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The strange world of the bingo caller

Back in 1978, the Mancunian post-punk band, The Fall, released their first single. Entitled, “Bingo Masters’ Breakout” the song was a sad look at the life of the bingo caller in a sardonic and dry way that was to make The Fall one of the country’s best-loved bands for decades after.

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80x15 The strange world of the bingo caller	  by  xopi 

“A big shot’s voice in his ears, worlds of silence in his ears, all the numbers account for years, checks the cards through eyes of tears” went the lyrics. Of course, this is far from the true experience of most traditional British bingo callers, but they were – and some still are – a breed apart.

In these days where online bingo is king, the caller’s days may seem numbered. But some of the best sites strive to maintain the great game’s best traditions. If you check out my favourite bingo site here, for example, you’ll quickly realise that at this site, and at some of the other best sites, the bingo caller’s world is staging something of an online resurgence. The sound effects and graphics on some sites like bgo, Costa, Grosvenor and 888, for example, really do come close to re-creating the reality of the old-fashioned bingo hall or the casino etc., so the bingo caller’s art is not completely dead – and it’s being carefully resurrected by techies and creative types at the best bingo sites.

And anyone who has ever been through the doors of a real-life bingo hall knows just how important the Bingo Caller’s job really is. She (though more usually he…) is the MC of bingo and the quality of his or her performance was absolutely crucial in the competitive bingo environment. It was never simply a case of calling out the nicknames and the numbers for games. It went much deeper. The essential role was always to collect and call the numbers out smoothly and quickly to maximise the number of games and, therefore, the club’s income. But despite this seemingly bland role, the personality of the caller really came through – and the regulars could always tell if he or she was having an ‘off’ night. Too many of these and the numbers could dwindle which couldn’t be tolerated. Of course, the reverse was also true; a warm-hearted and witty caller could really help pull the punters through the doors.

By tradition, bingo players had something of a love-hate relationship with the caller, and part of the fun was always in heckling him – particularly if the numbers continually failed to run your way. But for the caller himself, bingo calling was (and still is in some parts of the UK) an art form just like any other form of entertainment.

Quite whether the best bingo websites will ever truly recreate the personality and cult of the traditional British bingo caller remains to be seen. But until then, we’ll leave you with one last line of pathos courtesy of The Fall: “There’s a grave somewhere only partly filled, a sign in a graveyard on a hill reads: ‘Bingo-Masters’ Breakout’.“

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