Photo Essay Documents Live Bingo in the UK

German born photographer Michael Hess has taken his camera into sixty UK bingo halls and has documented the life and culture associated with bingo in the UK. Bingo has been a popular game in the UK since the post war years when it was popularized in the holiday camps of the time. Bingo offered war weary Britons a respite from the harsh realities of continued rationing and the reconstruction of bombed out cities. Hess says his fascination with bingo began with a trip to a local bingo club with a friend. While his friend scored fifteen pounds Hess toke note of all the colorful characters and bingo hall denizens. Being an inveterate photographer Hess said “I just had to come back with my camera. ”

What started as a typical visit to a bingo hall turned into an amazing photo essay documenting bingo players and the bingo clubs that provide them with their favorite game. For years Hess has haunted some of Britain’s finest bingo halls. Hess says he has always been welcomed and told an interviewer, “The independent bingo clubs treat you as friends straight away. You ask them one question; they give you half an hour.”  There are many stand out characters in the series of photos. One character known as ‘Lucky Seat’ is balancing a cigarette and pint in one hand concentrating on a game. Other eccentric bingo characters include Frank whose specialty is charming the ladies. Frank has no trouble finding ladies to charm given the makeup of the typical audience at bingo halls which are dominated by women. Hess describes Frank as “a true character and real charmer with the older ladies.”

Hess describes Newcastle bingo manager Jack Allen, a tough looking character who loves the players at his hall. Jack says his players see the bingo hall as “an extension of their living rooms.” Since Hess began the project in 2005 he has seen a lot of changes and not all of them have been for the better. Hess has documented the decline of many a bingo hall after the smoking ban. Hess related that “Towards the end of my project I was calling up places and they told me I’d better hurry up before they closed down.”

Maybe someday Hess will document the rise of internet bingo. The project would take a lot of work and Hess would have to obtain permission from every internet bingo player to photograph them in their homes. Fortunately for Hess live bingo is making a comeback of sorts in the UK and many bingo halls are reporting increased attendance at games. Ironically many of these new players were introduced to the game playing internet bingo on sites like BingoBoat.