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Bingo! The academic whose number is up

Have you ever wondered why 66 is "clickety-click' or 11 is "legs'? There will soon be a scholarly answer from the newly appointed holder of Britain's first bingo research fellowship.

Faith Freestone, a former bingo caller turned student of the numbers game, is to spend the next two years exploring why licensed bingo is the nation's second favourite leisure pastime after angling.

Her studies will range widely, taking in the folklore of bingo - including the "two fat ladies" tradition of number calling - and the history of the game from its first recorded origins as "lotto" in eighteenth century Italy.

Scorning the cliched image of women waiting in gloomy former cinemas for their number to come up, she will develop her theory of six bingo- playing types, encompassing social adventurers, thrillseekers and escape artists.

Her research at Worcester College of Higher Education will also attempt for the first time to gauge the number of people employed by the bingo industry, which each week attracts 3 million punters.

Mrs Freestone, 42, first fell under bingo's spell while working part- time in a club to supplement her grant during her first degree course. As well as selling the numbered cards, she did a turn as a caller, learning the curious phrases now slipping out of use thanks to the introduction of computerised, nationwide bingo. Number 25, in Worcester's bingo halls, was referred to as a Rainbow Hill, after a local bus and its destination. "Was she worth it?", she would cry when calling number 76, since 7/6 was the old-money price of a marriage licence.

Her appetite whetted, Mrs Freestone began a doctoral thesis on bingo, dividing players into types. Lifeliners, she found, were mainly elderly women living alone who relied on the game largely as a social activity. Social adventurers loved the excitement, and often brought "accompanists" - frequently a husband or younger relative, while thrillseekers relished the adrenalin buzz and were more likely to gamble in other ways.

Escape artists, by her definition, looked to bingo as a relief from daily problems, and novelty acts were the growing numbers of mainly young people who tried bingo as an unusual night out. Very few players, she found, were attracted by cash prizes so much as the elusive thrill of a full house.

Mrs Freestone, though herself refusing to be categorised, still plays regularly, though confesses to being less than lucky. She said: "The winning is not really the issue - it is just the unique thrill of the build-up as the numbers are called."