growing by 20 per cent this past year alone.
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.
Premium Bonds have captured the imaginations of multiple generations becoming a British institution loved not just in the UK, but across the world.
14. 394,007 Bonds bought prior to the first ever draw are still eligible to this day.
15. These 394,007 Bonds have won 103 prizes so far in 2021.
By the end of the first day on sale in 1956, more than £5m bonds had been purchased
16. Monday’s draw will be the 774th Premium Bonds prize draw and the draw will be the 469th and 470th millionaires that ERNIE makes.
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.
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. More than £22.1billion 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 this 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.
28. The chance of winning a prize today is more remote – at 34,500 to 1 for every £1 bond.
29. 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.
30. Mr Zelin also calculated that with the maximum £50,000 stake you would still have to wait 60.3 years for an even chance of winning £1,000 or 2,385 years for £10,000 and 64,398 years for the top reward.
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. A record 113,081,411,333 bonds were in the October prize draw.
The original ERNIE 1 used the signal noise created by neon tubes to generate numbers and could generate 2,000 numbers per hour
34. Since ERNIE turned 60 in November 2016, the number of bonds has almost doubled, up from 64billion.
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.
What’s next for Premium Bonds?
James Blower says: I think they’ll continue to prosper as I can’t see any reasons why their popularity will wane.
While there are plenty of banks and Building Societies who have attempted or are running their own prize draws, NS&I have a monopoly that I can’t see being broken.
However, I’d only recommend them to savers with less than £5,000 to save, if they are quite happy to receive no return on their savings.
Below this level, the odds of winning even one prize a year are slim and there’s a good chance you’ll get nothing.
Anna Bowes replies: Even though the Premium Bond prize fund interest rate was cut to 1 per cent last year, if you hold the maximum number of Bonds, you would be pretty unlucky to win nothing over the course of a year and you never know, you could just be one of the lucky two people a month to win £1 million.
That’s why Premium Bonds are likely to remain the Nation’s favourite for many years to come.
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 538 million winning Bond 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 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 £73million.
59. The largest unclaimed prize is worth £100,000.
60. London has the most unclaimed Premium Bonds prizes in the UK with more than 379,000.
61. This is closely followed by the South East with more than 314,000 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.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.