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The Flat Cap on ... Bingo

Some of the recent correspondence to The Flat Cap has commented on the lack of randomness in his blogs. Always responsive to the views of his worldwide readership got Bert thinking. What could be more random than the game of Bingo? So he resolved to find out a bit more about the game, secure in the knowledge that he could always supplement his blog with some quirky trivia, if his usual tenacious in depth research drew a blank.

Bingo can trace its origins to sixteenth century Italy, where in 1530 a state run lottery "Lo Gioco del Lotto d'Italia" was born. The idea was the brainchild of a Neapolitan baker Giuseppe Bingovese who offered cakes and pastries to the winners of the first games.

By 1770 the game had migrated to France but after the furore caused by the French queen Marie-Antoinette uttering the words, "let them eat cake" (when there wasn't much cake to go around) Bingo prizes tended to be more utilitarian. Peasants who managed to mark off all the numbers on their card were more likely to win a packet of vegetable seeds, or if it was a big game maybe a new lawn mower. As a lot of the French participants weren't that numerate an individual game could last for up to an hour. Landowners concerned by the amount of time their uneducated workforce was spending playing Bingo, as opposed to tending fields and bringing in the harvest, resorted to breaking up gatherings. This in turn caused a great deal of unrest and contributed to the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century.

For the origins of modern day Bingo one has to look across the Atlantic to the USA. Whilst working as a travelling toy salesman a chap called Edwin S. Lowe came across a group of people playing a game called "Beano" in Atlanta, Georgia. Lowe was captivated and took the game home with him to New York to play with friends. When one of the ladies won a game legend has it that she shouted "Bingo" instead of "Beano" and the name stuck. Lowe marketed the game, made lots of money and in 1962 opened a hotel in Las Vegas. Alas Lowe's decision not to include a casino in the hotel was a bad one and it closed later the same year.

The Flat Cap's friend Mabel regularly plays Bingo with her friends Ada and Gladys, and some afternoons the three of them go to a big Bingo hall near Ada's house; but not on alternate Wednesdays as that is when Mabel has to go to the chiropodists (and it's two buses, unless she treats herself to a taxi). Mabel once won £500 at Bingo and used the money to treat her grandchildren to a day out at Alton Towers. The most Ada and Gladys have ever won is about £30 but they still enjoy going and the excitement of it all.

Ada's cousin used to be the resident Bingo caller at the local working men's club and on Monday evenings there could be as many as one hundred and twenty people playing the game. Ada says that but for fire regulations it would have been more. Ada's cousin was self-taught, but Mabel said that nowadays if you want to be a professional caller you have to go to college to learn how to say the numbers properly and learn all the terms and sayings that go with the different numbers. Mabel said that after learning how to be a London taxi driver or a heart surgeon Bingo calling is one of the most technically demanding jobs she can think of.

If you don't like the social side of Bingo but love the game itself there are plenty of on line sites to choose from. Many of them offer a range of inducements such as new player and welcome bonuses, free spins, cinema vouchers, discounts on takeaway pizza, free money and promotional tea towels. Mabel doesn't have a smartphone so she prefers to play Bingo the traditional way and buy her tea towels from Home Bargains.

The Flat Cap called in on Mabel to find out more about Bingo and over a cup of tea and a slice of walnut cake (homemade not shop bought) learned the following interesting Bingo facts and tips:

  • In November 2019 Donna Kunyo beat more than two hundred entrants from across Great Britain to be crowned "Bingo Caller of the Year". As well as the title Donna won £1,000

  • The first computer programme for generating numbers between 1 and 90 was developed by students at Imperial College, London. It bore the acronym BINGO which stood for Bespoke Indicative Number Generating Operation

  • Worldwide there are more than 890 million active Bingo players

  • The Italian lottery game can still be played every Saturday

  • The American forerunner of Bingo was called "Beano" because players used dried beans to cover the numbers on their cards

  • The average age of a Bingo player is 71, largely due to the popularity of the game in nursing homes

  • The best way to tick off your numbers is with a colourful Bingo dobber or dabber. Good hardware stores such as Wilko stock them in a range of colours and they're better than buying a pack of felt tip pens (which dry up if you leave the tops off)

  • There are certain unwritten rules of Bingo etiquette which include: not sitting in someone else's 'lucky' seat, not barracking the caller, refraining from making false calls (which can exasperate fellow players), eating or drinking loudly, and distracting your fellow players by asking if a particular number has already been called

  • Remember that it can be daunting going to Bingo for the first time so learn some of the Bingo jargon if you want to fit in. Every number has its own nickname. Don't try to show off by learning them all at once but start slowly with a few such as 'Lucky Seven', 'Legs Eleven', 'Clickety Click' (66) and 'Top of the Shop' (90)

  • If you're superstitious don't forget to wear your lucky underpants / socks / shirt / jumper - and make sure they're freshly laundered; nobody likes sitting next to a smelly Bingo player

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