Tributes of the ban who turned Sunderland printing firm into global bingo card empire

Frank Cronin and his book
Frank Cronin and his book
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The man who turned a Sunderland business into a global bingo empire has died.

Frank Cronin followed in his father’s footsteps to work in the family firm of Edward Thompson – at that time, a small stationary and printing business.

But an order for bingo cards from a local priest provided some divine inspiration and within a few years, Edward Thompson was one of the world’s leading supplier of bingo cards.

Frank, who passed away on Saturday, retired several year ago and today son Paddy runs the company.

“The reaction from people to the news has been lovely,” he said.

“We have had a lot of sympathy from people all over the country, from people in the bingo industry, people in the printing industry, people from the charities my dad worked with. We got a nice letter from the football club because my dad was a director there at one point. It has been overwhelming.”

A funeral service will be held at St Benet’s Church in Monkwearmouth at 11am on Wednesday, and Paddy is excepting a big turn-out.

“There are people coming up from the Variety Club of Great Britain and all the people my dad has supported during his life are coming to support him,” he said.

Frank took on the role as finance director at SAFC in the late 70s, paying wages out of his own pocket as he helped turn around the club’s fortunes.

SAFC CEO Margaret Byrne said: “We were deeply saddened by the news of Frank’s passing.

“He was a loyal servant to Sunderland AFC during his time as a director and his family remain good friends to the club.

“Our thoughts are with the Cronin family at this sad time.”

The life of Frank

Frank Stephen Cronin was born in Barnard Street, Sunderland, on February 3, 1933, the second of three boys.

Mum Frances had long-term health problems as a result of having contracted TB, and Frank often took “weeks and weeks” off school to nurse her, yet was still regularly top of his class in maths at Corby Hall.

Edward Thompson was a small jobbing printer and stationer when Frank joined father John in the family business.

Returning home from national service in 1953, he was keen to take a more hands-on role in the business.

When Father Jeremiah O’Callaghan ordered bingo tickets for a parish fund-raiser, Frank sensed a new opportunity. The first cards were ordered from a firm in Ipswich, but within months, Edward Thompson was printing its own.

A firm with fewer than a dozen employees in 1959, was employing more than 300 people by the mid-60s and printing 50 million cards a week by 1965.

Frank’s gift for numbers saw him expand the number of ticket combinations from fewer than 2,000, to nearly 17,000.

In fact, the firm still uses his calculations to draw up its cards today. Frank married sweetheart Teresa Martin in 1957, and the couple had four boys – Stephen, Paul, Philip and Patrick, known as Paddy.

Bingo was the boom pass-time of the 1960s, with former cinemas often converted into bingo halls. A mill in Wilson Street was acquired to cope with demand and a factory for Frank’s new firm, Wearside Electronics, which built bingo blowers, next door.

A second factory was completed in Richmond Street in 1964 and by the 1970s, Edward Thompson had become the world’s largest manufacturer of bingo tickets. Such was the firm’s success, Frank snapped up the old Echo office in Bridge Street in 1976 for extra storage space.

By the late 1970s, the firm was making 150million tickets a week, but it was the introduction of newspaper bingo which provided the biggest boost in the 1980s.

By 2000, annual sales had reached £40million, with business almost equally split between bingo, the paper mill and printing.

Teresa passed away in 2004, but Frank is survived by his four sons and 10 grandchildren.