ATV Icon: Remembering Jim Bowen.
Jim Bowen’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon (March 28th) at Beetham Hall Crematorium, Cumbria. The Bullseye host died on March 14th aged 80. Here we induct Jim as the lastest star name into the ATV Network Hall of Fame.
Jim was born Peter Williams in August 1937 in Cheshire, he was adopted at an early age by Joe and Annie Whittaker, he became known as James Whittaker growing up in Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire, and attending Accrington Grammar School.
It was education that he would work in during the early part of his career, working as an English teacher. During this time he became involved with the local dramatic society which opened the door into showbiz. From the theatre stage, the club scene beckoned with Jim spending his evenings out of school as a stand-up comedian.
Having become disillusioned with his teaching career, he was inspired to take up comedy full-time after seeing Ken Dodd perform a well-received show in front of 3,500 in Blackpool. He devised the stage name of Jim Bowen when he decided to attempt a full-time career in the world of comedy. His television break came via ITV and Manchester-based Granada’s The Comedians gave him the opportunity to appear on national TV. The series was a showcase of top performers, and Jim became a regular.
Thanks to the success of the Granada exposure various other programmes were offered and over the years appearances included on BBC One’s Yorkshire Dales sitcom The Last Of The Summer Wine, Granada’s variety series, set in a northern workingmen’s club, The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, Thames Television’s children’s entertainment series You Must Be Joking, Central Television’s Muck and Brass, BBC One’s Jonathan Creek and Channel 4’s Phoenix Nights.
It was however the ATV, and later Central Television, game show Bullseye which would make Jim Bowen one of ITV’s best-known personalities over its fourteen-year run. ATV’s publicity listing noted for the first series; “Jim Bowen hosts a quiz show based around darts. Three teams of contestants, in pairs, test their skills at scoring on the dartboard in order to answer questions and win money and prizes. The winning team then can gamble their winnings for a major star prize”.
While the first run wasn’t quite the show viewers came to know and love, by series two, the format was set for over 300 episodes and Jim Bowen became the king of Sunday teatimes on ITV.
The series proved a hit with the television audiences until 1995 when ITV decided to change their weekend schedules. It has been suggested that the broadcaster was looking for more ‘upmarket’ quiz shows, and Bullseye didn’t quite match the demographic Central and ITV sought. Despite this, the programme became one of ITV’s longest-running game show formats and continues to pull in the viewers to Challenge with its regular reruns of both the ATV and Central Television years.
The reruns also kept Jim in the public eye and a much-loved personality of Challenge TV. The enduring popularity of Bullseye was celebrated by Challenge in 2015 when they aired a specially commissioned documentary charting the darting in You Can’t Beat a Bit of Bully. Produced by Sky Vision Productions, the hour-long one-off special saw contributions from host Jim, referee and co-host Tony Green plus celebrity fans and former contestants all fondly reflecting on the production which at its peak commanded viewing figures of over fifteen million viewers.
In February 2016 Jim was voted Britain’s Best Game Show Host in a poll by Quiz Britain. Bowen topped the vote with 26%.
In 1959, Bowen married his work colleague, Phyllis who supported him throughout his career, driving him to shows, and was by his bedside when he died. The couple have two children, Peter and Susan. In 2011 Jim suffered the first of three strokes, the final one in 2014 left him unable to continue working. Jim died in his home on the 14th of March 2018, aged 80. His private funeral was held yesterday.
Jim of course will continue to go on entertaining audiences with those Bullseye repeats which air regularly on Challenge TV. The channel that following his death dedicated a 24-hour Bullseye marathon of episodes in tribute to the comedian and host. A super, smashing, great gesture.
Jim Bowen, 1937 – 2018