The Bingo Craze Started

Helen Fox contacted us with a memory of the old Goldsmith Row Standard Bingo club, and told us that she had been writing about the venue as well, but had not had the piece published, so naturally we offered to commission Helen for the piece, and here is her story of the birth of the club.

Author: Helen Fox

The Standard Cinema Goldsmith Row had stopped showing films because people rarely went to the cinema any longer, television had put pay to that. The Standard Cinema closed down for a number of years, and the building became a ruin. Gerry never knew the original owners – it had been a thriving cinema for a number of years and no one knew what to do with it until Gerry had the idea of opening it as a Bingo Hall, but convincing anyone in 1961 that this would work was a very hard thing to do. Gerry knew he could run it and do everything that was needed and was confident that the venture would be a success because the Standard would be the first privately owned cinema in London to open as a Bingo Hall – long before Top Rank or Mecca did this. When the big people opened for Bingo, it was only for one or two days a week. Gerry opened The Standard for the whole week, every day, long before they did.

Opening night of the Standard Bingo Club was very exciting. The members paid 2s 6p old money to enter, and it was packed to capacity. They bought bingo cards to play and win money; it started as an idea by Gerry. He wanted to open the first privately owned bingo club from an old cinema which he did. He had already sent membership cards out to all the houses and flats around Goldsmith Row, and people could also come in and join at the Standard. It held 800 people. We had a canteen which was manned by two elderly women who made sandwiches and hot dogs, and supplied crisps, nuts, tea and coffee. There were no cans in those days, orange squash was supplied from a big jug and put in paper cups. Gerry wanted to give the women a part time job so they could some extra money to help with their pension, and he also found an old boy to sell ice creams from a tray round his neck. Gerry had said he hoped Izzy – funny that is the only name I can remember – would not drop dead carrying the tray. When the old boy did not turn up for a few days, Gerry telephoned his daughter to find out where he was, and low and behold poor old Izzy had died. Did Gerry have a premonition? I cannot say, but lets hope he gave Izzy a little happiness for those couple of months. Afterwards an elderly Canadian got the job.

Gerry had found an electrician to make a bingo board with numbers on it and a switch behind that would be turned on when the numbers were called. This was done by a very young chap called George, I do not know where he came from all I know he was so happy to do the work he whistled all the time. Gerry had a transparent box with numbered coloured balls which whirled round and came out one by one. He had a unique way of calling and the crowds loved him; his two fat ladies always used to get a cheer, also his coloured socks he used to ware were two different coloured ones on each foot and the audience had to guess what colours he had on each night. He was always so smart, always wearing a black dress suit and bow tie with a white shirt.

Except for the removal of the cinema screen and some interior alterations, the cinema was the same as it was in the film days and used the same red upholstered chairs. He had to get performing rights to have music played, and he changed the lighting so that they were brighter. The doors were about to open on 5th May 1961 for the Standard to become alive once again but this time for bingo, and the crowds were collecting outside Goldsmith Row. Police on horseback were holding them back and the newspapers were there. The Hackney Gazette ran a story headed “The Clickety – Click Craze” saying that Bernard Bresslaw, Joe Baker and Don Fox were there to open the Standard as a Bingo Club. The East London Advertiser also ran a story headed “Eyes Down” for a Full House.

Everyone was excited to buy the bingo cards and to have a chance of winning some money. The first winner on that first night was Mrs Lilian Petsing who won £65.17s. 6d. I wonder where she is now?

This was a very happy time for Gerry, but soon the big people, Top Rank and Mecca would open their halls, which held thousands, and offered lots of other prizes, such as prize bingo, gifts and holidays and so the crowds stopped coming to the Standard. Gerry was introduced to someone who wanted to make the Standard into a snooker hall. The new gaming act was coming in and the two slot machines in Standard Bingo could now be turned into many more, so he sold out. Gerry had a good rapport with all the staff that were at the Standard, and they were very sad to see their time there was finished…but then Gerry went to Top Rank.

To be continued…but the memories of the Standard Bingo Goldsmith Row will never die, only fade. The many people who were connected with the Standard Bingo are all long gone just like Gerry to that ‘Bingo Hall in the Sky’. But I can say how proud I was to be with such a flamboyant man.

Playing Bingo

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