My first million: Paul Smith, Celador

When Paul Smith first pitched the idea for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, it was rejected on the grounds that 'viewers didn't want to watch other people winning lots of money'. Twelve years on, ITV's then-director has been proved very wrong.

In 1995, TV producer Paul Smith first pitched the idea for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? to the then-director of programmes at ITV. It was rejected on the grounds that "viewers didn't want to watch other people winning lots of money". Needless to say, he was wrong. Twelve years later, the quiz is shown in more than 105 countries and has made its creator, 60-year-old Smith, far richer than any of its contestants the recent sale of his production firm, Celador, reportedly made him £30m.

Smith had wanted to work in television since he was a child growing up in Belfast. "I don't know why you can't determine passion." There were certainly no family links his parents were in the rag trade. They had moved to Belfast from England in the 1930s after a family friend, a drummer in a band, had been playing in the city and was unable to buy new drumsticks or smart clothes. He decided to open a music shop there and persuaded Smith's father to come along and open a gents' outfitters.

Yet despite the lack of connections, his parents "always wanted to facilitate the wishes of their kids", and his dad found Smith a holiday job as a projectionist in Belfast's Grand Opera House cinema in 1963. This helped him land a post at the BBC in London in 1966, just after BBC2 had launched. He gained experience in several departments, but "what I very quickly realised I liked was mainstream entertainment". He left in 1973 due to the rigid structure and ended up at LWT. Under head of entertainment, Michael Grade, Smith came up with the idea for It'll be Alright on the Night and also launched Jasper Carrot's first television series. Both were "huge hits".

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/mw70aro6gl1676370748.jpg

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

In 1981, inspired by a stint in America, he opened his own post-production firm, Complete Video Facilities Ltd, which became Celador in 1983. Smith produced shows with Paul McKenna and Jasper Carrot, as well as Auntie's Bloomers and Talking Telephone Numbers. The idea for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? came from a Capital Radio show, Cash Mountain. It was "nothing like" what Smith came up with, but had key elements, such as the "million pound prize, created through the use of premium phone lines".

Despite his track record, the idea was knocked back by the main channels. But in 1998, under ITV's new director of programmes, the show was broadcasted and within a week Smith was fielding calls from networks across Europe to buy the format. But Celador was so small he had no time to respond, which was lucky. "Our unavailability... allowed us to realise how incredibly popular it had become," enabling him to set up a sales strategy. The show was franchised, giving Celador creative control over everything, from music to credits. Then came the books and board games, "where the real money was made". At its height, Celador made £19m profit on £52m turnover all down to the show. "There was other revenue in there, but it was insignificant."

Is it galling that after so many TV successes, he'll only be remembered for one show? "If it wasn't for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, I wouldn't be able to retire and buy my boat in the South of France I could never resent that."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.