Brett Hyrjak came to the attention of bingo players here in the UK when he won the National Bingo Game Association’s Bingo Caller Of The Year competition back in November 2006.
Brett’s home club is the Bognor Regis Butlins Gala Club. Since winning the competition, he’s had a busy schedule. As well as his normal calling duties, he’s been busy calling the numbers on Gala Bingo’s interactive TV channel.
Playing Bingo caught up with Brett for an interview to ask him some questions about winning the competition, the state of the industry, future plans and about calling bingo.
Playing Bingo: Were you a bingo player before you began working in a bingo club?
Brett Hyrjak: No, I only played once before I joined the industry. My mother dragged me to bingo when I was in between jobs and I saw a notice up in the foyer asking for staff. I applied thinking it would be an easy job, boy was I wrong!
Playing Bingo: Did you find bingo calling easy to pick up?
Brett Hyrjak: At first it was pretty daunting. I had a fear of missing people’s claims at the beginning, and got lots of comments saying I sounded clear, but was calling a bit slow; that was because I was so nervous! However I got into the swing of things quite easily and in a few weeks I was calling big games in front of hundreds of people.
Playing Bingo: What’s the best tip you have for bingo callers who are learning to
Brett Hyrjak: I always say to the callers that I train that it takes 5 minutes to teach them how to use the equipment, but a lot longer to be a competent caller. Bingo players can sense a ‘weak’ caller and can sometimes give a new caller a rough ride.
To be a good caller you need to have a strong personality and the ability to run the session smoothly. My advice to anyone who is a caller and wants to become a good caller is to study the game (rules of play, bingo legislation, in-club events, etc). The more that you know, the slicker you will be on stage.
Playing Bingo: What preparations did you make ahead of the competition and did you develop any special moves for it?
Brett Hyrjak: Basically I studied the rules and regulations of the game as half of the marks of the competition are based in an interview style environment with each judge asking you questions on different aspects of the industry. A portion of the competition is also entertainment based where you get three minutes to ‘wow the crowd’. I ended up cracking a couple of jokes and singing some swing! The easiest bit of the competition is the calling aspect of it as it is what I do every day!
Playing Bingo: How did it feel when you were announced as the winner?
Brett Hyrjak: It was an amazing feeling. I nearly grabbed Esther Rantzen (the celebrity guest) but restrained myself! The rest of the night was a bit of a blur, I was thrown from interview to interview and ended up at the BBC for a live radio show before returning to the hotel for a surreal meal with my girlfriend and fast asleep by 10 ‘o’clock!
Playing Bingo: What sort of welcome did you get back at your home club?
Brett Hyrjak: Unfortunately I couldn’t join in the celebrations with my customers back at the club because of all the interviews! However I was told that the manager cracked open the bubbly and merriment ensued! I then had a week off and spent some time on GalaTV but when I finally returned to Bognor Regis the reaction was amazing. I’m still being stopped in the street by people on my days off to congratulate me. I can’t escape bingo!
Playing Bingo: What’s been the best thing about the win and how much has it changed
Brett Hyrjak: It’s an amazing feeling to be the best in your profession, I’ve been doing the competition for the last four years and have been involved in bingo for the last 7 years. To win the title is an amazing achievement and I feel that I have reached the pinnacle in terms of calling.
My life has changed a lot since winning the title. I am now an ambassador for the bingo industry which means that I am a spokesperson of the game for the next year. Since winning I have done numerous interviews and have recently been an MC and called bingo for a Weight Watchers AGM. On top of this I am one of the faces on Gala’s new interactive bingo show, GalaTV on the sky network channel 841.
Playing Bingo: Any tips for callers entering this years competition?
Brett Hyrjak: Yes, study your bingo knowledge and sell yourself. You need to have some self-belief to win the competition and know that you are a good caller. The NBGA are looking for an ambassador and a spokesperson for the industry, therefore you are being judged on all aspects of your personality. Above all else be yourself, and don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. In my personal life I am quite a shy person but when I am on stage or in front of the media I am the same person, just magnified x10!
Playing Bingo: What can bingo clubs do to attract new generations of players over
Brett Hyrjak: I think the industry already is attracting a younger generation of clientele. Bingo is the number 1 leisure activity for women aged between 18-35, and in my own experience the age of both men and women coming to bingo halls has got younger over the last few years.
Bingo is also adapting to newer technologies and newer media to attract younger people and new members. With the introduction of electronic bingo terminals in the majority of clubs now and the availability of bingo over the internet and more recently on TV, more people than ever have got the opportunity to experience the thrill of playing this great game!
Playing Bingo: Ahead of the smoking ban, do you think the industry is doing enough to come up with new ways of attracting new players for the game?
Brett Hyrjak: At present I am unaware of any new incentives to bring in new members ahead of the July 1st ban. Obviously the ban will have an impact on all bingo clubs, both corporate and independent. I think what we shall see in the long term is the smoking attitudes will change.
Don’t forget that it was just 25 years ago that smoking was not permitted in cinemas and theatres and that did not signal the end of those industries. People have gotten used to not smoking on public transport / air planes etc and I’m sure smokers will adapt and embrace the new rules eventually.
Playing Bingo: What are your plans for the future?
Brett Hyrjak: I aim to fulfil my role as Bingo Caller Of The Year to the fullness of my ability, during the course of the year, up until December when I hand my title to the next champion bingo caller. My main ambitions lie in my company’s new venture into the interactive bingo market; GalaTV.
I have been involved in the project since August and have thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. The idea of GalaTV is to bring the excitement of Gala Bingo to the TV audience. The station prides itself on the ‘3 F’s’: Fun, Friendly, and Fair.
Fun: not only do we play bingo, we also have interim games, competitions, and quizzes to keep the viewer entertained.
Friendly: everyone that is on the show is a bingo fan and through texting, e-mails and inviting members to the show, we are trying to create the same sort of community that you get in traditional bingo halls.
Fair: unlike other gaming channels, we guarantee at least three wins a game, with everyone having a chance of winning.
I would like to see myself in the next year still involved in this project, attracting new and existing members into the bingo phenomenon.
Playing Bingo: What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you doing
Brett Hyrjak: Anybody knows that one of the most annoying things at bingo is when someone’s phone rings during the session. The majority of clubs frown on the use of mobiles and some even charge charity penalties for anyone’s that rings during the bingo.
Anyway it was a huge party night at our club a couple of years ago and I was suited and booted in my tux. After going through all the rules at the beginning of the mains, including my usual speech about turning mobiles off I proceeded to start the first game when all of a sudden a mobile started chirping…mine!
I had put it in my inside pocket and forgotten to leave it in my locker. To a cacophony of shouts of ‘hypocrite’ I decided to answer it and proceeded to have a conversation with my girlfriend live on stage and involve the customers as well, I got them to all shout ‘Hello Max’ to my girl! That was the first and only time I forgot to leave my phone in my locker!
Playing Bingo: What’s the thing that most annoys you as a bingo caller?
Brett Hyrjak: People that think that bingo is still all about ‘two-fat ladies’ and ‘clickety-click’ and that bingo is only for the elderly and women. If I had a pound for every new customer who has said to me “I never realised that bingo was THIS fun” then I would have a few quid at least! Part of my job as the Bingo Caller Of The Year is to promote the fun and excitement of the game to the masses!
Playing Bingo: If you weren’t a bingo caller, what would your ideal job be?
Brett Hyrjak: I’ve always wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. When I was young I studied drama in London for 3 years and struggled to be an actor for a year before running out of money and returning to good old Bognor Regis. Now with the recent developments regarding GalaTV I feel my ambitions have come full-circle!
Playing Bingo: Do you enjoy a game of bingo yourself?
Brett Hyrjak: Being absolutely honest I do love a game of bingo, although I do limit myself to about 2-4 visits per month otherwise it would feel like I was on a busman’s holiday!
I’m one of those bingo players that constantly curses the caller though-especially when I’m waiting for one number. You would think that I would be a bit more compassionate but I’m not! I can also be very critical of another persons calling which drives my girlfriend potty sometimes when I start to talk to her about the caller not pronouncing his ‘T’s properly!