Published: 14:14, 20 February 2019
| Updated: 14:17, 20 February 2019
It's eyes down for new owners at Sheppey’s biggest independent bingo hall.
Jerry Bown and his wife Jackie have bowed out after 25 years and handed the keys of the Kings Club in Sheerness Broadway to bingo-mad Islander Minnie McCoy.
Minnie, who was 38 on Valentine's Day, said: "This was a wonderful birthday present."
"I feel like the queen of Kings. My mum and I adore bingo and always wanted our own club.
"This is a dream come true."
Minnie and her mum have been regulars at Kings, on and off, for 19 years and were playing in the club when they first heard it might be for sale.
Minnie recalled: "It was the one night I insisted on taking my husband, Tom.
"He hates bingo and refused to play. But he got talking to Jackie at the back of the hall.
"He said he didn't play but would buy the building if it was ever for sale. A couple of weeks later, she asked if he was serious."
That was 18 months ago. Since then, Minnie has been busy working behind the scenes to get her gaming licence.
Just before she took over,builders moved into the town's former Argosy cinema to begin upgrading its heating and lighting systems and refurbish the toilets.
Mum-of-two Minnie said: "The work has gone down very well with members. They even gave me a cheer when I announced we had the hot water working!"
She added: "There is no denying that the building looks tired and run-down . It's very sad. But people love the Art Deco retro feel and we are determined to put the sparkle back."
She and her husband are planning to repaint the outside when the weather is warmer and there is even talk of revamping the upstairs which hasn't been used for years.
Minnie said: "It would be wonderful if we could start showing films again. Sheppey could do with a cinema."
She is no stranger to hard work as far as the entertainment industry goes.
Her parents Jayne and Miguel Garcia own the Bay View pub at Leysdown and previously ran Elmhurst and Sunnymead holiday parks and the Coppice Inn at Eastchurch.
Paula Green, 63, will remain as manager. She started working at club almost 30 years ago.
She said: "We were open seven days a week in those days. Now we are down to four sessions on Monday, Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. But the popularity of bingo seems to be picking up again."
Ten years ago the Bowns, from Whitstable, applied to demolish the building and replace it with 13 town centre flats with a “community facility” on the ground floor.
Mr Bown blamed his decision on the Government's smoking ban and online gaming at the time, which had bitten into his profits.
But he continued to keep the bingo business going.
He said: "Having a large derelict building in the centre of Sheerness was the last thing I wanted. But it is time for us to retire."
The Bowns previously owned the bingo hall in Whitstable which was later sold to Wetherspoon’s and turned into the Peter Cushing pub, named after the town’s late horror actor.
The undamaged Art Deco interior of the former cinema has already won the heart of film-makers.
A video crew recently took over the hall to shoot scenes for Scottish singer C Duncan's new single Talk Talk Talk.
It featured a string of bingo caller's cliches but when it came to "bang the drum" for 51 the producers turned to the Sheppey St John Ambulance Band for help.
Drum section leader Richard Broster jumped at the chance to take part after a last-minute phone calland rustled up enough musicians.
Band master Dean Faulkner said: "It was a crazy afternoon. While not quite Robbie Williams, who recorded his video at Leysdown, C Duncan is well-known for his music on line.
"He wasn’t there but it was still a great experience. We hit it off with Laura June Hudson, who features in the Six Nations Guinness advert and is in the film Johnny English Strikes Again with Rowan Atkinson.
"We saw a life-size dancing bag of Pick 'n' Mix for 56, two fat ladies for 88 and a giant can of baked beans for Heinz 57.
"There were 40 cast and crew plus a live snake and a lot of waiting but in the end we did a very simple drum display. Let's hope we make the final cut!"
Minnie added: "The film company even left some of their props behind. It was very good of them but I have no idea what to use a giant tin of beans for!"
The Argosy cinema opened on January 29, 1936, with Jack Buchanan's film Brewster's Millions.
It was operated by East Kent Cinemas and boasted 1,250 seats and a distinctive hexagonal tower.
The building was taken over by the Lou Morris chain in 1944 and sold to the Essoldo Group in 1944.
It closed in 1968 and became a Gala Bingo Club until 1994 when Gerry and Jackie Bown bought it and renamed it Kings.