Obituary: Jim Bowen, comic host of TV quiz Bullseye

Jim Bowen was a genial stand-up comedian and TV personality who for 14 years hosted the hugely popular ITV game show Bullseye.

Jim Bowen (Picture: Paul Parke)
Jim Bowen (Picture: Paul Parke)

The schoolmaster-turned-entertainer attracted large television audiences with his north country humour, his cheery disposition and his infectious catchphrases in a show which ran virtually non-stop from 1981 to 1995.

Bowen was born Peter Williams in Heswall, Cheshire, on 20 August 1937. He was educated at Accrington Grammar School and Chester Diocesan Training College. He became a teacher at schools in Lancashire and subsequently deputy headmaster of Caton Primary School near Lancaster.

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While teaching, involvement with the local dramatic society kindled his interest in showbusiness. In the 1960s, he worked part-time as a stand-up comedian on the northern club circuit.

The advent of Granada TV’s The Comedians gave him the opportunity to appear on national TV, which helped persuade him to become a full-time entertainer.

Television opportunities followed and he appeared in Granada’s The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club as well as Thames Television’s late-night chat show Take Two.

In 1981, Bowen was appointed presenter of Bullseye, which mixed general knowledge questions with darts. The show quickly became a popular feature of ITV’s schedules early on Sunday evenings, and ran for 14 years. Several of the show’s catchphrases became well-known. He would warn contestants that if they gambled and lost, all they would receive was their “BFH” (bus fare home).

“Nothing for two in a bed” referred to how contestants would win a prize by hitting the appropriate part of the dartboard, but would lose the prize if they hit it twice. His most popular phrase was “super, smashing, great”.

Bowen also appeared in TV dramas and comedies. He played a crooked accountant in ITV’s 1982 drama Muck and Brass, and later guest starred in BBC1’s Jonathan Creek and Channel 4’s Phoenix Nights.

In 1999, Bowen began presenting on BBC Radio Lancashire, but after working there for three years, resigned after referring to a guest on his show as a “nig-nog”. He admitted that, even though he apologised for the remark almost immediately, he believed his showbusiness career was over.

But he returned to the limelight in 2005, when he performed a solo show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe about Bullseye, called You Can’t Beat A Bit Of Bully. He returned to Edinburgh in the summer of 2006, performing at Jongleurs.

In February, 2011 he suffered two mild strokes. Bowen died at the age of 80 on March 14. He is survived by wife Phyllis and two children.

Chris Moncrieff