There’s something quintessentially British about bingo calling.
The traditional bingo call phrases, such as legs 11, two little ducks (22) and two fat ladies (88), all display that famously quirky British take on the popular game.
Blackpool bingo caller Dave Freeland is now saying ‘eyes down’ for the last time as he retires after 21 years of calling the balls at Empire Bingo, Hawes Side Lane.
However, Dave is quick to point out that ‘traditional’ bingo calls weren’t part of his repertoire.
“You don’t do 66, clickety-click anymore in bingo,” he says.
“It’s only on the promenade you do that, here you just stick to the numbers.
“I still have a laugh with the customers, don’t get me wrong. Most of them have nicknames that I invented for them as time’s gone by.”
One customer who can vouch for that is Elsie Lee, 79, who says: “I’m going to miss him, I’ve been going a long time.
“My friend Carol, she hasn’t been coming as long as me but he calls her my sister - Sister Carol. We will miss him.”
Despite spending the final 21 years of his career at Empire Bingo, Dave’s introduction to bingo calling actually came at The Regent, Church Street, which is now somewhat of an emporium.
Dave adds that it’s a calling that actually came about by chance.
“I actually started on the floor just checking claims and someone said, ‘Why don’t you have a go, because you have a clear voice?’
“I only used to do a couple of games until I got used to it and then I progressed from there and became the main stage caller for the Regent.
“After the Regent was sold to Mecca, I went down to Coral Island, then they were closing that down so I came to the Empire.
“I went back to Coral before they totally shut the bingo and I came back here and I’ve been here ever since.”
Dave says bingo calling is much more than reading out a list of numbers.
He says: “You’ve got to be clear and concise when you’re calling numbers.
“Also you’ve got to be aware of what people are doing in the hall; if they’re shouting for a claim, sticking their hand up because they’re meant to shout if they have a claim but a lot of them don’t.
“So you’ve got to be very aware of people who don’t shout out.
“Luckily I haven’t had many mistakes.”
In Dave’s time calling the numbers at Empire, he’s seen some huge wins, including a six-figure sum for Harry Russell who won more than £100,000 on the national game. It’s clear to see from talking to Dave how much the punters mean to him.
“It’s amazing how many cards and prezzies I have off them. They’re amazing people, they really are. I reckon I could have a collection across the wall and it still wouldn’t fit it.
“I’m proud of them. I just hope they keep coming when I’ve gone because this place deserves it.
“Most of them are regulars who come along to see us, thank God. It keeps us going, some of them are really great.”
Another one of those customers is Mary Moulton, 84, who has been visiting Empire for more than 40 years.
She says: “He’s great. He’s a good caller and he’s a very nice person and he’s been coming a long time.
“I’ve going to miss him very much, we all will.”
Someone else who’ll certainly miss having Dave around is his boss Elaine Bottomley, 70, who owns Empire Bingo along with her daughter Linzie, 33.
“He’s very experienced, he holds his audience, he has a presence.” Elaine says.
“He’s very professional. He’s also very interested in Liverpool Football Club so if there was ever a chance of booking time off he’d do it for that.
“He loves the sun and if he has a day off in the sunshine, he comes back the next day like a lobster!” It would appear that Dave leaves an impression on everyone he meets, including one of the older customers (who seems to be young at heart).
Elaine continues: “We’ve got a customer called Martha, who’s 104, she’s like a little sprite.
“She knitted Dave Liverpool gloves and they always had a bit of banter because she sits behind him. I’m hoping in the future, any dos we have, he can come back. I think he’ll miss the rapport with the crowd.
“We’ll really, really miss him, he’s a great guy.”
Dave, who has gradually reduced his weekly days from seven down to four, adds that retirement isn’t something he takes lightly.
“The mind’s willing but the body’s weak. It’s hard to get up in the winter mornings, I hate winter, waiting for the bus in the rain and getting wet through. If it’s summer, fine. So you never know, you might see me back in the summer!”
Dave said: “I’ve got to be grateful for Elaine and Linzie for employing me and keeping me on, it’s been appreciated. It’s just been great and as long as I can bring pleasure and joy to all these customers, that’s the main thing.”