As tacky as a “Kiss Me Quick” hat, as outdated as a Blackpool tram, as naff as a garden gnome with a little fishing rod, bingo, for most of us, feels like something that should have long been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Its very name speaks of dingy church halls or dilapidated former cinemas with names like the Gaumont and Ritzy where even the fleas moved out years ago.
Plus, there’s the horrible cult of the bingo caller, ideally wearing a spangled jacket and specialising in a very particular, and British brand of innuendo and almost incomprehensible synonyms for the numbers.
“Two fat ladies, 88”, “All on its own, number 1”, “Garden gate, number 8” – the list goes on and on with just a few which raise the level of wit – but only slightly.
For example “Doctor’s orders, number 9” might seem totally meaningless but it refers to a laxative pill of the same name handed out by doctors to soldiers suffering from constipation in the Second World War.
Not exactly hilarious, and also a good indicator of the era that bingo seems to have been stuck in.
Then there are all the arcane rituals that seem deliberately designed to keep the casual player well excluded.
For a start there’s the confusing card that looks like something an antiquated calculating machine might spit out after lengthy whirring, buzzing and sparking, all printed on a special kind of rough paper that seems uniquely to belong to bingo.
Then there’s the need to get your hands on a dabber, dauber or dobber.
This is just the sort of giant-sized felt tip pen that’s essential to mark the numbers that are called out at breakneck speed.
The fact that there’s no single agreed name for it tells you all you need to know.
Finally, there’s the game itself. As we’ve already mentioned, it’s conducted at a lightning pace.
So those old dears who are usually the ones shuffling slowly down the high street and creating a rolling road block as you try to get past suddenly are jolted to life, often being able to keep a number of bingo cards on the go simultaneously.
But heaven help anyone who gets too enthusiastic and shouts out “House” or “Bingo” when they mistakenly believe they’ve got a winning card.
At best they’ll have some fairly fruity abuse directed their way. At worst, it’s going to men a good handbagging!
So it’s easy to see why the game, which is a fundamentally fine way to have a little bit of fun with the chance of winning some cash along the way, has been ready for reinvention.
A few different ways to play the traditional game has been a long time coming.
Add to the fact that you can join a community and chat with other players without being told to ‘shhhh’ by competitors and you can see why online bingo is attracting a whole new generation of fans.
The old bingo halls and ultra-competitive players has ensured that far more fun can be had online.
How bingo began
To understand how we’ve got to this point it’s worth looking into the social history of the game, without getting too Open University about it all.
The game was originally invented in the 1930s in the States by a travelling salesman called Edwin Lowe who’d seen a variation being played at fairgrounds.
It was originally called “Beano” because players placed a bean on a square when the number was called.
Then one day Lowe heard a player make the mistake of calling out “Bingo” when they’d won and he decided this would be a better name for it all round.
It swept the US and found its way to the UK in the 1940s reaching its real heyday in the 1960s.
It’s incredible to imagine, but there were 14 million bingo club members in 1963 and today there are only around 600 clubs all-round the UK.
Lots of reasons lie behind the decline and fall of the live game. For a start, expectations of a night out soon became a little more sophisticated than a glass of milk stout and a chance to have a natter with your mates.
Rising from the ashes of the smoking ban
So bingo halls started to close and another nail in their coffin was the smoking ban that was introduced in 2006 because, as it turned out, there was a heavy correlation between bingo fans and heavy smokers.
But this was also around the time that online bingo sites had started to emerge.
These might not have been the place for a great night out but they did offer many of the elements of the old style bingo experience.
For example, there was usually a chat room where you could meet up with your mates. And the huge scale of them also meant that there were some seriously big cash prizes to be won.
Moving on to today, there are also lots of fun new games that can be played on PCs and mobile devices in the comfort of your own home without ever having to worry about invoking the anger of your fellow players.
Some sites have even started offering an ingenious mash up of slots machines and bingo. It’s called Slingo and it’s this idea of re-purposing of fruit machines that could also come to the rescue of some other industries too!
The rebirth of the bingo hall
And let’s not forget that we’re living in the age of irony so it’s hardly surprising that live bingo is also being reinvented for the hipster generation so it’s part game, part rave and part foam party.
Whether this is going to bring in the old-style players remains to be seen but it’ll be a fascinating sociological experiment if it does.
It’s also a time when the traditional high street’s finding itself under siege from online attackers on all sides.
So, it might not be too long until some of our favourite retailers have to take matters into their own hands and ride the resurgent crest of the bingo wave to pull in some of those missing shoppers.
So put aside all those prejudices about bingo and start to get with the programme.
It could be that you’ll discover that it’s what’s been missing from your life all along – and it’s also the perfect preparation for adopting all those other forgotten pleasures of yesteryear including caravanning, train spotting and even stamp collecting.