Sales Talk : And now, from Norwich…

Norwich isn’t just Partridge and mustard you know. It has a link with BLARG cars thanks to one of the biggest watched TV game shows of its era.

Mike Humble shares an ironic tome of a trip out to Norfolk’s capital…

Want to know my connection with an LDV Convoy and Nicholas Parsons? Then read on...
Want to know my connection with an LDV Convoy and Nicholas Parsons? Then read on…

Norwich a fine City. Well, that’s what the road sign just beyond the Nottcutts Garden Centre on the A11 Newmarket Road declares anyway. I’m inclined to agree in all honesty, it’s the capital of East Anglia and county metropolis of Norfolk. Norwich has taken a fair share of light-hearted ribbing over the past years partly thanks to the Rover driving mentalist and King of the Norfolk airwaves: Alan Gordon Partridge, played by the incredibly talented petrolhead Steve Coogan. To digress for a moment, I met and chatted to Steve a couple of months ago, albeit briefly and in Birmingham… but that’s for another day.

Anyway, back to Norwich – as if I’d ever left it, I like the place very much. There’s a cracking market and more historic architecture than you can shake a stick at. Also, it’s half an hour from the seaside, Jarrolds department store on London Street serves the best tea and carrot cake ‘er indoors has ever sampled in their ground floor cafe. Also, when wandering in the centre, there’s a feeling in the air that back in Victorian times this city was of great importance… of which it was. So it’s fair to say that I don’t need much of an excuse to accept a nice meander eastwards to Norwich, I just adore the endless lanes and back streets that are simply chock-a-block of those quaint little arty farty hole-in-the-wall shops.

But for those who are slightly older, this city conjures up memories of being the centre of the universe for TV game shows. From 1971 to 1983 one of the biggest audience pullers on ITV was Sale of the Century and I’m sure many of you will remember the smooth voice of John Benson announcing proudly: ‘And now, from Norwich… it’s the quiz of the week.” If anyone in our house so much as made a peep during this quick fire quiz, you were most certainly running the risk of getting a clip round the ear from my mam. I remember with a fond smile at how impatient, rude and patronising Nicholas Parsons could be with the contestants as the game sped up towards the end – woe betide if they dared to ponder or dither whilst giving an answer, though he was only trying to cram as may questions in to boost the chances of the players of getting the highest possible score.

Carole Ashby / Nicholas Parsons & Karen Loughlin pose with the Star Prize. SOTC was in fact the first UK game show to offer a car as a top prize. Towards the end of the show they tended to be Mini's or Mini Metro's supplied from the local Mann Egerton dealer that was 100 yards down the road from the studio. (Pic: ITV Anglia)
Carole Ashby  Nicholas Parsons & Karen Loughlin pose with the Star Prize. SOTC was in fact the first UK game show to offer a car as a top prize. In the later years of the series they tended to be Mini’s or Mini Metro’s supplied from the local Mann Egerton dealer that was literally 100 yards down the road from the Anglia TV studios. (Pic: ITV Anglia)

The synopsis for the younger reader was a simple one. You were asked questions for points, which equalled money, with the ultimate goal of having £140 or more at the end. This gave the lucky winner a chance to win a top prize, which more often than not in later episodes tended to be a Mini or Mini Metro. But your chances would be hampered by the temptation of the end of round instant sale. For example, a music centre normally worth £350 could be on offer for £35 or a pair of his and hers touring bikes worth £295 all yours for just £20. Trust me, this was really heady stuff on the box back then but a quick click here finds it cringingly bad, hilariously old-fashioned and embarrassingly naff today – but I loved it!

Funnily enough and a bit more recently, I was in contact with former Anglia TV personality and news reader Helen McDermot (Aunty Helen as she was known to many viewers back then). She told me that, towards the end of the Eighties, Anglia TV was so old-fashioned and stuffy before their corporate re-branding that key figures within and presenters for the company used to jokingly call their employer “Angina Television“. But anyway… I’m digressing from the story once again.

Getting back to the point, it’s not usual practice to deliver vehicles afar from a salesman’s point of view – it’s time that could be better spent in the showroom doing other things more productively. We had sold a few vans to a business in Norwich by tender, and owing to the fact it was during a quiet period, I offered to run one of the vehicles over to the customer. The gig also required us all squeezing into a part-exchange vehicle we took off them as part of the deal and driving it back. We had a sales manager who was on my wavelength for nostalgic whimsies so we had a laugh about going to Norwich to conclude the ‘deal of the week” and then humming the SoTC theme tune, with the younger lads having no idea what we were prattling on about.

The Convoy of LDV Convoys – honestly, dear reader – made its way eastwards and in a couple of hours we arrived at the premises of Fitt Signs of Pitt Street Norwich. We were buzzed into the reception area and waited for one of the buying managers to come downstairs. I stood there looking at some of the sample Perspex and glass illuminated signs made for local and national businesses adorning the walls. The man appeared and back outside we went as he checked the vehicles over and signed the paperwork. I was still whistling the SoTC ditty quietly to myself while waiting for his satisfactory moniker and upon hearing my faint trills he smiled. He remarked it was a tune he had not heard in years and beckoned me back inside.

We walked back through the reception area and down a dark corridor that lead towards the actual factory and, upon spotting it, I almost laughed out loud at the vision before my eyes. A switch was flicked at the wall socket and lighting up in huge resplendent red neon letters over the top of a theatrical red velour blackout curtain, the words Sale of the Century flickered and blinked into life. It transpired that they did quite a lot of signage work for Anglia TV back in the 1980s, including all the corporate re-branding of the offices and studio’s from the Knight on the Horse era, into the later wavering triangular flag logo that readers who receive ITV Anglia on button number three may recall.

This large neon attraction formerly lived at the Anglia TV HQ buildings located at the top of the road known as “Agricultural Hall Plain” on the fringe of Norwich city centre, and was used as part of the studio furniture during the shows filming. I was told it was originally blue, then changed to a deep red soon after, but once the series was killed off, the makers took it back to display in their reception area. Owing to the fact the last series was broadcast in 1983, it was deemed as ‘not current enough’ for promotional purposes. I was subsequently told that, and I quote; ‘no-one had the heart to throw it in the skip” so it was demoted away from front-line duties. What is a shame though is the fact my mobile ‘phone back then did not feature a camera.

That’s it from me for 2014. Happy New Year to you all from myself and everyone at AROnline.

All of us at AROnline - and a sinister looking Nicholas Parsons - raise a glass to you all for best health and wishes for 2015 (Pic: Peter Hardie/Anglia Television)
All of us at AROnline – and a sinister looking Nicholas Parsons – raise a glass to you all for best health and wishes for 2015 (Pic: Peter Hardie/Anglia Television)



Mike Humble


  1. ” I remember with a fond smile at how impatient, rude and patronising Nicholas Parsons could be with the contestants as the game sped up towards the end – woe betide if they dared to ponder or dither whilst giving an answer.”

    Well, at least he didn’t say “let’s have a look at what you could have won”
    (normally a speed boat)

  2. Nice story Mike, Norwich is one of my favourite Cities as it happens, we have fond memories of our holiday in the area a few years ago.

    Happy New Year for tonight anyway mate 😉

    • I bought my last two Land Rovers from Hunters in Norwich, even though I’ve not been to the city in 25 years and I currently live around 400 miles away! Have you ever been in there?

      • I don’t think I’ve been in the Hunters place, but I have been in the neighbouring HA Fox Jaguar showroom, where my father bought a used S-type.
        Both Hunters and HA Fox are under the Mann Egerton umbrella.

  3. I’m a bit young to remember Sale of the Century, but I did read it once gained 20 million viewers, thanks to a strike at the BBC which meant it was the only thing on TV.

    My Gran had 3 different caravans at Wells Next The Sea between 1982 & 2000, so almost every year we would go there for a week in the summer. A few times we ventured down to Norwich for the day.

    I remember The Price Is Right used to often have a car for a top prize, or else a decked out lounge for the same amount money, or a top of the range holiday. I’m guessing the prize limit was about £5000.

    • A new car was quite a valuable high ticket prize back then, in the context of “low-wage” Britain and the list prices of a new vehicles, the job offers and salaries of many a University graduate with a First or an Upper Second were £3500 to £5000 from memory

  4. I do remember Bullseye offering an Austin Metro as a prize, then in 1985 they changed to offering Peugeot 205s, probably to do with some kind of deal with Peugeot.
    Family Fortunes, as its fortunes waned in the nineties, had a deal with Proton to offer a Persona as a top prize. Now actually for a show with family in the title, this would make sense, a five seater Escort sized car with a good reputation for reliability and value for money, and, of course, cheaper than most of its rivals.
    Just some random musings here, but the now largely forgotten Malaysian carmaker must have this as one of its claims to fame over here, apart from supplying 99 per cent of taxis in Sheffield in the nineties.

    • They also shifted a load of crappy old Daewoo’s as well, I would rather have had the Vauxhall’s they were based on.

  5. Mike, your ramblings are always a pleasure to read, -I well remember ‘turn that scalextric off ‘Sale of Century’s coming on’.

    Incidentally, in Norfolk there was a large area of residents without access to SOTC!

    It’s true, in North West Norfolk- Anglia TV could not be recieved, everyone had their aerials turned north to Yorkshire!
    A stay in ‘Sunny Hunny’ Hunstanton meant doing without Norwich technicolour on the back and white portable in the caravan!
    Happy days.

  6. I remember being in Wells Next The Sea & only being able to get Yorkshire TV on a car battery powered black & white portable.

    Minis & maybe a Metro seemed to be the big prize in The Price Is Right.

    I’m trying to remember what other cars were offerred as prizes on old TV quiz jobs.

  7. I remember them offering a bright red, 23bhp, Fiat 126 as their car some time around 1980. I remember them well – I learned to drive in one. Nicholas Parsons introduced it as an “Italian sports car”!!!

  8. Sale of the Century was a very popular quiz in its day, but I think I would deliberately come second to avoid a Fiat 126.

  9. Ian… am i right in thinking the B.L dealer was what is now Quick Fit on P.O.W Road…. I know they had a separate truck dealer in Ber Street.

  10. I purchased my second brand new car from teh Norwhich Mann Egerton dealership or whatever it was called in 1997, the woman salesperson, MARY FAGG (yes it is a real name) was by far and away the worst salesperson i have ever come across in all my years of buying cars.

    I traded my then new (In 1994)Mini 35 for a Rover 100 Knightsbridge, a deal was done and two weeks later I went back to collect the car, oh dear, the “brand new” Rover 100 had Rust on the two boot hinges, the drivers door would not shut unless you really slammed it hard, and a couple of other bits, a few attempts to rectify the issues resulted in 11 months later and 6 months in the garage, a free swap, for a White Rover 100 Ascot in white.

    Oh Dear, again, the same rust was on the boot hinges, the doors, BOTH would not shut unless you had Geoff Capes in attendance, and a few other niggles, but then one week before Christmas, on a Friday evening, a colleague from work, who i used to take home after our late shift, got in my car, and SPLASH, teh entire passenger footwell was sodden, it turned out that the weld between the bulkhead and the wheel arch had, umm, fallen out.

    With the time of year, there apparently was NO spare car to loan me while it was in YET AGAIN for repair, I lost my temper, threatened to sue everyone at their mother, before they agreed that the car would indeed be available for me on Christmas eve, it turned out that the car was in the paint shop oven at the Toyota dealer behind Rover in Lowestoft, and had been in there for two days, to dry out the car.

    I got it back used it for about three weeks before yet again, there were more issues, by this time, i had, had enough, and Rover were not prepared to do anything, I lost my temper, i asked them for the address of their legal dept, and who i should make the writ out too, and i suddenly was passed onto someone who was more than happy to extend my warrenty, give me a full CD system for the car and extend the AA cover up to five years, and to get the car back into the dealership for repair, with a loan car at their expense until the car was deemed acceptable, but a technician from Longbridge signing it off.

    I never had any issues with that car until i sold it on in 2004 for my first of two MG ZS’s……

    • The build quality of the Rover 100 could be a problem, I recall a blue Kensington 100 in a showroom, the lacquer finish over the topcoat had run and formed stalactites on the edges of the panels, some of the stalactites were so long they could be broken off with the fingers, and there was a distinct sawtooth effect running the fingers along the panel edges

  11. ‘Let’s see what you could have won!’ crowed Jim Bowen to some poor hapless Bullseye contestant one Sunday teatime, and there, behind the screen or whatever it was hidden behind, was a brand new Nautilus (doom) Blue Morris Ital Saloon! Even Bullseye contestants didn’t want one for free! I also recall cars being offered as prizes in Yorkshire Television’s naff 70’s Saturday evening offering 3-2-1 featuring Ted Rogers and Dusty Bin. Talbot Horizons and later on, Sambas, were sometimes offered and their prize cars always carried the numberplate YTV321. I’m fairly certain that other shows such as ‘Winner Takes All’ featuring Jimmy Tarbuck with the voice of Geoffrey Wheeler, and ‘Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right’ also featured cars as top end prizes. I heard that Tarbuck was rumoured to have once owned a specially finished Mk 2 MG Metro Turbo, maybe a leftover from the show that was never won?
    Nicholas Parsons could have had a very successful career as a ‘motor car’ salesman, he would comfortably have beaten every target going and I suspect many real life salesmen I’ve come across over the years used him as their role model…

  12. “Impatient, rude and patronising” Nicholas Parsons may have been on SotC, but anyone who bought an Alvis TE21 drophead new in 1966 can’t be all bad.

  13. You mean where Holdens are now? I thought Mann Egerton were always on Cromer Road near the airport, now Inchape/JA Fox/Hunters.

  14. A digression, but that LDV Convoy in black with the black wheels, wheel trims and bright wheel finishers does look stunning, doesn’t it? The wide bodied Sherpa/ Convoy always looked far more convincing than the skinnier Pilot and it’s predecessors.

    As always, an enjoyable ramble, Mike.

  15. Mann Egerton were up the top of POW road, about two doors down from Anglia. It was redeveloped about 15 years ago. The Kwikfit site was Kennings and also BL. There was also a Talbot Garage I think a few doors nearer the station, again redeveloped

  16. @ Jon Mower, how come Austin Rover dealers were so hit and miss, as a bad dealership experience must have made people even more reluctant to buy their cars?
    In West Cumbria, we had two main dealers by the late eighties as the dealership network was rationalised during the decade. The first dealership, Studholme and Dickson, was a former British Leyland main dealer with a huge showroom that stocked everything from Minis to Jaguars at one time. Unfortunately they had a reputation for arrogance, sharp practices and charging over the odds and in 1993 lost their main dealership and moved on to Hyundais. I won’t go into too mucnh detail for legal reasons, but Studholme and Dickson’s sharp practices proved to be their downfall and they went under in 2002 when Hyundai withdrew the franchise.
    OTOH you had Edgar and Son, a smalller dealership who were originally Austin Morris in the seventies, but their reputation for honesty and good customer care saw them rise to be a serious rival to Studholme and Dickson by the mid eighties. Indeed when Studholme and Dickson lost the Rover franchise and a small time dealer retired in Workington, Edgars were the only Rover dealers in the area from the mid nineties until 2005. Their high reputation, and the good fortune to get the Hyundai franchise just as Rover was imploding, has seen them expand to where they are now the biggest family owned dealership in Cumbria, selling Hyundais, Nissans and Suzukis from two sites, while their former big time rival’s site is now houses.

    • Glenn, actually studholme dickson closed its doors on 31st october 2000. My husband worked there since leaving school 11yrs previously. Although this was worrying at the time, in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened. Ironically he now works at Edgars!

    • I was a trainee salesman at Studholm Dickson for a short time in 1987 and yes, what a nasty bunch of cowboys they were. The head salesman, Peter Hodson, his sidekick Colin something and Atkinson who seemed to be manager along with the slimeball accountant. Horrible collection of reptiles. Good people in the workshop and the guys who did the PDI and prep. Still, I had a free Metro City to thrash up and down the M6 at the weekend. Never did manage to blow it up, though the heater didnt work despite being only two years old. The door pockets were excellent for keeping kebabs in. A dissolving 1930s asbestos roof that leaked, dripping corrosive rainwater on the cars and flooded the main showroom at every opportunity. I was delighted when I got sacked and even more tickled years later when I heard Hodson the spiv had had his collar felt!

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