Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Working in Gravesend

I spent a short while in the early 70s working at Gravesend in Kent.

It was during a period when I moved around a lot in a short period of time, not enjoying any of it but gaining huge amounts of worthwhile experience.

After short spells in the West End of London, Leyton and Kings Cross, I joined the Star Group as a Manager Under Training in their bingo operation.

"Manager Under Training" was in fact quite a sensible concept. It was used to designate somebody who was an experienced manager in the entertainment industry, but who had no specific experience in bingo.

I joined the company at Gravesend, and used to have quite a complicated journey to get to work. I had to catch the bus or train from Rochford into Southend, and then get the train to Tilbury Riverside, which sometimes involved changing trains at Pitsea. Tilbury Riverside is now closed, but at that time it used to connect with the Tilbury to Gravesend ferry across the River Thames. Then I had to catch the ferry. At night, of course, I had to do the whole thing in reverse.

Although bingo is apparently a simple operation, the actual financial workings were anything but simple. It was illegal to make a profit on the gambling aspect, so profit was made on membership, admission charges and ancillary sales, for example the licensed bar and nice cups of tea.

As soon as sales of books for a particular game were complete, the prizes had to be worked out. We had to pay a tax on our income, so that percentage was taken off the gross amount, and then we had to work out how much the first prize would be, and the second and third prizes. It was imperative that these figures were precise, and it all had to worked out in seconds.

I realised early on that it was much easier than this to be the caller. So when our regular caller rang in sick one day, I volunteered, and learned how to be a very good and popular bingo caller. That's an aspect of my career of which very few people are aware.

Apart from those financial workings, I am bound to say that out of my whole career, the nature of the job and of the punters was the least intellectual that I ever encountered, and I was not very happy to be involved.

One afternoon, a customer approached me and asked "Why have you got a beard?" I was a little taken aback at this rather personal question, so he explained "Old man have beards. You are a young man (I was 29 at the time), so you should not have a beard". So I asked him why he had his hair parted on the left side. He took offence at this, and said "That's my business".

After I had been at Gravesend for a couple of months or so, I read in the newspapers that Classic Cinemas, for whom I had worked in the West End, had taken over the Essoldo chain. Shortly afterwards, they advertised the position of manager at the Classic (formerly Essoldo, and before that Metropole) at Westcliff, where I had lived as a boy with my parents. I knew that Essoldo had done a good job of refurbishing the cinema, so I applied for the job, and they said yes without a moment's pause.

In the meantime, Star were about to take over an ABC Cinema at Chatham and convert it to bingo. I was sent, along with a colleague, to work at Chatham building up the membership.

I must have been the only person to have worked for Star Bingo, in a cinema still being run by ABC, while working out notice before going to manage a cinema for Classic.

If anybody reading this has any connections with Gravesend, or Kent in general (Born? Lived? Worked? Ancestors? Relatives?), I will be very pleased to hear from them.