Jim Bowen, Bullseye host and comedian, dies aged 80

Famous for ‘super, smashing, great’ catchphrase, he became a household name on the darts gameshow

Jim Bowen, the comedian and broadcaster who was best known for hosting the darts-based gameshow Bullseye, has died at the age of 80.

A former teacher and one of a generation of comedians who earned and learned their trade in front of the audiences of working men’s clubs and other venues on the northern club circuit, he became a household name when he started to present Bullseye on ITV in 1981.

A number of strokes – in 2011 in 2014 – left him struggling to walk and talk but did not affect his trademark cheery disposition.

“I’m very well and I’m expecting to make it! Between your ears you feel 35 but when it gets to your legs and arms your body doesn’t know,” he told the Daily Mirror last year.

Bowen died at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary on Wednesday.

Born Peter Williams in Heswall, Cheshire, on 20 August 1937, Bowen became a teacher at schools in Lancashire and subsequently deputy headmaster of Caton primary near Lancaster.

Part-time work as a standup comedian during the 1960s followed from his involvement in local dramatic societies before the advent of Granada TV’s The Comedians gave him the chance to appear on national television.

Other television opportunities followed, including appearances on Granada’s The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club as well as Thames Television’s late-night chatshow Take Two.

He left teaching to embark on a new career and presented Bullseye, which mixed general knowledge questions with darts, for 14 years until 1995.

His catchphrases on the programme became well known, including his warning to contestants that if they gambled and lost then all they would receive was their “BFH” (bus fare home).

“Nothing for two in a bed” referred to how contestants would win a prize by hitting the appropriate part of the dartboard but would lose the prize if they hit it twice. His most popular catchphrase was “super, smashing, great”.

Television drama appearances included an appearance as a crooked accountant in ITV’s 1982 drama Muck and Brass, as well as guest appearances on BBC1’s Jonathan Creek and Channel 4’s Phoenix Nights.

John Plews, who produced Bowen’s live shows for many years, told the Guardian: “He was just such a lovely bloke. He was in person exactly as he was on stage or on television and just loved spending time having a laugh with fans or anyone else.

“I produced a lot of his stage shows in the 1980s and 90s, right up until the mid-90s, and my overall memory is one of having fun. The style of comedy that is most popular today may have changed but the young comedians still seemed to look up to him and namecheck him.”

Among those paying tribute to Bowen was the comedian David Baddiel, who imagined a conversation in which God asks Stephen Hawking – who also died on Wednesday – to explain how the universe came into being.

As Hawking begins to explain that there are infinite alternative universes, Bowen interjects with a catchphrase: “In other words, look what you could have won.”

Bowen began presenting on BBC Radio Lancashire in 1999 but resigned after working there for three years when he referring to a guest on his show using a racist epithet. He admitted that although he had apologised for the remark almost immediately, he believed his showbusiness career was over.

However, he 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 returned to Edinburgh in the summer of 2006, performing at Jongleurs.

Bowen is survived by his wife, Phyllis, a son and daughter and two grandchildren.