They say that some form of bingo has been played for over 500 years now, but it’s still as popular today as it’s always been and is very much part of our culture. Admittedly, the heyday of the bingo hall may have passed and more and more people are playing bingo for money online these days but it still also features in a wide range of movies and even TV shows.
To go back to the very beginning, a game very like bingo called Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, was introduced by the Italian government in the 16th century to raise money for the state but the game that we play today was the brainchild of an American travelling salesman called Edwin Lowe. At first it was called Beano but when Lowe was watching a game he heard someone call out “Bingo” by mistake when they had won and he decided this would be a far more catchy name – and it stuck.
Bingo first started to catch on in the UK in the 1950s. Ironically, falling numbers of film goers who were deserting the medium for television meant that there were lots of empty cinemas that were converted into bingo halls. It was so popular because it offered a relatively cheap night out where players could meet up with friends, enjoy a game and a few drinks and, if they were lucky, go home with some winnings in their pockets too.
By the 1960s bingo had taken the country by storm and it reached its peak in the 1970s when there were about 2000 bingo halls across the country. Soon, however, alternative forms of entertainment started to emerge and attendances dwindled so by 2013 the number of halls had fallen to around 400.
However, all the while the popularity of online bingo had been growing keeping the game very much in the public eye and its inclusion in a number of films also helped to maintain its profile.
For example in Big Momma’s House 2, the undercover FBI agent Malcolm, aka Big Momma, takes the family who are under his surveillance to a bingo game to show how he/she spends her spare time in order to reinforce the disguise. But it all goes hilariously wrong when the son of the family, who’s not spoken at all until this point, starts shouting out “Bingo” with predictably chaotic results.
There’s another bingo cameo in the 2012 Adam Sandler film Hotel Transylvania when the ghouls and monsters staying in Dracula’s hotel enjoy a break from the day-to-day by having a game.
Bingo also appears on the small screen in an episode of the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul. In order to try and get some extra work for his law practice Saul agrees to be a bingo caller at an old people’s home. However he’s drawn into a totally inappropriate rant about his life and how much he hates being stuck out in the New Mexico desert.
Lots of critics think it’s one of the best comic scenes from the series and it’s certainly a great example of how the game first played so many centuries ago still has a very relevant place in popular culture today.