There cannot be many readers who have never played Bingo at some point in their lives. It may have been called Housey-Housey if you played the game one dark winter’s evening in your childhood. But where did the game begin?

Legend has it that bingo first began in Italy, originating from their traditional lottery game “Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia” in the 1500s. From there it moved to France in the late 1700s, traditionally played by wealthy Frenchmen and the aristocracy, where its name evolved to “Le Lotto”.This version featured 27 squares, laid out in three rows and nine columns. With numbers from 1-90 randomly arranged in the boxes, it is this design which has survived the test of time and we see in bingo halls and online today. Like today’s version, “Le Lotto” saw a caller pick a wooden number token and read the number out loud. If players had this number on their card they’d cover it, with the first to cover an entire horizontal line crowned the winner.

The game travelled to North America in the 1920s where its name was “Beano”. It’s said that one player was so excited and enthusiastic that he’d won, he cried “Bingo” instead of “Beano.” The name stuck, and by the 1940s people were playing bingo across the country. The game then migrated to the UK and became hugely popular in the 1960s and has continued to this day.

Today, bingo has evolved significantly since its humble origins as a traditional Italian lottery game. The introduction of online bingo has seen the game’s popularity rocket in recent years. It is said over 100 million people around the world now play bingo.

Perhaps the best-known bingo hall in High Wycombe was the Needham Bowl in Desborough Road. Jack Needham died earlier this year and we featured an account of his colourful life in a Nostalgia article on February 14.

A Bingo-caller remembers

Reader David Cudd, who now lives in Amersham, was a part-time bingo-caller at the old Granada Bingo Club in the High Street in Aylesbury for eleven years from 1977 to 1988. At that time he had a full-time job in a car-manufacturing factory in Oxford and has fond memories of his bingo-calling evenings and weekends at the club.

David recalls “ In the early seventies, many theatre halls were turned into bingo clubs all over the country, as bingo became ever more popular. Aylesbury was no different. Soon after the old theatre was closed in 1972, it was converted into the much-loved Granada Bingo Club.

Finding entertainment around 1972-73 was completely different to today’s world. For one thing, television only offered BBC One and Two and ITV (yes, just three stations!). Teenagers and young adults could go to nightclubs after the pubs shut, but middle-aged and older people mostly had to make do with the meagre offerings that television provided. People could play bingo at small clubs like village halls, but they wanted something different. Something bigger.....somewhere you could have a beer, or glass of wine. Somewhere you could grab a snack as well.....a pasty and chips, for instance. This new club in Aylesbury offered exactly that. The money you could win was much larger than the payouts at the village halls. I remember people going away with £100, £200, £500, anything up to £1000. Back in 1977, that was really good money. A gallon of petrol was typically quite a bit less than £1, compared to the more than £6 a gallon that it costs today.

So now you had food, drink and good money to win, if you were lucky. Even if you didn’t win, you knew that you were that close to being rich.....well, almost, anyway (you felt as if you were, if you won). The very least, you were entertained.....and would be hooked on bingo. You would be surprised at just who would come along to ‘give it a go’. It wasn’t just granny Jean, or grandad Albert. It wasn’t full of working class people, either. Young, middle-aged and older folk would often try their luck, on a regular basis.

We even had celebrities’ families playing bingo. Paul Daniels’ mother Nancy, Two of the Barron Knights’ mothers, and the wife of the author Reg Dolphin (he wrote some Sexton Blake novels and sci-fi books) would be regular Saturday night visitors to the club. At one point, we had over 35,000 members signed up to that club! The building could hold up to around 900 people, most of whom were sitting four to a table. On Saturday evenings, people who couldn’t find a spare table would sit upstairs, which held over 200 people, if needed.

Apart from Sundays (evenings only), bingo sessions were held in the afternoon as well as the evening. Saturday afternoons would easily pull in over 400 people, with over 700 coming along for the evening session. Most other evenings would attract between 400-500 people.

Twice a year, sometimes more frequently, big-name stars would pay us a visit. I remember Gerry and the Pacemakers playing there in 1983 and The Wurzels, in 1986. We’d play an hour of bingo, they’d do their show for an hour or so, then back to the bingo. You couldn’t beat that for entertainment!

I eventually left the club in 1988, returning now and then to play the game, which I was also hooked on. To my dismay, I read about the closure of the club (then called Gala Bingo since 1991) in February, 2019.

Today, I live in Amersham, but I still occasionally do some shopping in Aylesbury. Whenever I walk past the now unused building, I cannot help but think back, with a heavy heart, to those bygone days. Great memories.”

David was also a bingo-caller at the club in The Point in Milton Keynes, an entertainment complex which is now awaiting demolition. Some bingo-callers almost became stars themselves and Dave remembers that in his last year or so at the Aylesbury club his name would be announced, which would be followed by much clapping and cheering. He is now retired but unfortunately is disabled, and has taken up writing as a hobby. He hopes that two science fiction/comedy books will shortly be published.