Ernie still going strong at 40

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Ernie celebrated his 40th birthday yesterday with the claim that the National Lottery has helped increase premium bond sales.

An updated Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment, or Ernie for short, still chooses the winning numbers 40 years after the inception of the scheme in which investment has increased from pounds 600m in 1994 to pounds 2.6bn last year.

With the top monthly payout of pounds 1m, so far 39 millionaires have been created and 23 million people currently invest.

Every investment has a 19,000-1 chance of success and National Savings, which operates the draw, claims that it has shaken off its rather old- fashioned image.

Its chief executive, Peter Bareau, said: "The bonds have shaken off their image of being presents to grandchildren. More and more people are seeing bonds as a brilliant investment scheme. The publicity for the National Lottery has helped premium bonds. It encourages people to gamble, although with bonds you can reclaim your investment."