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TUESDAY 27  FEBRUARY 2024

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Bingo of the Express and the secret of, er, what do you call it, oh yes…timing

SENSIBLE: Bingo, left, with Bob Smith and Bertie Brooks 

By JON ZACKON

Everyone knows the old joke about timing. You tell someone to say: “The first rule of comedy is timing.” They oblige but when they get halfway or so you interrupt, shouting out “Timing!” in the wrong place. 


It’s jarring but it makes a point, based as it is on a truism: Timing is the very essence of humour, even though it is ephemeral and almost defies definition. In part it is the ability to deliver catchlines at exactly the right instant. But this is when the joke is written and rehearsed. 


There’s another, even more mysterious element that depends on instinct; or genius, if you like. It can’t be taught and in such cases the timing can be more important than the punchline.

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‍ Tommy Cooper was the world champion of timing. Eric Morecambe had it but not Ernie Wise.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t.  I definitely don’t have it . . . I crack a joke and people stare at me as if I’m speaking Peruvian.

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However, those of us lucky enough to have worked on the Daily Express subs’ table between 1974 and 2006  had in our midst a true master of timing: No less a comic legend than Lord Drone himself, aka Bingo McIntyre. He could be extremely silly at times. His silliness wore editors out. Many refused to come near the subs’ room when he was on duty. They believed he’d be laughing at them behind their backs. Whoever heard of such a thing?

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But what Bingo was most famous for was his innate ability to reduce a roomful of people to quivering jelly with a single remark. At this point I can hear people shouting: “Cut the bullshit. Enough crap. Give us examples! Examples! Examples!”

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Trouble is, I’m a very lazy person. Don’t like to put myself out much. Still, I suppose I can give one or two samples of Bingo’s rare gift. As I’m in a good mood. We’ll make it two.

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The first one illustrates that the killing remark need not of itself be particularly funny. It has to take advantage of  prevailing circumstances and then be delivered with exquisite timing.  The one I have in mind came at a subs’ Christmas lunch around 1990. About twenty of us gathered in a dining room at the Cheese to partake of the beer and their famous steak and kidney pud as allegedly once enjoyed by Samuel Johnson and one Charlie Dickens. The subs were in a boisterous mood. Caney used a knife to keep flicking pats of butter around. One landed on my new grey suit. I was forced to swear at him, which made him laugh.

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Everyone was getting tipsy. As is common at such gatherings, with the booze taking hold, people began to feel the necessity to entertain their colleagues. One or two wanted to get up and sing bawdy songs or recite music hall Limericks and so on.

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Then Ben (not his real name) stood up. He had spent years as a downtable sub on the Express before leaving to go to Dublin to become an Irish ac-tor. That’s what Bingo called him – the Irish AC-TOR. (Never mind that he was born in Wales.)

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Staggering to his feet, Ben announced: “I want to shing you an Irish folk song. It’s shung at funerals.”

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Some of the subs, no doubt friends of Ben, went ashen with trepidation.

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“!n Irish,” added Ben. His courage was not in question.

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So … imagine the most doleful, lugubrious threnody you have ever heard and believe me it would sound like the Beatles next to Joe’s lament.  I worried that some of the subs would start screaming in anguish but then quite quickly it was over. Whew! What a relief.

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Then Ben said: “That was the firsht versh. I’m now going to shing the shecond …”

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Is there no mercy? I thought. No chance of divine intervention?

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Ben readied himself and opened his mouth to sing. Nothing came out. Except strange gurgles, like “ugh, ugh.” He’d forgotten the bloody words! But he wouldn’t give up. He kept on gurgling. This was horrible. We were surely in the grip of madness.

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We waited and waited. Then, in the midst of this terrible vacuum a voice, rang out, loud and clear: ”GOOD LORD! IS THAT THE TIME?” it said.

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It more than filled the void. It was Bingo, of course. Ben gulped. It took another second for the effect of Bingo’s utterance to penetrate the subs’ booze-sodden brains.

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The rest is hysteria, so to speak. Somebody laughed. Then the entire assembly began to rock with guffaws and general mirth. With perfect timing Bingo had saved the day.

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The second example is entirely different. For one thing it has a genuine punch line. But it does need a slight explanation for those who were not on the Daily Express at the time. The Express group had been taken over by a gang of accountants, who appointed David (later Lord) Stevens chairman.  He was a remarkably small man, perhaps less than five feet tall. Got that?

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Early one afternoon five or six subs sat around reading magazines or chatting as we waited for the backbench to pass over the first news page of the day.

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Into the room burst a sub whose nickname was something like Shorty. He seemed excited about something.

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“You guys are not going to believe this,” declared Shorty, “But I have just come up in the lift with someone who is shorter than myself!”

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At this point we have to go into nano-second mode. Like so …

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Nano-second one: We all knew instantly who Shorty was talking about.

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Nano-second one and a half:  Not even the semblance of a murmur escaped the lips of the assembled subs. They simply couldn’t have cared less.

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Nano second two: Bingo says: “OH, IS THERE A CIRCUS IN TOWN?”

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His words exploded like a shell burst. The effect was devastating. Subs had to pick themselves up off the floor. Even Shorty had to laugh.

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And what about Bingo? Bingo never laughs at his own jokes. Never? Well, only sometimes and then only a little.


Thank you for not mentioning the fire extinguisher attack on the features department. Did the scorch marks come out of your jacket? — Ed


12 December 2023

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