Entertainment

‘He was super smashing, a telly great’: The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

With the genial Jim Bowen as host, you really couldn’t beat a bit of Bully.

The comic’s darts-based quiz ­Bullseye ran for 14 years and was watched by more than 17 million people.

And as fans mourned his death today aged 80, the stars of the darts world paid tribute to him with Bobby George saying: “We had so much fun.”

Cheshire-born Jim passed away with wife Phyllis by his side after several weeks in the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

Family friend John Pleus said: “He passed away very peacefully. We are all shedding a tear. I’ve known him since the Bullseye days. It wasn’t completely unexpected, he’s been ill for several weeks.

“As with people getting on, Jim has had several strokes, one in 2011. Strokes just make you weaker and more susceptible to infections but we don’t know what the cause of death will be.”

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Jim Bowen with his wife Phyllis

Jim got his TV break as a comic and became a household name with Bullseye.

The show featured three pairs of contestants – made up of a “thrower”, who would play the dart board, and a “knower”, who would answer general knowledge questions.

The show quickly became a popular feature of ITV’s Sunday evening schedule and ran from 1981 to 1995,

His catchphrases were loved as much as the format – including “You can’t beat a bit of Bully!”, “Let’s look at what you could have won” and “Keep out of the black and into the red, nothing in this game for two in a bed”.

Jazz fan Jim was also a trumpet player, performing with a band on the QE2.

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Bowen with darts legend Eric Bristow in 1985

Former darts pros George, Keith Deller and Eric Bristow were among those honouring him last night. George, 72, thanked Jim for “the great Bullseye days”.

Deller, 58, said: “So sad to hear the news of my friend Jim Bowen who passed away. I was very fortunate to go on Bullseye many times. He always made you very welcomed and he made Bullseye the great show it was. RIP Jim.”

Bristow, 60, added: “I done every year of Bullseye and had 15 days with him on the QE2. I played darts in the afternoon and he played with his band at night, we had some late nights haha. Great memories.” And former heavyweight boxing champ Frank Bruno tweeted: “Jim Bowen RIP great comic we had a lot of laughs together.”

Bullseye’s Twitter account posted a message from creator Andrew Wood, saying: “Thank you for all the memories Jim, you will be greatly missed.”

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Bowen on the set with one of the prizes

John Clayton, Bowen’s editor at BBC Radio Lancashire – where he worked for three years from 1999 – said every day with him was “a joy”. He said: “He took our listeners on a radio adventure where no one was ever quite sure about the destination, least of all Jim.

“Sketches, competitions, interviews and even ‘talent’ shows, Jim handled them all in his unique, irreverent and delightfully shambolic way.

“But his humanity and his love of life and the people of Lancashire always shone through. In an interview to mark his 80th birthday, Jim said the years spent on the Happy Daft Farm were the best and happiest of his long career in entertainment and all of us at BBC Radio Lancashire were delighted and proud to share them with him.”

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Bowen tying the knot with Phyllis in 1959

Bowen was born Peter Williams in Heswall, Cheshire, on August 20, 1937. He went to Accrington Grammar School before becoming a teacher, ending up as deputy head of Caton Primary School, near Lancaster. While teaching, he became involved with the local dramatic society and in the 1960s worked part-time as a stand-up comic on the northern club circuit.

He was inspired to take up comedy after watching Ken Dodd – who died earlier this week, aged 90 – perform two shows lasting a total of seven hours in one night in Blackpool.

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Doing a stand up routing in 1972

Jim said last year: “I watched seven hours of Ken Dodd and I watched him completely decimate 7,000 people. He left them in ruins with laughter.

“And I thought, that’s some feeling that he must get after that. And so I learned his act.”

Granada TV’s The Comedians gave him the chance to do national TV, which made him want to be a full-time entertainer.

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Bowen showing off the house his fame bought

Jim appeared in Granada’s The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club and Thames Television’s late-night chat show Take Two before landing Bullseye.

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

Jim began presenting on BBC Radio Lancashire in 1999 but resigned three years later after referring to a guest on his show as a “n*g-n*g”.

He said even though he had apologised almost immediately, he believed his showbusiness career was over.

But Jim 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 then returned to Edinburgh in the summer of 2006, performing at Jongleurs.

In February 2011, he suffered two mild strokes and said afterwards he had learned to “appreciate all the things in life”.

My tears for thoroughly lovely man and comic genius

By Rachael Bletchly
Chief Feature Writer

I have a collection of souvenirs of my favourite celebrity interviews and in pride of place is a “Bendy Bully” given to me by Jim Bowen, with my Ken Dodd tickling stick resting in its arm.

It made me cry yesterday when I heard that genial Jim had died. Because, like Doddy, the former Bullseye host was a thoroughly lovely man and a comic genius.

'He was super smashing, a telly great': The extraordinary life of Jim Bowen remembered as host dies at 80

Bowen with Rachael Bletchly

I visited Jim at home in Melling, Lancashire, in 2012. He was recovering from two strokes, still partially paralysed and struggling to speak. Yet our chat turned into a comedy masterclass.Self-deprecating and deadpan, Jim fired off gags about his show… and his talent for cock-ups.

“I was absolute c**p,” he said.

“People watched Bullseye because they couldn’t believe it was so bad. We grew on people … like a wart.”

But Jim added: “I genuinely believe if you put us back on TV next week we’d blow them out of the water.”

They would have done. Because Jim was super, smashing and one of the greats.

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