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Sale of the Century
Format Game Show
Created by Al Howard
Presented by Nicholas Parsons
Peter Marshall
(Sky One)
Keith Chegwin
(Challenge TV)
Narrated by Peter Marshall
(1972 - 1973)
John Benson
(1973 - 1983)
Mitch Johnson
(1989 - 1990)
Robin Houston
(1997 - 1998)
Country of origin  United Kingdom
Producer(s) Anglia Television
(1972 - 1983)
Reg Grundy Organisation
(1989 - 1990, 1997 - 1998)
Running time 30mins (inc. adverts)
Original channel ITV
(8 January 1972 - 13 November 1983)
Sky One
(1989 - 1990)
Challenge TV
(1997 - 1998)
Picture format 4:3
Original run 19721998
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 1972 to 1983, hosted by Nicholas Parsons. The first series was aired in the Anglia region only, but it rolled out to other regions from early 1972 and achieved full national coverage by the end of 1975, at which point it was one of the most popular shows on the network - spawning the often-mocked catchphrase "and now, live from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week."

It has twice been revived: first, on Sky One from 1989 to 1990 hosted by Peter Marshall; second, on Challenge TV from 1997 to 1998 hosted by Keith Chegwin.


Rules (1972-1983; 1997-1998)

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. 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

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.) 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. 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 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 (1989-1990)

The Sky One version followed the rules of the Australian & pre-1989 American versions where contestants began with £20 and all questions were worth £5 for correct answers and minus that for incorrect answers. 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 could choose to shop or answer a possible four of five questions, with no risk, to win the car.

On the 1989 & 1997 versions, there were a series of prizes and as the contestant's score built up, it applied to the next highest prize; a car again being the top prize, which was available for £585 (dropped to £500 in 1997). 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.


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 £1,500. 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.

External links


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