ST HELENS went bingo crazy in the 1960s! The craze reached its peak in 1965 when the Rivoli Cinema was converted into a bingo hall.

The new owners of the Corporation Street venue said they’d never known such fervour for “housey housey”as in St Helens – and Star Holdings ran 70 bingo halls nationwide and had 2 million members.

Applications for membership to their St Helens venture poured in at the rate of more than 1,000 a day, and, on its opening night, 2,000 prospective players had to be turned away when “house full” notices went up.

One local newspaper reported “scenes of enthusiasm and rejoicing without parallel to St Helens”, when the hall opened.

The lengthy queues that snaked round the building brought back precious memories for Emily Forber.

She was employed as a cashier in the new bingo hall and had been on the staff when the Rivoli began screening films in 1929.

Comparing the two opening nights, Mrs Forber of Freckleton Road said: “It was the same, mad, busy, hectic night all over again. When we first had the pictures the queues stretched right round the block. The tail met the head. We had some wonderful years, but then came the decline. I can’t tell you how wonderful this is being like old times.”

The Rivoli Cinema – with its double seats on the back row that were popular with courting couples (including my mother and father!) and famous organ that rose up out of the floor – had been killed off by television.

St Helens Star: The Rivoli by Jeff Wharton

The picture palace’s last film ‘The House of Frankenstein’ had played to virtually empty houses. But just twelve days after its 36-year-long cinematic era had ended, the building was transformed into the Rivoli Star Bingo & Social Club.

The mammoth conversion job was undertaken in record time by 45 workmen. All six cinema staff were employed in the new enterprise, including manager Joseph Whitehead from Hall Street, who’d begun his working life at the “Riv” as a lift boy in 1929.

The opening night took place on October 7th 1965 and queues formed more than three hours before the doors were due to open. One enterprising woman sold 300 pens to bingo enthusiasts as they patiently waiting for admission!

Once the horde had been safely seated inside the hall and before bingo caller John Kenyon could start shouting “legs eleven” and “kelly’s eye”, a number of prizes were dished out.

Edith McCulley of Lyon Street received a basket of fruit for being first in the queue. Sarah Cook of Bickerstaffe Street won a bottle of gin for having the most children of those in the hall (14!).

And Martha Rigby of New Street in Sutton and Roger Henshall of Park Street received gifts for being the oldest man and woman present (both aged 78).

When it was time for “eyes down”, house history was made by Ethel Adfield. The 56- year-old from Cotswold Grove in Parr won the first game of bingo and took home a prize of £16. That’s worth around £350 in today’s money but it only made a small dent in the first night’s pay out of £500, plus jackpots.

But it was not just cash that could be won. During its first week of operations, the Rivoli bingo hall gave away 100 tea services, 1,000 pairs of nylons, 50 food parcels and refrigerators and transistor radios galore!

And then later in the month, the bingo fever continued with personal appearances from two Coronation Street stars – first Philip Lowrie (aka Dennis Tanner) and then Pat Phoenix (aka Elsie Tanner).

The building responsible for giving an enormous amount of pleasure to St Helens’ residents for seven decades and generating many memories, was finally demolished in the year 2000 to make way for the Millennium Centre.

What are your memories of St Helens bingo halls? Share your memories by emailing

  • Stephen Wainwright’s book ‘The Hidden History Of St Helens’ is available from the St Helens Book Stop at 11 Bridge Street and online from eBay and Amazon. Price £12