Playing Bingo

Helen Fox: The Passing Of The First Bingo Caller

By Helen Fox. In this very moving piece, Helen recounts the last days of her husband Gerry, and also looks back over her life with Gerry, and his impact on the bingo scene in the sixties.

The room is basked in the most wonderful summer sunshine and as I look towards the bed I can see my once handsome husband drifting away from this world, his face showing no signs of pain or distress just a quiet breath and then nothing, he was gone, gone from me forever. So I sit and look not believing what has just happened before my eyes. No more pain, no more trying to breath when he walked, the hardship of eating and trying to breath, all gone, my darling is out of his misery. I cannot say this is the darkest thing in my life, but I can say this is the darkest that I have had to deal with on my own, because my wonderful husband was always there to lift me up when I was down. Fifty four years of love and devotion gone in the blink of an eye.

I can remember all the wonderful times we shared. I cut off a lock of his hair and hold it, not knowing what I would do with it, his hair was his pride and joy, he only let me cut and style it. I sit and think, and the first thing that comes to mind is I do not want to be a widow. I want to keep all the wonderful memories and have them with my Gerald, but this is not going to happen, life for him is over. I ask myself how can this be? No one to say "Good night, God bless, sleep tight". No one to hold my hand until we fall asleep, no one to call out "Good morning, did you sleep well?", "How are you today?".

Thinking back I was a little over 14 years of age when we met, he was two years older and a real good looker, tall, dark, handsome and smartly dressed. When he asked me to dance I nearly fell to the floor, I loved dancing and he was my perfect partner that; started a life of love and caring.

We loved the music of the day, Bill Haley and his 'Twist' and Nat King Cole's 'Too Young', because family would say that's what we were. There were many other songs he would sing to me. But now my favourites are: 'The Last Time I Felt Like This' (we would play it over and over again, now I play it over and over because the words are so poignant) and, 'You Ask Me If I Love You' and so I sit and listen and cry. What wonderful memories, but the pain and hurt is terrible.

Five years later we married and had the first of our four children, a beautiful baby girl, he always said she was the one he had the longest, he was a remarkable dad giving the same love to all the children. We enjoyed wonderful holidays, always going somewhere of interest to the children and our holidays in Torquay were the best, so many happy memories. For many many years we did not have a holiday on our own, and when we did we did not know how to enjoy ourselves without our children.

He had a good imaginative mind and thought of opening an old cinema which no longer showed films as a bingo hall. There was no-one doing this in London this was in the East End and was before Top Rank or Mecca so the biggest hit since talkies on films came about by him. Because of Television people had stopped going to the cinema but bingo brought them out and so bingo began and began by him. The opening night was just like the Oscars, police on horse back had to hold back the crowds, everyone wanted to be there. This was in 1961, his name was on everyone's lips; the local papers ran stories about him and bingo was a hit with the public. Everything he had done to bring bingo to the masses was a success. He was the caller and with his charm for calling the numbers they loved him. The membership was overwhelming, everyone over 18 wanted to join and join they did. They paid half a crown entrance (12 and half pence) in today's money, they bought bingo cards and played to win money and to hear his lovable banter. It was not many months later that the idea of bingo clubs started to spring up all over the country.

His health had started to fail, the strain of doing everything in the bingo hall started to show on him and when the big names started opening up bingo halls in their run-down cinemas. He could not compete with their large operations which could hold thousands of people and had very big nightly money wins. He got very run down and was hospitalised with T.B., but as usual with his strong mind and determination he got better quite quickly, although he did not give up smoking cigarettes; he had been and still was a big smoker. The big outlets had been on the lookout for bingo callers so when he sold out he got a job with Top Rank and was their blue eyed boy, people followed him all over the country where he called. They loved him. I can remember women stopping in the street to say "Hello, hope I get a win tonight if you are calling". And the name Gerry Fox was on all their lips

He decided that the life he had been leading in smoky bingo halls was not good for him and now the competition was everywhere, suddenly everyone wanted to be a bingo caller. He thought that a change would be good.

With the small capital he had from selling his bingo hall he bought ladies knitwear in large amounts and sold them in street markets. It was a living and the fresh air was good for him, although he was still smoking heavy. The good business brain he had enabled him to open his first shop and the business was a success. Fast forward a few years.

When the worst thing in any parent's lives happened our two younger children were crossing the road on the zebra crossing to come to him in the shop when a police car speeding at 80 miles an hour ignored them and ran them down. Later our daughter died of her injuries and our son was very seriously ill in hospital. The pain he suffered was unspeakable, we were both devastated. The biggest test of his wonderful courage and determination started. He was my backbone without him I could never have carried on. It is the hardest thing to bury a child but this should not have happened, the police asked to be at the funeral and he allowed this, but was determined to take this case to the highest court in the land.

It took a long time but the police driver was accused of death by dangerous driving at the Old Bailey, and found guilty. To our disgust the police driver was only fined £25 and not able to drive a police car any longer, but he could drive his own car. It took our son much longer to get over the injuries he sustained, he lost his second front teeth and had to wear dentures. For a young boy of 9 years old this was very hard. He also could not walk for a long time as his leg was broken from the hip, and he had a bad head injury as well. Afterwards he suffered epilepsy for many many years which interfered with him driving, but he did get better and was able to drive at 21, get married and have two sons.

Then we had another son. He could never replace the loss of our daughter, and was never intended to, but this was the best thing that happened in our lives. He was and still is a delight. He is married and has two children, a boy who is the double of him and a daughter who is named after his sister whom he never knew. He has told us that he regrets not knowing the little girl whose picture hangs on our wall, and loves all the stories we tell him about her.

Our first daughter is the best daughter any parent could wish for. After all, she lost a sister – she never showed her loss and we know this was for fear it would upset us, but her dad said she would always be there for me. He always knew I would have her to look after me, and this has been proved by the way she cares for me. She has a daughter named after her sister and is as lovely, just like her, and that daughter has three children.

The many years of smoking left my darling with emphysema, which now we know is a killer. Years of attending hospitals for new medications and giving up smoking did nothing to help this killer disease and it left him a shadow of the man he once was. His lungs were slowly showing signs of deterioration, and then he was gone.

Our children are all grown up now and married with families of their own, we have six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. What a wonderful family life we have got. We all have to get on with our lives without him, which is a very difficult thing to do.

But now I have to carry on, on my own, his legacy to me is our children. We all miss his advice, who can we ask, because we always said "Ask Dad, he knows".I always think the telephone will ring and it will be him, but know that it is my mind. My love will never die, I miss and need him so much. And that lock of hair that is in a gold locket with his photo remains on a chain around my neck.

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