Like Primark, NHS specs and tattoos, bingo is just another piece of working-class culture hipsters have appropriated “ironically” as their own
On the dance floor, girls with multicoloured marker pen flecked on their faces are losing their minds to I’ve Had the Time of My Life under a ticker-tape of ripped-up bingo cards. Behind them, boys in Clark Kent glasses and Breton tops snap selfies at the bar, while the Dirty Dancing theme song reaches a crescendo and two kids run towards each other under a ceiling of disco balls, recreating Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s lift.
As the crowd in the south London boozer erupts, a voice comes over the mic: “Eyes down for line!” I’d almost forgotten; we’re at the bingo! Say what you like about George Osborne, the man knows a trend when he sees one. Byron Burgers, pasties, the 5:2 diet. Has a Chancellor of the Exchequer ever been so down with the zeitgeist as Go$bo — as the kids are probably calling him. Now bang on-trend again he’s introduced a tax break on bingo just as the game’s got fashionable.
Sure, cynics say that last year only 7% of women and 3% of men played bingo. And the Treasury chief Danny Alexander scoffed that the Tories’ ad promising to cut bingo tax “to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy” was “rather patronising”. But George has his ear to the ground. He knows that in the coolest suburbs hipsters are reclaiming bingo from the blue-rinse brigade. There’s the Underground Rebel Bingo Club, held at secret locations where Nineties cheese anthems meet bingo-as-cabaret-stage-show. Musical Bingo, where players check off song names from score cards during the DJ sets. Bogan Bingo, where hosts dressed like extras from Wayne’s World rock out to Bon Jovi hits. And The Big Bingo Show at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London, which is where I ended up with my mates; singing along to power ballads and downing JDs while, onstage, a man dressed, in the best possible taste, like a bearded Kenny Everett in a Jackie O suit calls the numbers in his inimitable way: “Two little ducks, 22; 84, a bear windsurfing, 32, a crab attacking a duck,” he booms. “Eighty-five, Staying Alive,” he screams as the Bee Gees song explodes and a guy from LA dressed in his pyjamas calls house then celebrates onstage by straddling the microphone stand to The Time Warp.
Of course bingo’s back! Like Primark, NHS specs, tattoos and living on east London council estates, it’s just another piece of working-class culture hipsters have appropriated “ironically” as their own. But just because nouveau bingo’s a buy-in doesn’t mean it’s not great. If anything, by reinstating the rubbish prizes, the weird bingo-lingo and the unashamed tackiness that were all part of its original character, hipster bingo reminds us why the game was originally so great — reasserting it as a source of good old-fashioned tacky fun that provides a distinctly unironic sense of connectedness to its players.
“I think that people heard about bingo in the budget and it lodged in their minds and they thought ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ ” says Tim, who runs Big Bingo. He listened to the budget “but I didn’t really understand what it would change — drinks are only £1 anyway”. So George, ignore the detractors: you’re a genius! What a coup to have lowered the tax on the latest hipster trend. Rather than a sign you’re out of touch, I reckon you’ve co-opted bingo’s fabulousness as a master plan to seduce a new generation. And it might have worked! There’s just one catch: none of us can be bothered to vote.