Celebrities and bingo have, since the early days of the game, been very closely entwined. When bingo clubs first became legal following the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, it was illegal to advertise them. Although their popularity spread viraly, club proprietors still felt the need to publicise them and a good way to do this was to attract press coverage by appointing a celebrity to participate in a game or an evening of games, generally as a bingo caller. As well as attracting press comment, this also served to add a little glamour to the game.
Several celebrities became regular bingo callers. One of these was Dianna Doors, the actress who reputedly charged £300 to call just a single bingo game (and the money had to be paid in cash).
Muhammad Ali the boxer (at the time he was called by his birth name of Cassius Marcellus Clay), called bingo at three Mecca Bingo clubs in Liverpool. Other well-known celebrity bingo callers included the singer Lulu, Cilla Black, the musician Tommy Steele and Max Bygraves.
The very most was made out of the presence of these celebrities. Press releases ensured that the clubs were packed to the brim on the special occasions when there were celebrity callers and the press were always invited to the occasion, where they would be able to interview the stars of the shows.
It is interesting to note that it was not at all unusual for large prizes to be won on the nights that hosted celebrity callers. Sometimes these prizes were heavily subsidised in order to maximise their value and maximise the publicity.
Although there is little doubt that the celebrities were attracted by the amounts of money that was on offer, it was a job that many of them enjoyed and many of them were naturals at. In particular Cilla Black has often spoken fondly of her bingo calling days.