Sale of the Century (British game show)

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Sale of the Century
GenreGame show
Created byReg Grundy
Presented byNicholas Parsons (1971–1983)
Steve Jones (1981 celebrity special)
Peter Marshall (1989–1991)
Keith Chegwin (1997)
Voices ofPeter Marshall (1971–1972)
John Benson (1972–1983)
Mitch Johnson (1989)
Martin Buchanan (1989–1991)
Robin Houston(1997)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series11 (ITV)[1]
?? (Sky Channel)
?? (Challenge TV)
No. of episodes411 (ITV)[1]
?? (Sky Channel)
?? (Challenge TV)
Running time30 minutes (inc. adverts)
Production company(s)Anglia (1971–1983)
Reg Grundy Productions (1989–1991, 1997)
DistributorITV Studios
Original networkITV (1971–1983)
Sky One (1989–1991)
Challenge TV (1997)
Picture format4:3
Original release9 October 1971 (1971-10-09) –
1997 (1997)
Related showsSale of the Century

Sale of the Century is a British game show based on a US game show of the same name. It was first shown on ITV from 9 October 1971 to 6 November 1983, hosted by Nicholas Parsons. Special Celebrity Sale of the Century editions aired occasionally, starting on 2 January 1981 with Steve Jones as host.

The first series was aired only in the Anglia region, but it rolled out to other regions by 8 January 1972 and achieved full national coverage by 10 May 1975, at which point it was one of the most popular shows on the network – spawning the often-mocked introductory phrase "And now, from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week". Since Norwich was considered a backwater compared to London, it was often used ironically.

It has been revived twice: first on Sky Channel from 6 February 1989 to 3 October 1991 hosted by Peter Marshall and then on Challenge TV in 1997 hosted by Keith Chegwin.

Rules (1971–1983; 1997)[edit]

The ITV and Challenge versions followed the rules of the original American version. Three contestants start off with £15 (£10 in the earliest series). Questions are worth different values starting with £1, increasing to £3 after the second instant bargain, and finally £5 after the fourth; by the final two ITV series, the values started at £3 but increased to £5 after the fourth instant bargain. 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. If a contestant runs out of money at any time, they are eliminated from further play, but may remain in their seat for the remainder of the show.

Instant Bargain and Instant Sale[edit]

At four points during gameplay (later five), 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 (e.g., £7.95, £11.95, £14.95, £21.95). All prize values were rounded off 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, and increased as the show progressed). 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 during the early ITV series, 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. By 1982, Open Sale had been replaced by an instant bargain.

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 (1989–1991)[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.

In this format, each player started with £20, and each question was worth only £5.

There were only three "Instant Sales" (renamed Gift Shops), 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 four grand prizes at the "Sale of the Century" which almost always included a new car. Originally, champions could buy prizes totaling no more than £1,000 (£2,500 in the late 1970s). From 1981 to 1983, any champion who won the game with £140 or more could choose to purchase one of the lesser four prizes or correctly answer a possible four of five questions, with no risk, to win a car.

On the 1989–1991 and 1997 versions, there were a series of six prizes (five in 1997) 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). 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 available or the 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 special aired occasionally from 2 January 1981, with 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 in Cowell's VT before receiving the Special Recognition Award from Andrew Lloyd Webber. Cowell appeared on 2 episodes (winning his first game) and won only £20 worth of cooking utensils.

The show's theme tune, composed by Peter Fenn, was entitled "Joyful Pete", in tribute to the show's original producer, Peter Joy.[2]


ITV era[edit]

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

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[3]
  • Grampian: 10 May 1975

Sky Channel era[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes Presenter
6 February 1989
3 October 1991
Peter Marshall

Challenge TV era[edit]

Series Start date End date Episodes Presenter
1 3 February 1997 1997 ?? Keith Chegwin


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai "TVBrain - Kaleidoscope - Lost shows - TV Archive - TV History".
  2. ^ "Peter Fenn: Anglia TV's musical director wrote Sale of the Century quiz theme". Eastern Daily Press. 17 May 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  3. ^ "The Glasgow Herald - Google News Archive Search".
  4. ^ "Fremantle Archive Sales - SALE OF THE CENTURY (SKY)". 8 July 2013. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013.

External links[edit]