Sale of the Century (UK game show)

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Sale of the Century
Created by Al Howard
Presented by Nicholas Parsons (1971-83)
Steve Jones (1981 celebrity special)
Peter Marshall (1989-92)
Keith Chegwin (1997-8)
Voices of Peter Marshall (1971-2)
John Benson (1972-83)
Mitch Johnson (1989: early shows)
Martin Buchanan (1989-92: later shows)
Robin Houston (1997-8)
Composer(s) Peter Fenn (1971-83)
Bill Sharpe (1989-92)
Rick Turk (1997-8)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 11 (ITV)
4 (Sky Channel)
2 (Challenge TV)
No. of episodes 374 (ITV)
458 (Sky Channel)[1]
131 (Challenge TV)[2]
Running time 30mins (inc. adverts)
Production company(s) Anglia (1971-83)
Reg Grundy Productions (1989-92, 1997-8)
Distributor ITV Studios
Original channel ITV (9 October 1971 - 6 November 1983)
Sky Channel (1989 - 1992)
Challenge TV (1997 - 1998)
Picture format PAL (4:3 576i)
Original release 9 October 1971 (1971-10-09) – 1998 (1998)
Related shows Sale of the Century

Sale of the Century was a UK game show based on a US game show of the same name. It was first shown on ITV from 1971 to 1983, hosted by Nicholas Parsons. The first series was supposed to air only in the Anglia region, but it rolled out to other regions since 8 January 1972 and achieved full national coverage by the end of 10 May 1975, at which point it was one of the most popular shows on the network - spawning the often-mocked catchphrase "and live, from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week." Since Norwich was considered something of a backwater compared to London, it was often used ironically.

It has been revived twice: first on Sky Channel from 1989 to 1992 hosted by Peter Marshall and then on Challenge TV from 1997 to 1998 hosted by Keith Chegwin.

Rules (1971-83; 1997-8)[edit]

The ITV and Challenge versions followed the rules of the original American version. Three contestants start off with £15. Questions are worth different values starting with £1, later increasing to £3, and finally £5; by the final season, the £1 questions were eliminated. The question is asked and players can buzz in at any time. Correct answers add the money to their score and incorrect answers subtract the money from their score with only one player allowed to buzz in on each question.

Instant Sale[edit]

At six points during gameplay, all contestants would be offered the opportunity to purchase merchandise at a bargain price. The first player to buzz in after the prize was revealed purchased that prize. (In so doing, a "losing" contestant might not advance to go shopping at the end of the show, but could leave the show with a considerable haul for one day's play.) In the early days, the prices of all prizes offered were expressed much as one would hear in a department store, and would increase as the show progressed (e.g., £7.95, £11.95, £14.95, £21.95). All prize values were rounded up to the nearest pound before being subtracted from the score of the player who purchased the prize (later on, prizes were in full pounds, like £8, £12, £15, £22). Each instant bargain was hidden behind a curtain; the announcer would mention the price, and then the curtain would open as the prize was revealed. If a contestant buzzed in before the curtain opened, it was declared "No Sale", the contestant would have the price deducted from his/her score (but not win the prize), and the other contestants could then buzz in.

Also, an "Open Sale" was offered just before the commercial break, in which a number of smaller gifts were offered for less than £5 each. In this situation, more than one player could buy a given gift, and a player could buy any or all of the prizes on offer. They could even buy two or more of some items.

The Challenge TV version kept the rules of the ITV version, except there was no "Open Sale", and players were spotted £15 to start. There were five rounds with questions being worth £1 in round one, £3 in rounds two and three, and £5 in rounds four and five. Finally, the game ended with 60 seconds of £5 questions. The player in the lead at the end of this round was declared the champion.

Rules (1989-92)[edit]

The Sky Channel version had rules that were based on Australia's 1980-1988 format and America's 1983-1989 format, with better prizes than before.

There were only three "Instant Sales" (renamed Instant Bargains), and only the player in the lead could buy.

The biggest change was the "Fame Game": Here, a succession of increasingly larger clues were given to the identity of a famous person, place, or event. In this round, players could buzz-in and answer at any time, with the player shut out for the remainder of the question if they gave an incorrect answer.

If one of the players buzzed-in and answered correctly, the contestant chose from a game board with nine squares. If all three contestants failed to come up with a right answer, then nobody got to pick. Once chosen, the space selected would be spun around to reveal either a relatively small prize (typically appliances or furniture valued at around a weekly wage) or a bonus money card, which added to the player's score.

There were £10, £15, and £25 bonuses added each round; in addition, in the third round was a "Wild Card", which offered the choice of £100 or a chance to pick again.

The game ended with the Speed Round where the host would ask as many questions as possible within 60 seconds. The player with the most money when time ran out won the game.

If there was a tie for the lead after the Speed Round, another question was asked of the tied players. Answering this question awarded £5 and the win; missing the question deducted £5 and lost the game.


The winning contestant would be given the opportunity to spend their cash total on at least one of several grand prizes at the "Sale of the Century"; the grand prize being a new car. Champions could buy more than one prize, but they could never buy every prize at less than the total of all of the sale prices. Towards the end of the run, the car was eliminated as a buyable prize; now the champion, provided they won the game with £140 or more, could choose to shop or answer a possible four of five questions, with no risk, to win the car.

On the 1989-92 & 1997-8 versions, there were a series of six prizes (five in 1997-8) and as the contestant's score built up, it applied to the next highest prize, with a car again being the top prize, which was available for £585 (£500 in 1997-8). Like the Australian and American versions, they could buy the prize and leave or risk it and come back. However, unlike the Australian and American versions, there was no cash jackpot up for grabs or chance to buy all the prizes on stage.

On all versions, losing contestants kept the money and prizes earned.

Other background information[edit]

The series was one of the most consistently high-rating entertainment shows of the 1970s, gaining peak viewing figures of 20 million. This original version of the show was restricted in the prize amount through then national agreements, meaning that the featured cars had to be below set limits. The producers hence preferred to engage with foreign manufacturers to provide better value prize, often including top of the range Ladas.

On 22 December 1978, an all-out strike at the BBC meant that 21.2 million viewers watched the programme, the highest ever rating for a game show produced by ITV.

By the time the original version ended, it had awarded 500 contestants over £500,000 in prizes.

Celebrity editions were run occasionally, with the prizes won going to charities.

The show is often famed as having been the place that record producer Simon Cowell made his television debut. The video (of his appearance on the 1989 version) is available on YouTube and extracts of it were shown during the National Television Awards whilst Cowell was receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. Cowell appeared on 2 episodes (winning his first game) and won only £20 worth of cokking utensils.

The show's theme tune, composed by Peter Fenn, was entitled "Joyful Pete", in tribute to the show's original producer, Peter Joy.[3]


The show was revived on Ant and Dec's 2005-2007 Gameshow Marathon as the final preliminary round, with Ruby Wax, Eamonn Holmes and Vernon Kay participating. Kay won the match, and would go on to win the second semi-final, Bullseye, before losing to eventual series champion Carol Vorderman in Family Fortunes (Kay would go on to host the current revival of the show and the second Gameshow Marathon).


ITV era[edit]


Series Start date End date Episodes
1 9 October 1971 30 March 1973 75
2 15 September 1973 6 July 1975 95
3 6 September 1975 25 June 1976 43
4 1 October 1976 8 July 1977 41
5 5 November 1977 15 July 1978 37
6 17 November 1978 9 March 1979 18
7 14 July 1979 18 August 1979 6
8 22 December 1979 30 August 1980 40
9 24 April 1981 18 September 1981 22
10 4 April 1982 5 September 1982 20
11 7 August 1983 6 November 1983 14

Regional transmissions information[edit]

  • Anglia: 9 October 1971
  • ATV, HTV, Westward, Southern: 8 January 1972
  • Border: 12 February 1972
  • LWT, Channel: 19 February 1972
  • Ulster: 14 July 1972
  • Yorkshire, Tyne Tees: 13 September 1974
  • Granada: 27 September 1974
  • Scottish: 27 October 1974[4]
  • Grampian: 10 May 1975

Sky Channel era[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes
1 6 February 1989 1989  ??
2 1990 1990  ??
3 1991 1991  ??
4 1992 1992  ??

Challenge TV era[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes
1 3 February 1997 1997  ??
2 1998 1998  ??


External links[edit]