I've been wanting to write about Bullseye for a while now, but have never truly felt up to the task. If I feel like that normally, then I'm probably even less up to the task now, sitting on my sofa feeling sorry for myself with a bad cold and a stomach ache. But hey ho, it's better than pottering around my flat muttering to myself, which I intend to do later.
These days, Bullseye is the go to default programme for me and the mister. We currently have around 6000 episodes recorded on our Sky Plus box. And I repeat – each episode is exactly the same. That's one of the wonderful things about Bullseye – it never makes you try too hard. It's familiar and reassuring, like comfort food or a hot bath. Only this is a hot bath containing Jim Bowen, which raises more questions than it answers.
Once I start talking about Jim Bowen, I find it hard to stop. I am endlessly fascinated by the man – his perma-sad face, the way he seems to have been 53 all his life, his odd one liners that don't really go anywhere, his knack for accidentally insulting contestants by asking them personal questions. You may think I'm being sarcastic – I am not. I genuinely love Jim Bowen. These days it's a bit of a cliché to claim that he was a bit rubbish as a host, but he was nothing of the sort. He just had idiosyncracies that made him far more entertaining and interesting to watch than Vernon Fucking Kay.
Also, I'm not sure why I'm using the past tense to talk about Jim – the guy isn't dead, far from it if this photo is anything to go by -
Little quirks aside, when we watch Bullseye, we always find Jim to be laid back and approachable. The right words might not always have come out of his mouth, but you always knew what he meant to say, and that's what counts. More importantly, he didn't feel the need to constantly shout in everyone's face like so many presenters do these days. Also, he had the best line in suits that looked a bit like they were offcuts from DFS -
I'll stop there, because I don't want this post to just be me crapping on about how much I love Jim Bowen. It should also contain me crapping on about how much I love Bullseye as a show.
As I started to say earlier but then forgot for some reason, I was never really enamoured with Bullseye as a kid, although I did quite like the bit where the prize board revolved and everyone shouted 'Gamble!'
I'm getting ahead of myself here. The point is that my parents watched Bullseye, and apart from the prize board bit I just kind of had to sit there and wait for something more interesting to come on, like Surprise Surprise, or That's Life, or whatever the hell used to be on after Bullseye. Maybe it's a nostalgia thing, or maybe I just wasn't capable of appreciating the show as a kid, I don't know.
Since every episode is exactly the same, I guess I can just choose any one to use as an example. I should stick to one, for the sake of continuity, so here is a random one from Youtube -
We start with the brilliant opening titles. In the early episodes this was a cartoon featuring the manliest pub in the world -
And later on it was a frightening bus and dart commute to work for Bully -
The opening titles were always accompanied by the same jangly Chas n Dave style music, written by John Patrick.
After the opening titles, the big man himself makes his entrance, down those fabled stairs. Sometimes he stops to have an awkward chat with some old ladies in the audience, other times he might read out a humorous local newspaper clipping about himself. This time though, he gets straight down to business and introduces the contestants. Note how he never tells you where the contestants live, only the TV service they receive. In some episodes he just says 'please welcome Bob and Steve from Anglia TV, as if they actually work for Anglia TV, or they live in the studios.
Here is our contestant line up -
Me and the mister usually pick our winners from the line up based on who has the best moustache, or the most fetching mullet. Bonus points are awarded if the pair are wearing matching outfits, or if a pair contains a woman one, especially if she's manlier than all the men.
Couple number two clearly has the moustache, the matching outfits and the woman one, so they're our favourites to win. However, likely to come up on the outside is couple number three, by virtue of the guy on the right. Everything about him screams awesome.
Jim warms up the contestants by having light hearted exchanges with them, such as the following (from different episodes but 100% true, I swear) -
Jim - “Now then, I hear you're a widower. So how long has your wife been dead?”
Jim - “Now then, are you married?”
Contestant - “No.”
Jim - “Are you engaged?”
Contestant - “No.”
Jim - “Well are you courting?”
Contestant - “No.”
Jim (in a camp voice) - “Oh dear, I'm worried about you.”
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, it's time to begin the show proper. The first couple of rounds are question rounds; the categories are decided by the dart playing half of the couples hurling darts at a special category board, attempting to hit the subject their partner has requested -
What usually happened was that the non dart player would request 'books', and would end up with 'sport'. If a question was answered correctly, the team would receive points, which translated into real live pounds!
Since Bullseye was a fight to the death, the couple who had won the least money by the end of the question rounds was eliminated. This is normally the couple that we want to win. Such is life.
Looking at the score so far, I suspect this is going to be another of those times -
Sadly, I am right. We have to say goodbye to the couple with the woman one in it, just like everyone bloody expected. That'll teach her to leave the kitchen.
The next round involves... well... more dart throwing and more answering questions, if I'm honest. The category board has gone and is replaced by a 'traditional matchplay dartboard', as Jim tells us every single week. Whichever couple scores the highest with three darts gets to answer the question. I think in later years they tweaked the format a bit so no couples were eliminated until the end of this round, but for most episodes, this round was a two horse race.
Keeping score in this round is Tony Green, famous for being the guy who keeps the scores and shouts stuff out on Bullseye. Tony keeps the show ticking along nicely, curbing Jim Bowen's urges to just start calling the contestants gay.
Bugger, now my outsiders are out of the race too, leaving the boring couple to romp home to victory. This always happens.
These guys have won £191, which Jim proceeds to count out in notes during the break. Since he only ever has a couple of notes in his hand, I assume it's Jim's special currency – a £100 note, and a £91 note.
After the break, a famous darts player or a celebrity comes on to throw darts for charity. Tonight it's the brill Jockey Wilson -
As usual, points equal pounds, and if the guest scores 301 or more with 9 darts, the producers double the money. This doubles the sense of failure when the guest scores something like 37 with 3 darts. That happened a lot, especially when it was a non dart playing celebrity, or a woman.
Sadly Jockey Wilson only scores 220, but that's still a pretty respectable score on Bullseye.
Now it's time for everyone's favourite bit – the prize board!
We get to see all the stuff that Central TV managed to buy in bulk off the back of a lorry, or got for free with Tiger Tokens.
Tonight's prizes are -
In 1! - a dozen bottles of champagne – not bad actually
In 2! - a washing machine
In 3! - his n hers crappy watches
In 4! - a BMX bike
In 5! - a set of garden tools. They ALWAYS have this prize, every week without fail
In 6! - some horrible wicker chairs
In 7! - a camera
In 8! - a food mixer
And Bully's special prize – a colour TV, with Teletext no less
Ok, I guess the prizes aren't that bad in this episode. But I have seen some horrors – like a basket of dried flowers, and a wheelbarrow. I refer you to http://shitbullseyeprizes.tumblr.com/ for more hideous fayre.
This is what the guys won - the washing machine, the matching shit watches, the camera, the food mixer, and the colour TV. Not a bad haul.
This is the bit I always loved as a kid – the guys have to decide whether or not to gamble, risking their prizes for a chance to win the STAR PRIZE.
The guys decide not to gamble, which is a bit of a surprise since they've done reasonably well tonight. But oh well, this means the runner up couple can come back and gamble the money they won!
They can always refuse as well, which means the third couple come back and have a go. I'm not sure if there's ever been an episode where none of the couples want to gamble – I think it might be one of the rules of the show where if you come last, you have to gamble. You know, like if this is your first time at fight club, you have to fight.
As it is, the second couple have decided to gamble, and must now score 101 or more with 6 darts in order to win. Nails are well and truly bitten at this point.
Oh bollocks, they don't win. I thought thy were going to win, thanks to a fluke treble 19 by the non dart player, but luck was not on their side in the end. Now for the cruellest part of the show – the star prize is brought out so Jim can taunt them about being losers. This time it's a car with a big dart in it -
And that's the end of the show. The sad, minor key version of the closing music is played if the contestants lose, which I'm sure cheers them up a great deal. Jim finishes by reminding us that 'You can't beat a bit of Bully', and the show is done for another week.
Maybe my love of Bullseye is just me subconsciously latching on to that 'oh weren't the 80s great, isn't old stuff funny' bandwagon. Although that wouldn't be so subconscious, since almost my entire blog is based on that ethos. I think my love goes deeper than that though. I think it is an admiration based on a feeling of cosy familiarity, being reminded of a simpler, pre internet time, and sitting on the sofa with the mister and taking the piss out of the contestants who, let's face it, are there to be mocked.