Jim Bowen 1937 – 2018
Probably best remembered for the game show Bullseye, Jim Bowen was one of the stars of the groundbreaking series The Comedians that celebrated 40 years back in 2011.
Born Peter Williams on 20th August, in Heswall, Cheshire, to an unmarried mother. Jim was adopted at nine months from an orphanage in Wirral, by working-class couple, Joe Whitaker, a World War 1 veteran, and his wife, Annie Whittaker; who were both from Clayton-Le-Moors in Lancashire. It was here he grew up just outside Accrington, where adopted father Joe was a bricklayer for Accrington’s Nori brick factory and Annie worked as a weaver at Atlas Street Mill.
Educated at Accrington Grammer School in Lancashire Jim failed all but one of his O-Levels and subsequently found himself working as a dustman for Nelson District Council in Burnley. He later changed his name to James Whittaker.
Between 1955 and 1957, Jim Whittaker as he was now known did his two years National Service with the Royal Army Ordance Corps. Serving as an ammunition inspector he reaached the rank of Corporal.
After making a serious error during the Suez Crisis (which he sent the wrong batch of ammunition to Barry Docks, he was sent on a Physical Training course in Aldershot to become an instructor, later becoming a school Physical Education teacher specialising in gymnastics. He studied at Chester Diocesan Training College, eventually becoming a deputy headmaster of Caton Primary School near Lancaster.
He married his wife Phyllis Owen in 1959. They went on to have two children.
In later life, early 2011, it was announced that Bowen was recovering after having suffered from two mild strokes. He suffered his first stroke on 18th February and the second one whilst in hospital. Before his two strokes, Bowen was performing on cruise liners and giving corporate after dinner speeches. By 2012, he was recovering and regaining some mobility once more, and even started performing his stage show “You Can’t Beat a Bit of Bully”, but suffered a third stroke in November 2014, which left him struggling to walk and talk. He died at home on 14 March 2018, aged 80
It was whilst teaching that Jim Bowen became involved with the local Dramatic Society. This sparked an interest in show business. During the 1960’s he worked as a part time Stand-Up Comedian on the Northern Club circuit. It was the 1971 show “The Comedians” that gave him his big break into National Television. The show was a huge success and prompted Jim to leave the world of education for a career in entertainment.
Other television opportunities followed and Jim made appearances on Granada’s “Wheeltappers and Shunters’ Social Club” alongside Thames Television’s late-night chat show ‘Take Two’. Central Television’s “Up For the Cup” and “Starburst” featured Jim together with “Summertime Special” and “Noel’s House Party”. (He was “Gotcha’d” by Noel as part of his Saturday night programme). Many other guest appearances followed including “Celebrity Squares”, “Pebble Mill”,”Family Fortunes”, “Des O’Connor Tonight” and numerous Christmas Television Specials. However he will probably be best remembered for the hugely popular game show “Bullseye” which he hosted between 1981 and 1994.
Bowen also made regular appearances on Phoenix Nights and as a librarian in Last Of The Summer Wine.
In 1999 Bowen began presenting on BBC Radio Lancashire but after working there for three years, resigned after referring to a guest on his show as a “nig-nog”. He admitted that, even though he apologised for the remark almost immediately, he believed his show business career was over.
Jim returned to the stage 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’ from 8 to 28 August. He performed at the 2010 festival once again with his Bullseye spin off with side-kick and muse James Kazal.
In 2011 Jim Bowen joined Dougie Brown, Frank Carson, Stan Boardman, Mick Miller alongside producer Johnnie Hamp in Blackpool for a series of special shows celebrating 40 years of The Comedians.