It became one of ITV’s most successful weekend game shows, based around darts and general knowledge, and with reruns of the show still pulling in the viewers to Challenge; Bullseye is celebrating a very happy 35th anniversary since the first ATV produced episode aired back on September 28th 1981.
Bullseye wasn’t ATV’s first dart based game show, back on February 20th 1956 the broadcaster launched Hit The Limit. Produced by future Crossroads and Neighbours producer Reg Watson the show, from Birmingham, was first seen only in the Midlands region of ITV before later being networked. It was a major hit for the early commercial network with a 60% audience share in the Midlands when it launched – making it the most popular show on ATV at the time. Despite its success, only three series were made with the first hosted by Pete Murray, followed by Jerry Desmonde and later Leslie Sands.
It was also quite a unique format in the game show genre with the series both featuring studio and on location footage including the canteen of Imperial Chemicals. Contestants would answer questions in return for cash prizes while the dartboard varied the amount won.
1956: Reg Watson (centre) talks through the rules of Hit the Limit with Jerry Desmonde (right)
There was another successful hit the target game from ATV when in 1967 the company brought to the airwaves the live Golden Shot. This weekend extravaganza mixed game show with variety and music and became a Sunday night smash with Bob Monkhouse as host. However rather than darts, the show used a bolt and bow to hit random targets of value. Other popular personalities to front The Golden Shot included Norman Vaughan and Charlie Williams. The BBC tried a short lived darts game show in 1968 with Quiz Time Gentlemen Please, with the proceedings taking place in a pub set.
Hitting the target: Anne Aston and Bob Monkhouse on The Golden Shot
It wasn’t until 1981 that ATV Network at its Birmingham facilities returned to the dart board. Bullseye, produced in the same studio as its predecessor The Golden Shot, initially didn’t look like it would have the same success as the bolt and bow show of the sixties and seventies. While Hit The Limit had been promoted with the slogan “Fun and fortune await lucky contestants in this happy-go-lucky half-hour,” Bullseye’s arrival was listed as more matter of fact; ATV’s publicity listing noted “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”.
The first series was quite different to what viewers would come to know and love; with no sign of the famous Bully mascot ‘Bendy Bully’ prize (although he did appear in the opening titles and in the set of the studio) nor was there former darts player Tony Green as the scorer, and co-host.
1981: Jim Bowen brings Bullseye to ITV screens with episode one
Host Jim Bowen went on record stating the first run of episodes were “sh*te”, and while not quite as bad as that it was very different from the show we all came to know and love. Bowen in the establishing series had to multitask across the show – asking the quiz questions as well as trying to count up the darts scoring, this at times proved a little awkward. The only role he didn’t occupy was that of announcer which was left to ATV’s sports presenter Nick Owen. This series remained locked away within the ITV vaults until 2013 when it, along with the second series, finally had a second airing.
Caravan of love?: Jim Bowen shows us what we could have won in 1982
In 1982 new production company Central Television took over the series and revamped the set, pace and format of the show, however despite the not so polished performance by comedian Jim Bowen as presenter he wasn’t replaced by a slicker host – such as Leslie Crowther – instead the powers that be decided to give him another chance and of course brought in darts commentator Tony Green to deal with the scoring and commentary side of the show, leaving Jim to the comedy and questions. It’s this format which became a staple part of the ITV schedules and pulled in huge audience figures for the channel.
1994: Bully and Jim pictured at the Central Studios in Nottingham, where the show relocated in 1992.
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.
In 2005 a one-off special returned to ITV as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, hosted by Ant and Dec. It proved a hit and returned again for another one-off outing in 2007 with Vernon Kay as host. It was good news for those who couldn’t beat a bit of Bully in 2006 when Challenge commissioned a new run of episodes with Dave Spikey as host and Tony Green in the role he’d become famous to TV viewers for.
1982: Rehearsals for the Central production of Bullseye at Studio 1 in the ATV Centre in Birmingham
The enduring popularity of Bullseye was celebrated by Challenge last year 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 Bowen, 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 this year Jim Bowen, now 79, was voted Britain’s Best Game Show host in a poll by Quiz Britain. Bowen, a former teacher turned stand-up comic, found fame on Granada Television’s The Comedians, topped the vote with 26%.
Bullseye can regularly be seen on Challenge in re-runs proving that viewers still can’t beat a bit of Bully. You can join in the celebrations over at the official Bullseye Facebook page and on Twitter.