A History of Britain’s Favourite Bingo Brand

Leading the way as Britain’s favourite bingo brand, Mecca has been at the forefront of the game from the very first call. Thanks to a publicity genius called Eric Morley, Mecca Bingo is responsible for bringing commercialised bingo to the masses, introducing a brand new wave of entertainment for all in the UK, and we’re going to take a look back at that slice of Mecca history now. It’s a tale of outrageous success and one that, with a little help from Morley, puts Mad Men to shame.

Bingo beginnings

The game of bingo is much older than you might think. It can be traced back as far as the 16th century, first played in Italy as a kind of national lottery. Anyone who’s ever played the game understands bingo’s ability to cross borders. Simple to play, with minimal equipment needed, and a whole heap of fun, bingo began to spread throughout Europe like wildfire. But bingo back then was a whole different ball game.

The game we know today really took off in the States, being brought there by immigrants from all over Europe. Initially used as a means of raising funds for good causes, it wasn’t long before dedicated bingo halls began springing up around America alongside the traditional village fetes and church halls.

Introducing Eric Morley

As bingo began to take over the teenybopper dance halls of America, and specialist bingo halls spread out across the States in the 50s and 60s, it would take one very special British gent to turn the game into a nationwide craze in the UK. Fresh out of the army, and having lost both his parents as a young child, London-born Eric Morley was hungry for life, and even hungrier for success.

Morley’s first move was to join Mecca as a publicity manager. No stranger to entertainment – Morley entertained the troops at Dunkirk with his French horn skills – his first major break came when he conceived one of the most successful TV dance shows of all time, Come Dancing, which is still a roaring hit today in the form of Strictly Come Dancing. Bringing ballroom dancing to the small screen, and to the attention of the masses, Morley would repeat the same trick with another pastime – bingo.

A Full House in the UK

Promoted to a new role as one of Mecca’s directors in 1953, bingo would earn Morley’s full attention. He was determined to turn this parlour game into something much, much bigger. Eyeing its success Stateside, he pictured a huge chain of bingo halls, huge audiences for big money games, and huge profits too. Turning many of Mecca’s ailing dance venues into bingo halls (over 100 in all, as well as 700 betting shops), it seemed Morley was a dab hand at turning dreams into reality.

Dubbed a publicity ‘genius’ by the press, his publicity stunts were the talk of the country, and helped to keep the Mecca name in the papers. Not only did Morley give us bingo on a big scale, and loveable Brucie’s telly dance spectacular, he caused a storm when in 1970 he introduced the first ever Miss World contest. Eventually Morley’s ambition took a political steer, and he ran for election in 1979, narrowly losing out in Dulwich, but it was a fitting end to what had been a relentlessly ambitious and ego-driven career.

Morley’s Mecca today

Today Mecca bingo is still recognized as one of the biggest bingo brands in the country, and is the oldest bingo brand in the UK. Today it’s wound down many of its physical bricks and mortar bingo halls as the game transitions to the online world. Morley would no doubt have sped full throttle into the internet age had he not passed away in 2000, but he’d be proud of the work Mecca has done to stay top of the food chain in this new era for the game.

Offering up a huge array of online bingo variants, massive jackpots, and taking advantage of everything the internet can offer the game, from chat rooms and chat games to progressive jackpots and 24/7 mobile gaming capabilities, it’s managed to keep the game as fresh and exciting as it seemed to the British masses back in the 1950s.