Premium Bonds at 60 - the Colossus connection

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Celebrating sixty years of Premium Bond Prizes

The technical beginnings and their sustained popularity

At The National Museum of Computing

On 29 June 2017 at 6.30pm

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the award of the first Premium Bond prize (then £1,000), there was an evening event in 2017 at The National Museum of Computing, featuring a reconstruction of ERNIE’s ancestor that demonstrated to an enthralled 1950s public how electronic noise could be used to generate random numbers for the prize draw.

Phil Hayes traced the development of ERNIE 1 (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment), the machine that was deployed in 1957 to generate the first set of random numbers for the monthly Premium Bond prize draw. Phil, the chief engineer of the Colossus Rebuild at TNMOC, drew upon the archives of Harry Fensom, one of “the band of brothers” who built the wartime Colossus computer, and who in the mid-1950s reported to Tommy Flowers, the still-secret creator of Colossus and by then heading up the department that created ERNIE at the General Post Office.

The social and financial history of Premium Bonds was outlined by Alun Williams, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications at National Savings and Investments. He reflected upon how the Premium Bond product, originally introduced in 1956 to try to control inflation and encourage people to save, became a world-leader and how bonds have come to be held by one in three UK citizens, each hoping to win one of the two jackpot £1 million monthly prizes or one of the many other two million prizes drawn each month.

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