Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Jim Bowen (Peter Williams) 20 August 1937 - 14 March 2018
Jim Bowen will always be remembered as the amiable host of 80's surreal darts game show Bullseye, but he was a teacher who became a comedian who became a star.
Born in Heswall, Cheshire, he was put up for adoption by his unmarried mother and renamed James Whittaker. He won a place at Accrington Grammar but failed eight of his nine O levels and became a bin man in Burnley. His Headteacher believed he had underperformed and encouraged him to resit his exams which led to him entering teacher training college in Chester. He had been keen on drama but decided teaching was more secure.
After seeing Ken Dodd perform as a comedian in the late 50's he was convinced of the magic of comedy and changed his name to Bowen as he felt it would be quicker when signing autographs. Whilst still teaching near Lancaster he also got a stand up slot in Blackpool. Apparently he was not performing well, but he hit his stride the night Frank Carson was in and that led to a TV slot.
The role as host for Bullseye came along in 1981. The programme was enormously popular. Darts fanatics and arch student cult viewing developed a devoted and diverse following. An often overlooked element of the show was Bowen's gentle empathy with his contestants. Many people struggled for work in the 1980's, especially in the declining northern industries and his human touch made him a man of the people in a way that other TV hosts failed to capture. Despite the natural affinity he had, Bowen insists he was the fifth choice for the role.
Bullseye was cancelled in 1995 but Bowen enjoyed a resurgence as a Blackpool club owner in Peter Kaye's Phoenix Nights in 2002. He also appeared in British long running gentle comedy Last of the Summer Wine and was an accomplished jazz trumpeter.
Bowen hosted a show on BBC Lancashire Radio between 1999 and 2002 when he resigned for using a racist term on air. He quickly turned it to his advantage by releasing a DVD of jokes that were not allowed to be used in public anymore. He did not remain out of work for long and capitalised on a new wave of success after Bullseye was rerun on comedy channel Dave by performing at the Edinburgh fringe and from the handsome pay check for the 300 plus episodes being re run.
An example of a unique breed of northern club post war entertainers, Bowen was a gentle man whose warm tones exuded amiable ease combined with classic routine delivery.