Jim Bowen interview

Super! Smashing! Great! It's Bullseye's legendary host Jim Bowen, and he's talking to Den Of Geek.

What would Sunday evening in the 1980s have been without Jim Bowen? As the host of Bullseye – surely the best quiz show of the era, by some distance – his catchphrases and comments were a crucial ingredient of the show’s success. Here, he spared Den Of Geek a few minutes for a chat…

How did Bullseye come about for you?Well, the whole thing was an accident really. A guy came up with an idea, because in the 80s it was all pub quizzes, which it still is, and darts was quite big. This guy had this idea, some itinerate guy not someone in showbiz, just had this idea of combining darts, which was one of the biggest indoor sports around, and pub quizzes. But instead of having numbers around a dartboard you had subjects.

How did it progress from there?He took it into Birmingham to Central Television, and the head of ITV as it was then said this sounds a goer. He then gave the concept to Peter Harris at ATV. And eventually I was asked if I wanted to do it and the answer was, as it was a game show in the 80s, a categorical yes, because game shows were massive.

And Harris and I fleshed out this simple idea of throwing darts at subjects, and then thought well we can have three teams in it and then down to do two and eventually one. All the elements of the game as you remember it were put there, by Harris principally and myself.

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1980 it started and the first series ran. It struggled through the first series as I wasn’t strong enough…well I was crap actually. But looking back at it the game was phenomenal, it was a pathfinder because it spawned games like Big Break with three couples down to two down to one, you’ve got Ant and Dec now with three commercials do you want to gamble them; all these elements we were doing quite unconsciously. We were pathfinding in the game show.

Consequently we were moved from Monday night to Sunday afternoons in 1981 and we ran for fifteen years; Sunday afternoons 5 o’clock and it just became phenomenal actually. Nobody knows why, it just tickled the fancy and we regarded it, when we talked about it in-house, as the Coronation Street of the gameshows.It was probably taken off a bit too early actually, I think maybe a year early, but Marcus Plantin, who was head of programmes decided to take it off. He took off The Upper Hand, Boon

So all of ITVs hits at the time?And Blockbusters, too. The man took four shows off in one meeting. I’m delighted to say he’s unemployed now, but what a plank, an absolute plank.

It didn’t matter, I mean we’d done 15 years, we weren’t going to go any further with it, it would have remained the same. But I still believe now, and this isn’t a bitter man talking or a regretful man, but it could have been running still. It was a bit like Countdown, it just became part of the nation’s fabric on a Sunday night. As it’s been proved since, we made 350 shows and they’re still showing them on Challenge now. UK Gold bought over 300 shows. So that’s it, I mean we didn’t know what we were doing really!

You said you muddled through the first series, but at what point did you realise that this had clicked?The first series was a struggle, we went out Monday nights and we lost 7 million viewers in the first six weeks. It went from 13 million after Crossroads, and managed to get it down to seven million, it was so bad.Is that a badge of honour!

Yes, but people were watching us saying it’s got to get better, and they watched it the following week and said Jesus Christ it’s going worse! I mean they were bad. But there was an honesty and naivety about it that somehow appealed and by the time the 13 weeks had finished we were back up to 13 million. We dropped to seven and then we sort of grew on them like a rash.

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Presumably you think it wouldn’t get that window now? It would be three weeks and once the ratings started to go it would..?Well, you’re absolutely ahead of the game there, it wouldn’t get three weeks. I mean, who’s the guy who went to America and became very successful as a doctor… Hugh Laurie…[House]…they gave him two and a half weeks and because the ratings didn’t make it, it was off.You mentioned that over 300 shows have been made. Does even now, the huge affection for the show still take you back today?Yes, I was 69 and I did the Edinburgh Festival!

A friend of ours was there on his stag night, and saw your show…Well, it had sold out every night. And I mean, they seemed to enjoy it. I remember the guys coming in because they were sat on my right, at the front, and they were lovely, they were really good lads. It was the only stag do we had in and I think they would probably tell you they enjoyed it.

They did!Because it was just telling stories, not exclusively about Bullseye, but stories about my career, reminiscing, and I was amazed it went well to be honest, we went up there for fun and ended up selling out for 22 nights with 300 a night.

Are you still doing that show every now and again round the country?I do the ships. I do An Audience with Jim Bowen on the ships. I do Warner hotels where there are adults only, they’re all over 50 my sort of audience, so I can talk about Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson and it’s just an hour of reminiscence and then I sell my autobiography at the end. I enjoy it.

Can I ask you one more question? What was it like being on the receiving end of a Noel Edmonds Gotcha?Oh fabulous, phenomenal. I mean they did it so well. It was a Japanese, advertising thing…oh I can’t remember it now…a product some computer thing, and there was a guy sitting next to me not saying anything. And I’m saying all these Japanese words, it was all matchstick men on the front of the card showing the viewer, saying you must buy this product, and the computer caught fire, and I’m still doing it. I said ‘The bloody computer’s caught fire. It’s crap it is.’ And then Noel came out with a fire extinguisher. Yes, very good. It was a joy to be part of it, because they completely took me in at the end.

Jim Bowen, thank you very much….!

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