Bingo Number Names History And Meanings By Dr. Carolyn Downs

Bingo Number Names History And Meanings Part 1: Introduction

In her latest piece for Playing Bingo, historian Dr Carolyn Downs takes a look at the history of bingo number calls, their importance and their origins.

Author: Carolyn Downs

Two Fat Ladies, Clickety-Click: Rhyming Bingo Calls & The English Language

If you were to ask a group of people what they know about bingo it is pretty certain that rhyming calls would be one thing that they could all identify as being part of the game. They would probably also be able to remember several of them too, ‘two fat ladies, 88’ or ‘two little ducks’. Except that, as bingo players know very well, rhyming calls have not been part of the commercial game of bingo since the Gaming Board of Great Britain moved to ban them from commercial halls after the Gaming Act of 1968, although they retain a place at some seaside arcades, in charitable games and in working men’s and ex-services clubs where the game is played as entertainment.

Why is it then that people who do not play bingo remember the calls? Bingo calls are part of popular culture. They are used in press headlines, as titles for TV shows, on funny birthday cards, in comedy shows, and in fact, in bingo games held in non-commercial settings, where they retain their hold on the game, and in many cases are part of a repartee between caller and players, with a whole raft of traditional responses that are used alongside the calls and add atmosphere to the game.

Social Class And Language

In the early 21st Century class differences are far less noticeable than in the past, although they do still have an impact. It is in the use of our common language that many of the most noticeable indicators of class difference lie, both in accent and in vocabulary. Curiosity about how different people spoke developed through the later 19th and 20th Centuries and efforts were made to collect examples of different dialects and traditional ways of speaking before they died out, while the study of language and dialect became a respectable area for research. This interest in how language worked is seen in George Bernard Shaw’s famous play Pygmalion, which later became the hugely successful musical, My Fair Lady.

Idiomatic Phrases

One of the key features of the type of language identified by researchers as belonging to the working classes was that the use of idiomatic phrases was common. Idiomatic phrases are those which do not mean exactly what they say. Phrases such as ‘turn over a new leaf’ often cause immense confusion to people learning English, as they do not understand the phrase has nothing to do with gardening and everything to do with becoming a better person.

The calls adopted by bingo reflect this aspect of popular styles of speech, using idiomatic phrases and slang and being based upon shared knowledge and understanding, a group culture that outsiders are not familiar with. Researchers also found that the way in which groups of people share a common language, in terms of dialect or idiom, helped strengthen group identity. This seems relevant to bingo, an activity where the players feel a strong sense of identity and loyalty to club and game.

A Working Class Game?

The links between bingo and social class have a long history. The game was the only legal gambling activity allowed in the British Armed Forces (from around 1890) , where it was considered to be particularly the preserve of ‘generations of the British Tommy’; while evidence given by the police in the 1930s noted that the game was mostly played by, ‘women of the poorer sort’. [1] Later studies of the gambling habits of the British came to the same conclusion. The Gaming Board of Great Britain collected data on player profiles from 1969 and consistently found that the majority of bingo players are working-class; with more women than men playing in commercial clubs while more men than women played in ex-services and other CIU clubs.

Twentieth century working class popular culture was in many ways a commercial culture. It had its roots in the music halls and professional sport that developed in the nineteenth century, grew in the cinema, radio and dance halls of the early twentieth century, and came to rest after the Second World War in widespread access to recorded music and television. All of these activities have to some extent spawned a language that is at first particular to that activity but that has often spread into the general vocabulary of the English. ‘Top of the bill’ comes from the music hall, but survives even today to be used in a variety of settings, ‘going to the dogs’ referred to a trip to the local greyhound stadium – most of which are long gone, but the phrase has an idiomatic meaning too, suggesting someone whose life has deteriorated in some way.

Although there was almost no awareness amongst the middle classes of the extent to which bingo was a popular leisure activity amongst the working classes before the Betting and Gaming Act (1960) the one thing that was widely known about the game was that rhyming calls played a part. The rhyming calls used in bingo were primarily there to slow the game down but many of the expressions have come into everyday language. This transfer of language is described in the account taken from an oral history of the soldiers of the First World War, ‘Deaths Men’:

The most complex game tolerated by the authorities was House. Twenty-four cards were issued at two shillings and six pence a time. Each card had three lines with five numbers on. One man handled the cash and cards while the other called out the numbers. Ninety pips were drawn out of a bag and each number had its epithet – Kelly’s eye for one, doctor’s shop for nine, ten and twenty were blind, legs eleven, twenty-two dunky doo, [dinky doo] thirty-three, Gerty Lee; top of the bleeding bungalow, and so on. The game was taken into everyday speech – ‘What time is it?’ ‘Legs eleven’. Men would cover the called numbers with pieces of bread, and the first to cover his lines would shout ‘House’, and won the stake. The first game would be free. [2]

The game needed to be slowed down because in order for it to be seen to be fair there had to be some sort of random number generation. In the forces and in charitable games this was a bag of numbered counters that could be shaken up in between calls and a number pulled out, often by someone assisting the caller in order to guard against suggestions of cheating. In more commercial settings, such as at the seaside or in the illegal but popular cash bingo parlours that operated from the 1930s the calls were equally as important. The Metropolitan Police sent two undercover women police officers to stake out one such bingo parlour in 1939 and they provide a detailed description of how the mechanics of the game worked. In the centre of the open rectangle created by tables at which the players sat was a large box, divided into numbered sections – one to ninety. The assistant had a supply of wooden balls that were handed in turn to each player seated round the rectangle. The player would throw the ball into the box, thus selecting the next number to be called [3]. This was considered far fairer by players than numbers drawn from a bag but was necessarily a slow process. In order to maintain the interest of the players and to accommodate the slow selection of numbers the rhyming calls that are now considered synonymous with bingo were used.

The phrases adopted for the calls are a mirror of popular, mass culture through the twentieth century, with some of the phrases still in use dating back to the era of music hall and others coming from radio, hit songs and television. The range of phrases and terms also encompasses those that relate specifically to the military and naval traditions, as well as to the spread of Hollywood films and popular entertainment and entertainers.

Bingo Number Names History And Meanings Part 2: Calls 1 – 45

Part two of Dr Carolyn Downs history of bingo number calls, their importance and their origins.

Author: Carolyn Downs

The Calls – Part 1

This list is by no means conclusive; bingo calls vary between towns, between settings and between callers; similarly, some that appear to be either rhymes or visual puns may have other meanings too, that have not yet been tracked down.

1. Kelly’s eye, Buttered Scone, At the Beginning, Nelson’s Column, Little Jimmy.

There is no agreement about the origin of Kelly’s eye, but this is the most common of the calls for number one. A possible origin is the popular music hall song, ‘Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?’ (1907) by C.W. Murphy and Will Letters. The original version included a line about Kelly being from the Isle of Man and was popularised in England by Florrie Forde who recorded the song. William J. McKenna altered the lyrics in 1909 to make the song more suitable for the Irish Americans who frequented the American vaudeville. [1]

Has anybody here seen Kelly?
K E double L Y
Has anybody here seen Kelly?
Have you seen him smile?
Sure his hair is red
His eyes are blue
And He’s Irish thru and thru
Has anybody here seen Kelly?
Kelly from the Emerald Isle.[2]

The lyrics are now associated with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States of America and are mentioned in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses as a popular working class song. Valiant comic adopted the term Kelly’s Eye in its first edition, published at the height of the commercial bingo boom in 1962, indicating that press reports of the games popularity amongst the young when it was first commercialised were not necessarily exaggerated. Tim Kelly (the hero) found the good eye (a big diamond which he wore round his neck) and had to find the evil eye and destroy it to save the world; Fleetway comics published Valiant as a companion comic to Hurricane. While an origin for the term Kelly’s Eye, cannot be traced, as dictionaries of slang all give the origin as military, used in bingo. ‘Little Jimmy’ is a later call, and relates to Little Jimmy Osmond who had a string of hits (the first in 1972) popular with middle aged ladies.

2. One Little Duck, Me an’ you, Dirty Old Jew, Baby’s Done It, Doctor Who.

‘One Little Duck’ is the first of the visual puns that are a common feature of many calls. The other calls used to represent the number two reflect a clear progression over time. The oldest two are ‘Me an’ you’, (cockney) ‘Dirty Old Jew’, (acceptable terminology in pre-World War Two England). ‘Baby’s Done It’ refers back to the euphemism for defecation ‘doing a number two’, while ‘Dr. Who’ cannot have been adopted into the lexicography of the game until after 1963.

3. Goodness me! I’m Free, Debbie McGee, One Little Flea.

While ‘Goodness me!’ appears to have no particular context other than a simple rhyme, ‘I’m Free’ and ‘Debbie McGee’ are both television related, and refer to extremely popular BBC1 programmes. ‘I’m free!’ was the catchphrase of John Inman who played the character Mr. Humphries in the sitcom ‘Are you Being Served?’ the feed line was ‘Are you free Mr. Humphries?’ the series ran from 1972. ‘Debbie McGee’ was the assistant to the television magician Paul Daniels, whose show run from 1979. As with all of the other television related bingo calls, the popularity of the programme with a mass audience seems to be essential for an element from the show to enter into popular use. ‘One Little Flea’ is a visual pun; close inspection of the body of a flea reveals it to have a shape not dissimilar to a figure ‘3’ rotated 180o anti-clockwise.

4. Knock at the Door.

This call may have been adopted because it is part of a popular children’s nursery rhyme, ‘One two, buckle my shoe, three four, knock at the door’.

5. Jack’s Alive, Dead Alive, Man Alive.

‘Man Alive’ was the BBC documentary strand that pioneered modern techniques of reportage, first broadcast in 1965. The inclusion of this BBC2 programme suggests that it had a wide popular base, and certainly, its reporters did establish a degree of celebrity not usually accorded to those working on the channel.

6. Tom Mix, Spot Below, Chopsticks.

‘Spot Below’ was a common call in military games, because numbers that could be mis-read had a spot underneath to prevent confusion. The survival of ‘Tom Mix’ as a call (heard on Margate seafront as recently as summer 2003) is surprising. He was one of the original cowboy heroes, starring in silent movies and never really making it in talkies. His career lasted from 1909 to 1935, during which period he made 336 feature films of which only nine were talkies. The films were noted for fast action and daredevil stunts performed by Tom Mix himself.[3]

7. One Little Crutch, God’s in Heaven, Lucky Seven.

‘One Little Crutch’ is another visual pun, and may perhaps date the First World War when there were many injured men using crutches to aid their mobility. All of these calls appear in accounts of games held in the 1950s, and may very well date back to the First World War. Seven has been considered a lucky number since at least the time of Pythagoras, when the number was considered to be the perfect number, 3 and 4, the triangle and the square, while in ancient times there were seven visible planets and seven days of the week. God’s in Heaven is a simple rhyme for seven, but may also link to the popular poem by Robert Browning that was learned in classrooms up and down the Empire,
The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven–
All’s right with the world!

8. One fat lady, Garden Gate, Harry Tate, Gareth Gates.

‘One fat lady’ is a visual pun and garden gate is a simple rhyme that appears in counting and skipping games linked with the number 8. Harry Tate is an interesting call that appears to derive from the music hall in the early twentieth century and have been widely adopted by the military as a slang phrase that could cover a multitude of purposes. Harry Tate (1872-1940) was the stage name of Ronald Hutchison [4]. First as a solo performer and then as part of a double act with his son he was a top-of-the-bill act with a range of sketches that generated many popular catchphrases. These included ‘Goodbye-ee’, (the source of the popular World War One song) ‘How’s your father?’ and ‘I don’t think!’ The popularity of Harry Tate led to his name being adopted as a nickname for Major-General (Thomas) Herbert Shoubridge (1871-1923), who bore a remarkable facial resemblance to the comedian and the 1916 aircraft the RE8, not generally considered one of the best of those developed by Duxbridge [5]. However, the military did not stop applying his name to other purposes, including any Royal Naval Mate plus a type of slide rule, sugar (Tate and Lyle) and any chaotic situation that arose (the link with chaotic situations was because Harry Tate’s comic sketches always involved a large element of chaos). In the Second World War the name was adopted by The Royal Naval Patrol Service or Harry Tate’s Navy, a unit whose fleet was made up of hundreds of trawlers, whalers, drifters, paddle steamers, yachts, tugs and other sea-going craft, designated ‘Minor War Vessels’ by the Admiralty. It seems likely that the use of Harry Tate as a call in housey-housey dates back to the First World War.

harr tate

Harry Tate (1872-1940)
University Of Birmingham Centre
for First World War Studies.

Gareth Gates is a recent addition to the canon; he was the runner up in a popular television talent competition in 2002.

9. Doctor’s Orders or Doctors Joy.

Doctor’s Joy was the nickname for a purgative pill issued in the Royal Navy.

10. Cock an’ ‘en, Downing Street, Maggie’s Den, Tony’s Den, Uncle Ben’s ‘Cockle Cock and Hen’.

This claimed as cockney rhyming slang for number 10. [6] Interestingly, ‘John’s Den’ (for John Major), never took off, while the various prime ministers before Margaret Thatcher were not honoured by a bingo call, the address had a greater impact on mass consciousness than the incumbent before 1979. Uncle Ben’s is a brand of long-grain rice

11. Legs Eleven, Legs – they’re lovely.

The reference to legs in this call is another visual pun. Popular artist Jack Vettriano, himself brought up in a seaside resort, used the phrase as a title for one of his pictures – featuring a pair of elegant female legs. The Valiant did not restrict its adoption of popular bingo phrases into the ‘Kelly’s Eye’ strip, the comic also included ‘Legge’s Eleven’, about a football team of social outcasts. [7]
From here on, the double numbers, with the exceptions listed, are called with ‘and’ between the tens and digits.

12. One and two, a dozen, Monkey’s Cousin.

This is cockney rhyming slang, and rhymes with dozen

13. Unlucky For Some or Lucky For Some.

This number is considered unlucky in most Western cultures, although in Italy it is thought to be a lucky number. [8] In Christianity the number is considered significant as a portent of the crucifixion, since there were thirteen present at the Last Supper.

14. Valentine’s Day.

This falls on February 14th.

15. Rugby team, Young and Keen, Stroppy Teen.

Rugby teams have fifteen players; the other calls for fifteen are both rhyming and linked to age.

16. Sweet Sixteen.

This seems to be one of the earliest calls still in use and can be dated to an extremely popular song ‘When you were Sweet Sixteen’ written by James Thornton and first published in 1898. The sheet music and the pianola rolls were hugely popular, the chorus goes

‘I love you as I never loved before
Since first I met you on the village green
Come to me or my dream of love is O’er
I love you as I loved you,
When you were sweet
When you were sweet sixteen’ [9]

The song was first recorded by Jere Mahoney in 1900 and was regularly a commercial success in the period 1900 – 1981. Notable recordings include Al Jolson – 1929, Perry Como,1947, Bing Crosby 1947, Shirley Temple, Josef Locke; Bobby Darin; Val Doonican; The Ink Spots, and in 1981 The Fureys with Davy Arthur. [10]

17. Never Been Kissed, Old Ireland, Dancing Queen.

The never been kissed reference also follows on from ‘Sweet sixteen, never been kissed’. The ‘Old Ireland’ reference is to 17 March being St Patrick’s Day. A more modern call is ‘Dancing Queen’ an Abba hit in 1975.

18. Key of the Door, Now you can Vote.

The reduction of the age of majority in Great Britain from 21 to 18 took place on the 1 January 1970. The phrase to have the ‘key of the door’ refers to the tradition that children living at home with their parents would have a set time to return home, before their parents went to bed, but once they reached the age of majority they were allowed to decide for themselves when to return and could let themselves in with their own key.

19. Goodbye Teens.

Again an age related call.

20. Blind twenty, Getting Plenty.

The prefix ‘blind’ is used for the numbers 10-90 and is possibly a visual reference to zero looking like a single eye.

21. Coming of Age 21. Key of the Door, Royal Salute. ‘Bank Bang Bang’.

Until 1 January 1970 the age of majority in Great Britain was twenty-one
‘Royal Salute’ and ‘Bank bang-bang’, are naval calls referring to a twenty-one-gun salute.

22. PC Parker, All the Twos, Dinkie Doo, Ducks on a Pond.

Two Little Ducks PC Parker is another call (like ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Tom Mix’) that is still in use and is datable to the very early development of the British game. It refers to a very popular music hall character (c1910) created by Charles Austin (died 1944). The constable’s number may have been 22, but this is not clear. The character was immortalised by the cartoonist Will Spurrier for the magazine ‘Funny Cuts’. [11]

A popular aspect of the British seaside holiday was the end-of-the-pier concert party. ‘Dinkie Doo’ was a generic name for such concert parties, and was immortalised in the Ealing Comedy, starring George Formby ‘Let George Do It’ (1940). The film was the first Ealing comedy set in wartime Europe. George Formby was cast as a member of the Dinkie Doo Concert Party, and in typical Ealing style ended up in Norway acting as a British spy. [12]

23. Thee and Me, The Lords my Shepherd, A Duck with a Flea.

The inclusion of ‘The Lords my Shepherd’ (Psalm 23) in lists of calls is surprising, although it may have originated in the Catholic social clubs that did so much to popularise bingo in the 1950s. ‘A Duck with a Flea’ is a visual call.

24. Two Dozen, Pompey Whore. [13]

Despite listening to a number of games called at various ex-services club I have not heard the call ‘Pompey Whore’. However, it is claimed as a call on a website listing military calls and would relate to the navel town of Portsmouth, nicknamed Pompey by generations of sailors. That the call is not heard in ex-services clubs does not mean it was not used on naval vessels, simply that it is not considered suitable for use in mixed company.

25. Duck and Dive.

This phrase may originally have come from boxing, as it is used in accounts of boxing matches reported in the early nineteenth century.[14] However, the phrase has come to mean slippery or sneaky behaviour of any type in popular idiom.

26. Bed and Breakfast, Half a Crown, Pick and Mix.

All of the calls still in use for 26 refer back to pre-decimal coinage. The most common call still used is ‘Bed and Breakfast’ and seems to be the cost of a night in a guesthouse in old money, ‘Pick and Mix’ refers to the pre-decimal cost of half a pound of sweets from Woolworth’s.

27. Little Duck with a Crutch

Another visual pun.

28. The Old Brags, In a State, Over Weight.

‘The Old Brags’ is a nickname for the British regiment of 1/28th Foot The North Gloucestershire Regiment (later the 28 / 61st Gloucestershire Regiment) The nickname was in honour of Colonel Philip Bragg, who commanded the 28th Foot from 1734 to his death in 1759. ‘Overweight’ is a visual pun referring to the numeral ‘8’ also referred to as ‘Fat Lady’.

29. Rise and Shine, You’re Doing Fine, In Your Prime.

‘Rise and Shine’ is idiomatic use of language, with the phrase often used facetiously in the armed forces to encourage the troops to get out of bed. ‘In Your Prime’ is a reference to age, while ‘You’re Doing Fine’ is a simple rhyme.

30. Blind Thirty, Burlington Bertie, Speed Limit, Dirty Gertie, Flirty Thirty, Blind 3.

One of the oldest of this collection; and a surviving call that can still be heard in seaside arcades is ‘Burlington Bertie’. This is another popular music hall number first published in 1900 (music and lyrics by Harry B Norris) and made famous by Vesta Tilley. Ella Shields, also a male impersonator, sang a parody, ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow’, with words and tune by William Hargreaves, published in 1914, this was also vary popular. ‘Speed Limit’, the thirty mph speed limit is perhaps older than many people think, as it was established in built-up areas in 1935. ‘Dirty Gertie’, may be taken from the 1946 film of that name, although it may just have been an attractive rhyme. [15]

31. Get up and Run.

This may be linked to the services; Sergeants might well have shouted it at squaddies, but it may just be a simple rhyming phrase that has been adopted.

32. Buckle my Shoe. Jimmy Choo.

See children’s song at ‘4’, this has been updated with the call ‘Jimmy Choo’, an upmarket shoe designer made famous in Britain by the tabloid press as a result of his association with Princess Diana.

33. All the Threes, Three Feathers, Gertie Lee, Dirty Knees, ‘Sherwood Forest’, Two Little Fleas, Blind Thirty.

‘Three Feathers’ indicates the Prince of Wales, and although it may derive from the current Prince of Wales, it seems more likely to refer back to the period (1911-1936) when Edward VIII was Prince of Wales.. ‘Sherwood Forest’ is an interesting play on words; ‘all the threes’ could be pronounced ‘all the trees’ especially by callers with an Irish accent, and there are a lot of trees in Sherwood Forest. ‘Two Little Fleas’ is a visual reference to the shape of the insects.

34. Ask for More.

This is a rhyming phrase and perhaps refers to the Lionel Bart musical ‘Oliver’ that popularised the Dickens novel ‘Oliver Twist’ when it was first produced in 1963.

35. Jump and Jive.

The Jive was popularised in the 1940s, as a European version of the US Jitterbug.

36. Three Dozen


37. More than Eleven.

The origins of this call have eluded efforts to track them down, so it is categorised as a simple rhyme with the caveat that the actual origin is as yet unknown.

38. Christmas Cake.

Again a simple rhyme.

39. Steps, Those Famous Steps, All the steps.

The John Buchan book (1914) was a best seller in the Edwardian period, but is unlikely to be the inspiration for the bingo call. The Hitchcock film (1935) of the book was a huge success and is a more likely inspiration. The call may have been kept in the public imagination as it was re-made in 1959 and 1978.

40. Blind forty, Life Begins, Life begins at Forty, Naughty Forty, Two Score.

These calls are all age related, with forty being considered a milestone birthday in Britain. Eric Partridge gives the origin of the phrase ‘Life begins at 40’ to the book by W.B. Pitkin (1932) and the title of the self-help book is said to have become a catch-phrase in America within a year of the book’s publication.[16] The book was considered a ‘publishing phenomenon and generated popular songs and films with the same title. [17]

41. Time for Fun, Life’s Begun.

These link back to the call for forty.

42. Famous Street in Manhattan, Winnie the Pooh.

42nd Street was a hit movie in 1933, later becoming hugely popular as a musical. The two calls commonly used are almost certainly post 1960. Interestingly, the Douglas Adams Restaurant at the End of the Universe (part 2 of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), which features the number 42, does not appear in any calls. This is probably because whilst it is very well known amongst the chattering classes and of no relevance at all to those who play bingo. ‘Winnie the Pooh’ first appeared in the House at Pooh Corner in 1928, but the mass popularisation of the character really dates to the Disney adaptations, the first of which was released in 1966.

43. Down on your Knees.

Most likely just a simple rhyme, as there does not seem to be a religion or cleaning-related link here.

44. All the fours, Droopy Drawers, Open Two Doors. Aldershot Ladies, Diana Dors.

These calls offer a flavour of the various types of calls associated with the game. ‘Aldershot Ladies’ is another call claimed to be of military origin, and relies on the use of whores, which rhymes with four being replaced by the euphemism ‘ladies’.[18] Diana Dors rhymes with ‘All the Fours’, but in addition, Diana Dors was a regular on the cash bingo circuit, opening new clubs and calling celebrity games to attract large audiences. She was reputedly paid £300 cash for appearances in bingo halls.[19] ‘Open Two Doors’ is a visual pun while ‘Droopy Drawers’ is probably a simple rhyme.

45. Halfway house, Halfway There.

Bingo uses the numbers one to ninety.

Bingo Number Names History And Meanings Part 3: Calls 46 – 90

Part three of Dr Carolyn Downs’ history of bingo number calls, their importance and their origins.

Author: Carolyn Downs

The Calls – Part 2

This list is by no means conclusive; bingo calls vary between towns, between settings and between callers; similarly, some that appear to be either rhymes or visual puns may have other meanings too, that have not yet been tracked down.

46. Up to Tricks.

A simple rhyme.

47. Four and Seven.

48. Four dozen

49. Rise and Shine, PC 49, Copper, Nick-Nick.

‘PC 49’ is taken from the popular radio show that was broadcast by the BBC from 1947 to 1953: ‘Incidents in the career of Police Constable Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby’. This call, unlike the call for 22, ‘PC Parker’ has evolved over time to become ‘Copper’, and later to borrow the working class comedian Jim Davidson’s catch phrase ‘Nick Nick’ (c.1977).

50. Blind fifty.

Bull’s Eye (on a dart board).

51. The Highland Div[ision], Tweak of the Thumb, I Love My Mum.

The 51st Highland Division was a first line division of the territorial force, formed in 1908. They saw continuous front-line action during the First World War. [1] The other two calls here are rhymes.

52. The Lowland Div[ision], Danny La Rue, Weeks of the Year.

The 52nd were a Territorial Army division and saw action in the first and second world wars. Danny La Rue became famous in the early 1960s as a glamorous drag artist and entertainer, especially on the BBC television programme ‘The Good Old Days’.

53. The Welsh Div[ision], Stuck in the Tree.

The 53rd were a Territorial Army division and saw action in the First and Second World Wars.

54. Clean the Floor.

A simple rhyme.

55. All the fives, Snakes Alive.

Snakes Alive was a phrase used in American comic strips of the inter-war and immediate post-war era, including in Little Orphan Annie.

56. Five and Six.

57. Heinz Varieties, All the Beans, Heinz.

Heinz canned products have been available in Britain throughout the twentieth century. The ‘Heinz 57 Varieties’ slogan was first used in 1896. The origin of the slogan was an advertisement for ‘21 styles of shoes’. Henry John Heinz thought he could adopt a similar slogan but that his own products were varieties. The number 57 does not relate to the number of products made by the company, which was greater than 57 even in 1896, but rather to the significance of the 5 and 7 to Henry Heinz and his wife. [2]

58. Make them Wait.

A simple rhyme.

59. The Brighton Line.

This call also survives, although seemingly only in the south of England. It was heard in Folkestone and Margate during July 2002. The call has Royal Navy origins: The LBSG fare from Portsmouth to London was 5/9.

60. Blind sixty, Three Score.

61. Baker’s Bun.

A simple rhyme.

62. Turn of the Screw, Tickety-boo, To Waterloo.

‘To Waterloo’ is a Royal Navy call; the LSW fare from Portsmouth to London was 6/2. Tickety-boo is army slang for something being satisfactory, and was first recorded in 1939. [3] ‘Turn of the Screw’ was a popular novella first published in 1898.

63. Tickle Me.

A simple rhyme.

64. Red Raw, When I’m Sixty-Four, The Beatles Number.

Red Raw is one of the many rhyming calls with no particular origin; the other two calls have origins in the 1960s, with the song ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ released by The Beatles in 1967.

65. Old Age Pension, Stop Work.

The Contributory Pensions Act (1925) introduced a 10s per week pension for manual workers and those earning up to £250 per year.

66. Clickety-click, All the sixes, Clickety Click

This is onomatopoeic – sounding like sixty six and has become shorthand for bingo, and was used in the famous Monty Python sketch that parodied ideas of Britishness. In the sketch Russian and Chinese characters famously confused cricket with the clickety-click used in bingo; the characters assumed that all the British played both cricket and bingo; the joke lies in the failure to understand the class distinctions that ran through the various games of cricket, bridge and bingo.

67. Made in Heaven.

A simple rhyme.

68. Saving Grace.

This could be linked to the hymn Amazing Grace: it seems unlikely to be linked to the novel of that title as it was published in 1981 and was not a huge popular success. Although the novel was adapted as a film and had some success it does not seem the most likely source for the call which appears in sources from the 1950s.

69. Whichever way you look at it (see number six), Meal for Two,
Your place or mine?

‘Meal for Two’ appears to refer to the introduction of Chinese takeaway meals in Britain, where orders were often placed simply using the numbers on the menu boards. ‘Your place or mine’ has sexual connotations. ‘Whichever way you look at it’ refers to the fact that the numbers appear the same both ways up.

70. Three Score and Ten.

A numerical call, a score is 20, so 3 score and 10 = 70.

71. Bang on a Drum.

A simple rhyme.

72. Par for the Course.

A surprisingly middle-class entrant into the calls, referring to the game of golf; although of course in popular idiom the phase is used in response to ‘how are you?’ to mean that you are ‘OK’ and it may have moved into bingo from this route rather than from golf.

73. Queen Bee.

A simple rhyme.

74. Candy Store.

A simple rhyme.

75. Strive & Strive, Big Daddy, On the Skive.

Big Daddy was a professional wrestler, (Shirley Crabtree 1930-1997) who had a popular following amongst women as well as men; however, the link to the number 75 is not clear. However, the call might also come from the states where the numbers used are 1-75, rather than 1-90 as in the UK, making 75 the highest number, although in the States this number is more commonly called Granddaddy of Bingo. The other calls for this number are simple rhymes.

76. Was she worth it? Was she? Trombones.

‘Was she worth it?’ This call again relates to pre-decimal coinage and is still in use. The phrase has been reputed as having one of two meanings; either the cost of a good night out with a girl (cinema, fish and chip supper and bed and breakfast) or the cost of a marriage licence.

77. Sunset Strip, All the sevens.

‘77 Sunset Strip’ was an American detective show, made between 1958 and 1964 by Warner Brothers. It was broadcast in the UK in the early 1960s as prime time entertainment on ATV, following ‘Saturday Night at the London Palladium’ in 1962 and 1963.

78. Heaven’s Gate.

A simple rhyme.

79. One more time.

A simple rhyme.

80. Blind Eighty.

81. Stop and Run.

A simple rhyme.

82. Straight on Through.

Another call linked to rail travel, express trains would go ‘straight on through’ smaller stations.

83. Time for Tea.

A simple rhyme.

84. Seven Dozen

85. Staying Alive.

This was a hit song for the Bee Gees (1977), from the film Saturday Night Fever.

86. Between the Sticks.

This phrase is borrowed from football terminology for goalkeepers.

87. Torquay in Devon.

A simple rhyme.

88. Two Fat Ladies, Connaught Rangers, All the Eights.

The Connaught Rangers are the 88th Regiment of Foot, while ‘Two Fat Ladies’ is a visual pun, borrowed from bingo for a popular BBC television-cooking programme featuring Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson first broadcast in 1997.

89. Nearly There.

90. Top of the house, As Far as We Go, End of the Line.

The significance of the railways in the lives of the player, both in the military and civilians after the war is clear. Five calls use railway terms, or in the case of ‘As far as we go’, bus and rail.


Although calls have now largely disappeared, especially from commercial cash bingo, even the modern, automated game still starts with the traditional, ‘Eyes Down’; a signal for silence to descend over the players, while games run at amusement arcades and for charity often make use of the traditional calls, considering them to be central to providing a traditional game of bingo. Despite the declining use of bingo calls, started by the birth of commercial bingo and the push towards a faster, more mechanised game, what emerges is a story of a language that has evolved over time to reflect popular culture, and that has kept many calls dating back to the British origins of the game, as a gambling activity of the military or a seaside and fairground amusement. The oldest surviving calls date back to the Edwardian music hall and the stars, songs and catchphrases most popular with the working classes, including Vesta Tilly (thirty – Burlington Bertie, c1900) the comedian Charles Austin (forty-nine – PC Parker c1910) and sentimental ballads such as ‘Sweet Sixteen’ (c1898), but recorded many times before the Second World War, were fertile sources of language transfer. The calls collected in this research included many military references, especially to the regimental nicknames of regiments that fought in both World Wars, as well as calls that relate to the cost of train travel between London and Plymouth, references to Naval personnel going on leave. Military games shared a common language with civilian games to a large extent, with the military calls that relate to regiments long since amalgamated still used in games played in ex-servicemen’s clubs. Other calls still in use link closely to pre-decimal coinage. For example seventy-six has the call ‘Was she worth it?’ This is attributed either to the cost of a marriage licence, or a night out followed by bed and breakfast.

It is certainly the case that creativity in the use of language is enhanced rather than dimmed by bingo calls, yet they also serve another purpose. By the memorability of the phrases, through the use of techniques such as ellipsis and concision, the lexicography of bingo demonstrates that what researchers describe as the restricted language code of the working classes is a code that allows for cultural transmission across generations. The thinking public do not generally consider that bingo is a game worthy of serious consideration, yet the language of bingo, the phrases and terminology, have become popular clichés, entering the consciousness of the thinking public in a way that much that represents working class culture has not.



PRO Mepol 3/765.

Denis Winter, Death’s Men – The Soldiers of the Great War, London, 1978, p.154.

PRO Mepol 3/765 Statements of Woman Police Sergeant Stratton and Woman Police Constable Cross.

[1]Tim Gracyk, Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925, (Birmingham NY, 2000)

[2]The English Music Hall

[3]Tom Mix Museum.

[4]Harry Tate was killed in a German air raid in 1940. He was the grandfather of the entertainer Hughie (‘Opportunity Knocks’) Green (1920-1997).

[5] University of Birmingham Centre for First World War Studies and British Library

[6]Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary.

[7]‘Chubby Mann the overweight goalie, who was colour blind so they had to wear zigzag stripped shirts so he would recognise who his team mates were, Pierre Gaspard the French acrobat who used to run down the pitch on his hands with the ball on his feet, the psychic Tearaway twins from Australia who knew what the other was thinking & Algernon Simms who knew every single rule in the football rule book and sorry I can’t remember the other 5, but they won the cup!’ Visit Web Page

[8]Numerology Facts

[9]The English Music Hall

[10]Hits in Music updated 23/12/2003.

[11]Lambiek.Net – Home of the Lambiek Comic Shop

[12]George Perry, Forever Ealing, (London, Chrysalis Books 1981), p.101

[13]The Bingo Code Last revised on 20 October 2003

[14]Peter Radford, The Celebrated Captain Barclay: sport, money and fame in Regency Britain (London, 2001), p. 246

[15]The film was a race film, with black stars, and may very well not have been released in the UK.

[16]Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases. British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, 2nd Edition, (London, 1985) American National Biography Online

[17]American National Biography Online

[18]The Bingo Code Last revised on 20 October 2003

[19]Who Got Diana Dors Millions?’ from Channel 4 (Page no longer exists).

[19]‘Who Got Diana Dors Millions?’ from Channel 4 (Page no longer exists).

Chris Baker, The Long, Long Trail The Story of the British Army of the Great War

Heinz World

John Ayto, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Oxford, 1999 p.218

Playing Bingo

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