Nick's Bingo Memoirs
I first discovered bingo machines when in 1965 when I was 13 and got in with the rebellious crowd at senior school. They used to go to a local café, The Carlew in Kidderminster to spend their dinner money instead of buying school dinners so I joined in.
School dinners cost a shilling and that’s what I was given every day by my parents so with a plate of chips costing sixpence and covering them in salt, vinegar and tomato sauce they beat school dinners anytime. The cafe had a couple of flippers and a couple of bingos so the tanner which I had left was the amount required to play on a machine. I started playing the flippers with all the others and we'd often share a game by operating a flipper each. I can't remember why I tried the bingos but I guess it was because there wasn't a flipper free. Anyway I soon got hooked, especially when I found out they paid out replays for cash and five in a line meant £1-17-6d which was a lot of money in those days as I started work in1969 for £1 a day.
Five in a line didn't happen often but was great when it did. I started hunting out other cafes in the town and soon found a couple who had mostly bingos, the Horsefair Café and one right opposite, and lots of grown up gamblers. I was soon addicted and put every penny I could get my hands on in those machines and I was in the hooked good and proper.
I can't tell you how many times I was late back to school after dinner because I'd got replays to use up. The cane was a regular punishment and, sitting outside the headmasters office, he'd ask why I was there and when I'd told him it was "Come in - thwack - thwack" but that never stopped me. I started taking the odd day off school to play them and there I was one day playing a game when looking out of the cafe window I saw a teacher looking in. I must have got grassed up as all my mates knew the score. That got me in it properly but I didn't stop.
I remember very clearly going into a cafe on the way home from school on Friday nights. The grown up blokes would start coming in and playing the bingos with me and my mates watching. After a while they'd get a bit irate and tell us to sod off and sometimes even worse. Of course they were losing their wages and as the night went on they got more and more pissed off to the point where we dare not even look at them. If they had to leave the machine to get more tanners woe betide anybody who dared try and play it. I've seen them pick a stool up and sling it through the back glass of a game before storming out the cafe more than once when they'd lost a complete wage packet and had got to go home to the missus with no dough.
Anyway, at the age of 16 I discovered another diversion of the more curvaceous sort and it pretty soon put paid to the cafes. I forgot all about the games until, sometime in the early eighties when I got a phone call off a Jack the Lad car dealer mate of mine. "Do you fancy a pinball as a mate of mine is closing his cafe?" "What is it", I ask. "Well there are two, a Lite a Line and a Sea Island but I want the Lite a Line though". I couldn't believe it as Sea Island was my favourite game in those cafes of my youth. My next question, "how much" and the answer was "fifty quid". So I got myself a Sea Island and he even delivered it.
I cleaned it up, sanded & re-varnished the wood but it didn't all work and, with no internet back then, I was basically on my own. Anyway when opened up I discovered and removed the bits of masking tape covering various rivets on some of the steppers but I was lucky enough to find a guy who'd worked for a local operator called Fletchers Amusements. He came round and got it all working also showing me the basics of keeping it going.
I played it whenever I went to my parents as it was in their spare room but eventually lost interest and when they decided to move I had to collect it. I found the backglass broken in two from corner to corner and with no internet and only the Exchange & Mart, I couldn't get a replacement so I stuck it in the garage and when eBay started I sold it on that. I don't remember how much I sold it for but I did very well selling the shillings it ran on to a USA coin collector.
Then for my sixtieth birthday my missus wanted to give me a weeks holiday as a present but I happened to be working at a house where the guy had some solid state pinball's in his garage, not my scene but enough to re kindle the desire. I had a flipper instead of that holiday which was a Gottlieb "Cross Town" which I still have. Then discovering "Bally Bingos in Britain" and Len selling a County Fair, which I still have and then John Brogan with a Sun Valley so I'm now having as much fun as I did as a school kid.