Sale of the Century was 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.
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, he or she is eliminated from further play, but may remain in his or her seat for the remainder of the show.
At four points during gameplay (later five), all players would be offered the opportunity to purchase merchandise at a bargain price. The first player to buzz in after the prize was revealed won and kept it regardless of the final outcome of the game, and the price was deducted from their score. During early series, the prices were announced in pounds and pence, but were always rounded off to the nearest whole pound for scoring purposes if a purchase was made. (For example, if a prize was valued at £14.95, the player who purchased it would have £15 deducted from their score.) Later, the prize values were always announced in whole pounds. Any player who buzzed in before the prize had been revealed was disqualified from being able to purchase it, but they still lost the amount of its price; the other players remained eligible to make the purchase.
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. Every player had the opportunity to buy any or all of the gifts, and a single player could buy more than one of any particular gift. 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.
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.