Jim Bowen: five little known facts about Bullseye host who has died aged 80

Bullseye star paid £4,000 to release three takes of his Christmas single - including a rap version

Jim Bowen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Broadcaster and comedian Jim Bowen, best known for hosting darts-based game show Bullseye in the 1980s and '90s, has died at the age of 80.

Bowen's agent, Patsy Martin, confirmed the news, saying: “I will very sadly miss Jim. He was a very lovely genuine man.”

The Lancastrian comic became a household name in 1981 with the Sunday tea time show, which ran for 14 years and attracted “17.5 million viewers at its peak”, says the BBC.

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Bowen became known for catchphrases including “Super, smashing, great”, “You can't beat a bit of Bully!” and “Let's look at what you could have won”.

The show’s prizes were “celebrated for being inappropriate - a couple from a tower block in Walsall won a speedboat - or undesirable - an alarm clock for every room,” says the Daily Mirror.

Bowen told the paper in an interview in 2016: “Game shows today are too high-tech with a £1 million prize. The nice thing about us was they were excited if they won a toaster.”

“But that was 31 years ago when not every household had a toaster. People lose sight of that.”

Here's five little known facts about the man.

He was adopted

Bowen was adopted at nine months from a Wirral orphanage in 1937. He told the Lancashire Telegraph in 2015: “All I know is that my mother, whoever she was, could not keep me.”

“I never wanted to trace my parents. You do not know what grief you are uncovering. Some people have a mid-life crisis and want to find their parents but I never had that crisis. I did not want to uncover a bag of worms,” he said.

His adoptive parents, Joe and Annie Whittaker, were “excellent”.

Jim said: “My dad had been in the First World War and had seen all the carnage in Belgium. He kept himself to himself and did not like to talk about his experiences.

“He never showed much emotion - but my mum was the opposite. They were excellent parents.”

He was a schoolteacher for ten years before turning to comedy

Bowen attended Accrington Grammar school, but did not excel at his studies. After failing all but one of his O-levels, he worked as a binman for six months before successfully re-sitting the exams.

After completing national service, he left his dustman days behind and enrolled at Chester Diocesan Training College (now the University of Chester), where he met his wife, Phyllis. He eventually earned a degree in maths and education and began a career as a teacher.

After ten years of teaching, Bowen had become a deputy headmaster by the time he decided to turn his stand-up hobby a career.

“I often say the highlight of my teaching career was leaving,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph. “I was a good teacher, very dedicated, but I left instead of nailing the little ones to the desks.”

Bowen paid for his own Christmas single

In 2008, Bowen released a re-imagining of ‘Walk The Dinosaur’, originally released by Was (Not Was) in 1987. Bowen first performed the song on Harry Hill’s TV Burp he said that the lyrics were “so bizarre that I just thought I had to do it”, he told Den of Geek. “When you get to my age, nothing’s all that serious anyway so I went ahead.”

The single had three versions, the “normal version, one with me rapping and then an acid jazz version”, he told the website. Bowen even paid for the production of the single himself, saying: “it was a bargain basement deal which cost me £4,000, but I don't think it'll be downloaded enough to pay that back”.

He had a humorous mishap with a disabled contestant on Bullseye

According to one anecdote in the book Question Time: A Journey Round Britain’s Quizzes by Mark Mason, during one episode of Bullseye, a contestant in a wheelchair was going to win the star prize. Just as he was about to throw his final dart, the producer screamed “Stop him!” in the ear of Bowen. “They had just realised that the prize was a leather three-piece suite and thought it would not be appreciated by someone in a wheelchair,” writes Mason.

“We’ll swap it for next week’s star prize,” the producer said. The prizes were switched, the dart thrown and the contestant won.

“Congratulations,” Bowen reportedly said as the screen was lifted. “You’ve won... a skiing holiday.”

Bowen used to own a disused railway station

In 1975, “we bought a disused Victorian railway station in Arkholme, Kirkby”, he told This Is Money. “We bought it for £30,000 and sold it for £250,000 in 1989.” The station, Arkholme for Kirkby Lonsdale, was situated on what is now the Leeds to Morecambe Line between the current Wennington and Carnforth stations. It was seen in an episode of TV programme Through the Keyhole featuring his home.

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