In mid 1985, I had a very strange phone call from Anglia Television. They started off by asking me did I know that England were going over to Australia in the New Year to play for the Ashes? They then explained that they were looking for previous winners of Sale of the Century (UK) to audition to take part in a Sale of the Century (Australia: with Tony Barber & Alyce Platt) competition against an Australian team and it would be broadcast to coincide with the cricket matches. It would mean, they said, an all expenses paid trip to Australia in early 1986 with possible prize money of $A100,000 to be shared between either the English team who got into the final or the Australians.
At that time, of course, prize money on British television was regulated with maximum winnings not totalling more than £5,000. I gladly accepted their offer of an audition and was lucky enough to be picked as one of nine contestants (six men and three women) who went off to Melbourne to challenge for the Sale of the Century Ashes match. They had shown a video of the Australian version of SOTC at the audition and the format was very different to ours, but I did make notes and based my revision on those notes.
What of course we were not prepared for was the sheer professionalism of the Australian competitors. Like Britain, there was no tax to be paid on winnings and with prizes of $A100,000 for winning a series of SOTC, plus a new car and any prizes picked up on the way, anyone who was lucky enough to get on the show, knew they had a very good chance of earning a life changing sum of money. However, because the Australians were so keen to win the actual show, they very rarely bought any of the instant prizes which were on offer, preferring to keep their points towards their final total.
This wasn’t very exciting for the viewers, so when we got there, we were told that if we wanted to buy any of the instant prizes, we could do so and we would be given the cash equivalent if it wasn’t possible to get the prize back to England. Every time I was ahead in a game, I bought, mentally translating A$1800 into £900 and pressing my buzzer for the prize. I did keep a few prizes including a beautiful opal ring from Cooper Pedy, which I still wear today. Altogether I took part in 6 programmes and although I got through to the final with one of the other lady competitors, we were trounced by the Australian pair.
However, I did come away with a cheque for £8,000 and £6,000 of jewellery, which was well worth the trip. This was supposed to be a one off series to celebrate the Ashes matches, but when the programmes were broadcast, the ratings went sky high and Grundy Television who ran the series realised they were on to a winner.
In 1987, cricket was again being played in Australia for the World Series and so Grundy decided to repeat the challenge, this time, including a team from the USA and from New Zealand in the competition.