Bingo And John Major?

There was a recent article in The Economist about the sad demise of many bingo halls. The article was a succinct description of bingo’s ‘place within society’, including a ‘potted history’ of bingo over the last century and also a bit of a lament. The one thing about the article this author disagrees with is the link with a “John Majorish view of England”. Firstly, the bingo mad Scots may have something to say about it! Secondly, the connotations of ‘willow on leather’ do not exactly fit in with the class basis of the bingo players of ‘England’.

Bingo always was, and will probably always be a working class pastime. John Major’s politics were always based on an ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ vision of ‘England’ (or these days ‘Downton Abbey’). The only way the working classes fitted into his political agenda were as they always had been, mending the picket fences and cleaning the toilets of the chattering classes while they drank Pimms. Then after a hard days work, it’s off to bingo or the pub to help forget the fact that the worker’s outside toilet was broken, the coal bunker empty, and the scissors they used to cut up newspaper for the ‘lavvie’ had been pawned.

Maybe in a way it is a good description, but one pregnant with hidden values that many people might not agree with. Bingo halls were never the center of fervent political activity (they’d have been shushed), however, their patrons were never beneficiaries of the class system, the opposite in fact. Aneurin Bevan, and his successors (pre-Blair) might have in fact seen bingo as a bit of a scourge, as although it’s at the soft end of the gambling spectrum, it is nevertheless what Marx would have referred to as a people’s opiate, and all opiates are to some degree harmful.

Bingo is in our minds one last true symbol of community in “…a country that is becoming rootless”. Maybe John Major would applaud bingo, as long as it kept his footman’s wife happy, leaving his footman in a good mood, while whistling a merry tune and putting a perfect crease in Mr Major’s ‘plus fours’. It seems that many people love bingo, and view its demise with chagrin, but, for very different reasons. Read the original article here.

Note: Whilst this article may appear to be a bit on the ‘lefty side’, I’d like to counterbalance by noting that both the Tories and Labour used to raise funds with bingo in the middle of the previous century, despite the game’s illegality at the time. In a sense it’s apolitical (those who have risen through the ranks rarely end up truly representing their constituents’ real needs – be they from the left, or the right).

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