Jim Bowen was so much more than just the host of Bullseye
He was the star of one of TV’s most unlikely hit quiz show, but as David Clayton remembers, the late Jim Bowen was also an extremely talented comedian.
E veryone knew him for Bullseye, the TV game show based on darts, but for me he was one of the funniest stand-up comics of his age.
I’m genuinely sad we lost Jim Bowen back in March, because he made me laugh and laugh, and what’s more he used to stay around our house when he visited Norwich.
Jim made his name on The
Jim was a funny man telling funny stories!
Comedians TV show which burst on to the screen in the early 1970s and catapulted many comics to national fame – among them Duggie Brown, Mike Reid, Frank Carson and Bernard Manning.
Jim was in that eclectic mix of gag-tellers and all of them found rich pickings filling the country’s cabaret clubs because of their new-found fame. Many of them came to The Talk in Norwich where I was the DJ and I met them all, but Jim stayed at our house simply because he needed ‘digs’ and
hadn’t pre-arranged them. Given my connections with the nightclub, my mother often said she could offer our spare room. So, we had a succession of artistes come to stay for a few nights at a time.
Mother would try to ‘mother’ him: “Jim, will you sit down and eat your shepherds pie!” He didn’t and wouldn’t. Nor did he have any of her rice pudding. Jim was the proverbial ‘laugh a minute’. He didn’t eat much but boy did we chuckle round the dinner table.
It is hard to imagine how everyone coped without mobile phones back in the 1970s. All you could do was leave messages for people at destinations. On one of Jim’s later trips to The Talk we were getting phone calls from a TV executive. They wanted him to contact them as soon as he arrived with us. Back then I was running an entertainment agency with The Talk’s compere, Brian Russell, and we’d booked Jim, so we felt responsible for dealing with this.
Jim, however, kept putting it off for reasons I can’t recall other than he was enjoying himself, having a drink or two and meeting the people he knew around here. The TV executive’s secretary kept calling. I kept passing messages on.
“Oh,” he said impatiently, “it’s some programme they want me to do about darts.” His language was a little more colourful! “For goodness sake call them back, Jim,” I pleaded. He kept putting it off. In the end I dialled the number and put the phone in his hand.
I remember we all discussed the idea over a pint or two and I don’t think we could quite work out what a game show involving darts would look like. I asked Jim if he’d be able to do his stand-up comedy, of which Brian and I were such fans. He wasn’t sure. In the end I think we all suggested it could only enhance his popularity, whatever they needed him to do on the show. Jim concluded much the same ... and the rest is TV history.
His regular appearances at The Talk nightclub in Norwich endeared him to East Anglian audiences and, unlike other comedians who came and went, Brian Russell and I would pick a prime spot at the bar to watch Jim in action.
I always thought Jim had a comedian’s face, enhanced by a pained, quizzical expression as he delivered funny line after funny line. Rather in the style of Ken Dodd, Jim would build up waves of laughter. Brian and I hung on to each other, helpless with laughter. Once, we actually fell to the floor in hysterics. We’d heard Jim’s routine and material before, but as ever it was all about the timing and Jim could do timing.
I watched Jim become even more of a household name. He was as funny as he could be on Bullseye and built up a great rapport with the contestants and studio audience, but it wasn’t really a vehicle for his full-on comedy. He turned his hand to acting in the acclaimed Muck and Brass TV series where he played a crooked accountant. He popped up on Last of the Summer Wine and, away from the screen, was a regular performer on cruise liners.
Brian Russell still runs Norwich Artistes Entertainment Agency and booked Jim to work in this part of the world many times, often with a stage version of Bullseye. Their joint love of Blackburn Rovers meant that Brian would often stay with Jim in the north west to go to matches and they spent many hours in each other’s company. “He was always great with people,” said Brian as we reminisced about Jim’s comedy.
“The thing is there are funny men who can tell stories and men who can tell funny stories, but Jim was a funny man telling funny stories!”
I don’t think we could quite work out what a gameshow involving darts would look like.
Jim Bowen, pictured in Ipswich in 2003, reading The East Anglian Daily Times.
Remembering a great comedian and friend, David Clayton (pictured left) pays tribute to the late Jim Bowen, with Brian Russell ( right).