Michael Edwards, 34, is a bingo caller based in Nottingham. He's the Gala Bingo Caller of the Year 2007, and has just passed an audition to become a bingo television presenter.
What do you actually do?
I deliver a service to the public. Every day people come to play bingo, hoping they'll win prize money. It's my job to make sure somebody wins. Bingo is played on paper. I call out the numbers from the stage, and people mark them off. When they get a line of numbers, they give a loud shout. I stop the game, check their claim, then give out the prize money. We don't call out "legs 11" and other catchphrases – that's restricted to bingo halls in coastal resorts these days. It's just straight numbers.
What's your work pattern like?
My working day is a 12-hour shift with a two-hour break, four days on, four days off. Bingo has morning, afternoon and evening sessions. I start work at 9.30am, have a break around 3.45pm, and finish at 10pm. The best part is standing on the door to greet the customers when they arrive. You're the focal point, and all eyes are on you. I say hello, ask how they're doing, and try to put a smile on their faces. I know a lot of them by name. I don't want customers to feel like we're just there to take money off them.
What's the best thing about your job?
I love the performance aspect of the job. I prefer to call to larger audiences – that's when I start to shine. The more people in the bingo hall, the bigger buzz I can create and the more energy I get. I feel less confident if there's hardly anyone there. If you can't create a buzz with the customers, you're not giving them a full day out. They need to feel like they've had a fantastic day, even if they haven't won any money.
What's not so great about it?
It can be tiring. Sessions that are not so busy can get drawn out, when there aren't so many customers to converse with. If there are a lot of people, you just want the day to go on and on. Bingo has been hit by the smoking ban, so we're trying to put in other promotions to combat that.
What skills do you need to be a great bingo caller?
To be a good bingo caller, you need to be smart and well-presented, and good at interacting with customers. If you can greet people every time you see them and make them laugh, they will enjoy themselves and want to come back. Being able to calculate quickly is an asset, because it can get difficult when you have three different winners at the same time. And you need to be able to call the numbers loudly and clearly, so people can hear you at the back.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to be a bingo caller?
First, you need to be able to pronounce the numbers correctly, from one to 90. Then you need to learn to introduce the game. Once you've learnt that, it's about your personality. The main job is getting the customers in and getting them to win money. Your own input comes in when there's a delay – if someone's machine goes down, or you have to replace a damaged book. New callers have a probationary period when they're trained in-house, before being sent to Gala's calling school, where you have to impress the teachers with your skills. If they think you're good enough, you become a qualified caller.
What's the salary and career path like?
There are different levels, depending on skills and experience. You might start on £5.50 an hour and move to £6.35 an hour as a qualified caller. The next level is a specialist caller, which you become after working in another club and calling a major national game. Beyond that, you could train new staff, or manage a bingo club yourself.
For information on working as a bingo caller, visit the National Bingo Gaming Association at www.nationalbingo.co.uk; the Bingo Association at www.bingo-association.co.uk; or Gala Bingo at www.gala-bingo.co.uk.
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