Preferring the lower ticket prices, higher jackpots and 24-hour convenience of online bingo halls, more bingo-lovers now play via the internet.
Once a thriving part of many communities around the capital, London’s bingo clubs have been facing steady decline since the 1980s, and it’s a story that’s played out across the country.
The reasons behind the decline range from the introduction of the smoking ban, to the implementation of a new gambling tax, but one reason overshadows them all – the remarkable rise of online bingo.
The internet has revolutionized the game, and bingo lovers are voting with their feet. Preferring the lower ticket prices, higher jackpots and 24-hour convenience of online bingo halls, more bingo-lovers now play via the internet, with Jackpotjoy Bingo, already boasting 4 million members.
This has led to the inevitable closure of some long-established halls around the capital, some still lying empty, others finding a new lease of life as shopping centres, nightclubs and venues. Many of the city’s bingo halls were recycled venues themselves, typically cinemas and theatres, the layout being perfectly suited to the bingo set up, with a ready-made stage for bingo callers and display boards.
Having a culture and atmosphere all of their own, Mary Portas recently argued that there’s a case for bringing them back, as part of her report to the government looking into ways to rejuvenate the British high street.
But the online bingo world has developed a culture and community all its own, with players meeting up and chatting online during games, and in online bingo forums. It seems the social aspect of bingo remains as strong as ever, and an intrinsic part of the game’s centuries-long success as one of the most-played games in the world.
Many in SW London will have fond memories of the area’s old bingo palaces, their grand architecture, the people who played there, the staff, and the friends made. Here are some of the bingo clubs in the South West, and throughout the capital, that sadly didn’t make it.
St. John’s Hill, Clapham SW11
The Clapham Granada was one of the UK’s largest cinemas when it was opened in 1937, while a band and Wurlitzer entertained the crowds. Grand in its Art Deco design, the jewel in its crown was its lavish Renaissance-style interior. In 1980, it became Granada Bingo, and Gala Bingo in 1991, finally closing its doors in 1998. It’s now a listed building set to be turned into flats.
High Street, Clapham SW4
Originally opened as the Majestic Theatre in 1914, this cinema was designed by one of the country’s leading cinema architects, John Stanley Beard. Joining the popular Gaumont cinema chain in 1929, despite suffering damage during WW2, it screened films until 1960. Re-emerging as a bingo hall in 1969, the last bingo ball was called here in 1983 – it’s now The Goat pub.
Kennington Road, Lambeth SE11
Another historic cinema, the Regal theatre opened in 1932, being taken over by Granada in 1949. Showing films until July 1961, it re-opening as Granada Bingo just a few months later, playing host to bingo every night of the week – and a wrestling match every Saturday too. Changing its name to Gala in 1991, it closed in 1997 and was converted into stylish Art Deco apartments.
Essex Road, Islington N1
Opening in 1930, the colourful Carlton Cinema, with its remarkable Egyptian theme, still leaves an impression on passersby. ABC took over in 1935, before it became a Mecca bingo hall in 1972. It had a commendable 35-year run before closing in 2007, the year of the smoking ban. It’s since been bought by a church who plan to reopen the cinema.
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