MOST of us know Jim Bowen as the presenter of 80s TV quiz show Bullseye – famed for the catchphrases “super, smashing, great”, “look at what you could have won” and the legendary acronym “BFH”– bus fare home.
But it was in the 1970s smash ITV series The Comedians that Jim Bowen cut his teeth in television, paving the way for a successful TV career which was to last 40 years.
On May 21, Jim returns to his roots with co-stars of The Comedians Stan Boardman and Mick Miller in an exclusive performance at Lancaster’s Grand Theatre to mark the popular TV show’s ruby anniversary.
“It’s a lovely celebration,” said Jim, who lives in Melling with his wife Phyllis.
“It was an institution in the 70s and we are paying homage to it.”
The Comedians became a platform for some of Britain’s best comics of the time, including Frank Carson, Russ Abbott, Roy Walker, Tom O’Connor, Mike Reid and Bernard Manning in a series of stand-up sets beamed into thousands of homes across the country.
“TV was still in its infancy in the 70s,” said Jim.
“There were only three channels, so it was such a novelty, because most of the comedy acts before then were only seen in theatres.”
Jim joined the team in 1971, for its second series, after Frank Carson recommended him to its producer, Johnnie Hamp, head of Light Entertainment for ITV.
“At the time, I was deputy head at St Paul’s Primary School in Brookhouse,” explained Jim.
“I was doing the clubs just to earn a bit of extra money and I got a week at a club in Cleveleys called The Dolphin Bar.
“I did two spots a night for six nights and every night I died twice.
“Apart from the Thursday night first show where everyone was falling about laughing, and there at the bar was Frank Carson.
“Afterwards he said to me ‘That was bloody funny. Do you want to go on telly?
“If he had come to see the second show on Thursday, I died again! In fact, that was the only one time out of 12 shows that I was good, but that was good enough.”
Frank told Jim about a new series called The Comedians and promised to mention Jim’s name to producer Johnnie Hamp.
“I didn’t even know who Johhnie Hamp was at the time,” said Jim.
“But weeks later I got a phone call at home, and I remember just thinking, Frank Carson remembered!”
Jim was chosen out of more than 400 comedians, who auditioned for a place in the show and handed in his notice as a teacher to begin filming in front of a live audience in Manchester for a series to be broadcast on ITV.
“We used to record on a Monday night at 7pm. There were 10 of us and we had to do eight minutes each,” said Jim.
“By 10pm, Johnnie had 100 minutes of TV which then made two shows.
“I did it for four years for 13 weeks a year.” Around 120 comics appeared on The Comedians while it screened between 1971 and 1985, some appeared only once, while others such as Stan Boardman and Russ Abbott made a name for themselves. It gave Jim his big break in TV and led to a number of TV appearances, the most famous being a 15-year stint as host of the much-loved classic 80s quiz show ‘Bulleye’.
“When Bullseye came along in 1981, they gave it three weeks,” said Jim. “In the first 15 minutes of the first transmission, we lost six million viewers. I remember meeting Eric Morecambe in The Midland hotel and Bullseye had just been slated in the papers and he looked across and said ‘I saw The Mirror today son’ and he told me to come and sit down and he said ‘The most difficult thing to find in anybody’s house is yesterday’s newspaper.’
“In the last five weeks of the series it shot up to 15 million viewers and the rest as they say is history.”
The show made Jim a household name and he has since appeared in shows such as Last of The Summer Wine, Jonathan Creek and Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, as well as waking up the county as the co-presenter of Radio Lancashire’s breakfast show with Sally Naden.
For the past few years, Jim, now 73, spends his time working on cruise ships and making after-dinner speeches but is excited about performing in Lancaster for the first time in 15 years.
“It will be nice to work together with Stan and Mick,” said Jim.
“It’s a beautiful theatre and a lovely venue and I’m thrilled the way The Grand is working out.”
Many of the comics who starred in the original series have since passed away and Jim is hoping that the night will be one to remember his former colleagues, celebrate the comedy of the past and most importantly, have a laugh.
“There will be mixed emotions because there are some good lads that have gone,” said Jim.
“But we want people to have a laugh.
“It’s not necessarily PC but we don’t have a problem with that because we’re comedians, not politicians but we certainly don’t want to offend people, we want to make them smile.
“It’s just old-fashioned comedy, an honest sort of comedy and the people who go to it will have a hell of a night.”