Saturday 21 September 2013

Bingo Master's Breakout

Here's Mark E. Smith and his Mancunian combo The Fall performing Bingo Master's Breakout, their debut single dating from August 1978. Play the song and sing along while reading the blog to enjoy the full multi-media experience

As it happens I worked for a day as a Bingo caller (as the regular caller was off work) and the experience left its mark - wasting time in numbers and rhymes has become a lifestyle choice. I've long pondered over the extraordinary cultural richness of the bingo caller's repertoire. It is (as you'll see below) an elaborate accumulation of the time-honoured, the superstitious, the ribald and the surreal.

1 Kelly's Eye: a reference to 19th century Australian brigand Ned Kelly's monocular iron helmet.

2 One little duck: from the resemblance of the number 2 to a duck; see also '22'

3 Cup of tea or You and me

4 Knock at the door

5 Man alive

6 Tom Mix: after the star of silent era Westerns. Less evocatively "half a dozen"

7 Lucky for some

8 Garden gate

9 Doctor's Orders: Number 9 was a laxative pill dispensed by army doctors in the Great War.

10 (David's) Den: The name refers to whoever currently resides at Number 10 Downing Street.

11 Legs Eleven: A reference to the shape of the number resembling a pair of legs. Players traditionally give a wolf whistle in response.

12 One dozen

13 Unlucky for some

14 The Lawnmower (The original lawnmower had a 14 inch blade.)

15 Here (as elsewhere below) the number is simply spelt out thus: "One and five - fifteen' or rather "fifteen-ah"

16 Sweet 16, never been kissed

17 - 20  See 15 (above) but twenty may be called as "Two-oh - blind twenty", the zero resembling a milky cataract, if you see what I mean. Likewise 30, 40, 50 et seq.

21 Key of the Door: the traditional age of majority, on reaching which a house key would be entrusted.

22 Two little ducks The numeral resembles the profile of two ducks.  The traditional player esponse is often, "quack, quack, quack".

23 The Lord is My Shepherd: The first words of Psalm 23 in the Old Testament.

24 Knock at the door

25  Two and five - twenty-five (see 15)

26 Two and six, half a crown in the pre-decimalised currency (equivalent today to 12.5p

27 Duck and a crutch. The number 2 looks like a duck (see '2') and the number 7 looks like a crutch.

28 Two and eight, or "in a state".

29  See 15

30 Burlington Bertie. Reference to a music hall song of the same name composed in 1900. Burlington Bertie is also bookmakers' slang for odds of 100 to 30.

Or (and this is terrific)

Dirty Gertie. Common rhyme derived from the given name Gertrude, used as a nickname for the statue La Délivrance, a 16-foot statue in bronze of a naked woman holding a sword aloft, the work of French sculptor Émile Oscar Guillaume (1867-1942).  It is located at the southern edge of Finchley at Henly's Corner, at the bottom of Regents Park Road. The statue has a number of local names including "Dirty Gertie", "The Wicked Woman", and (most popular - to the exclusion of its real name) "The Naked Lady". The statue was created as a celebration of the First Battle of the Marne when the German army was stopped from capturing Paris in August 1914. The usage was reinforced by Dirty Gertie from Bizerte, a bawdy song sung by Allied soldiers in North Africa during the Second World War.

31 See 15

32 Buckle My Shoe

33 All the threes

34 See 15

35 Jump and Jive (from the dance step)

36 Three dozen, or three-and-six

37 - 43  See 15. Why none of these numbers merits any more distinctive call is a cultural mystery

44 Droopy drawers, a near-rhyme that refers to sagging trousers.

45 - 51  See 15. Fifty may be called as "Five-oh - blind fifty"

52 Danny La Rue. A reference to drag entertainer Danny La Rue (1927-2009). Also used for all other numbers apart from 12 ending in '2' (see '72' below). Alternatively 'Chicken vindaloo' reportedly introduced by a Butlins Holiday Camp caller in 2003.)

53 Here comes Herbie - 53 is the racing number of Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in the popular Disney film. Players usually reply "beep beep!".

54 House with a bamboo door

55 All the fives.

56 Shotts Bus, refers to the former number of the bus from Glasgow to Shotts. There's a whole world in that 'former'.

57 Heinz Beanz. Refers to "Heinz 57", the "57 Varieties" slogan of the H. J. Heinz Company.

58  See 15

59 The Brighton Line - refers to the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (which became part of the Southern Railway during the Grouping of 1923, which created four large companies from many smaller ones, such as the LBSCR)

60-61  See 15, although 60 may be called as "Six-oh - blind sixty".

62 Tickety-boo

63-64  See 15

65 Stop work - a reference to the age of mandatory retirement for men, in the days when such a thing was possible.

66 Clickety click

67-68 See 15

69 Anyway up. The number appears the same upside-down. "Meal for Two" is the lubricious alternative is a reference to the sexual position soixante neuf.

70 Sometimes "Seven-oh, blind seventy", or see 15

71 Bang on the drum

72 Danny La Rue (again)

73 - 75  See 15

76 Trombones "Seventy-six Trombones" a song from the 1962 Hollywood musical The Music Man.

Or (and this is my favourite of the lot) "Was she worth it?" This refers to the pre-decimal price of a marriage licence in Britain, 7/6d. The players traditionally shout back "Every Penny"

77 Two little crutches

78 - 79

80 Gandhi's Breakfast (i.e. "ate nothing")

81 - 83  See 15

84 Seven dozen

85 Staying alive (pre-dating the Bee Gees' popular hit record from 1977)

86 Between the sticks (orig. obsc., as they say in the OED)

87 Torquay in Devon - a baffling reference to this resort on the English Riviera

88 Two Fat Ladies

89 Nearly there (or Almost there)

90 Top of the shop

So there you have it - one of those permeable linguistic systems that is both conventionally stable but subject to continuous revision. Now listen to Bingo Master's Breakout again. Catchy.

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