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Interviews

Jim Bowen Interview

Let me ask about your early life first, you used to be a deputy headmaster didn’t you?

Yes, I was Deupty Head in 1969, at a primary school in Lancaster.then in 1970 The Comedians came along and I did that. I’d been doing the clubs semi-pro, but did the comedians in 1970.

Were you a teacher before that as well?

Well, yes, I was deputy head in 1969 but I qualified as a school teacher in 1959 and after 10 years became deputy head.

So you went into The Comedians while you were deputy head?

Yes, I was doing the clubs for fun just to get two or three quid up a night, and then, yeah, Frank Carson showed me his club one night and recommended me to Johnny Hamp

So that was how you got into it then?

The Comedians ran through the 70s. It ran for about 30 minutes each week. Did you have to record a block before the start of the series, or did you record a section weekly? How did recording work?

We used to go down about six Mondays before they transmitted, about 10 of us used to go down, and we used to record about eight or nine minutes each. They’d edit it down to the stuff they could use and just cut and splice it, so that all ten of us would appear to be on stage at the same time when if fact it was clever editing.

I imagine it would have either been a really good laugh or when you get 10 comedins together it could have been an absolute nightmare! How was it really?

No, it was good. Very good. We used to get our gags and try to keep off one anothers stuff. Sometimes it didn’t work out. If you were first on and you managed to do stuff and people at the end of the line who were going on last were finding that a lot of their jokes had already been done!

A lot of pinching going on?

Well, yeah, But when we did it we weren’t like the modern comics. We didn’t write a lot of jokes, we weren’t that clever, we just used to hear gags and try and work them into our own style and use them really. Very little creativity went on with the 1970s stand up comic,

Well it seemed to work, I mean it lasted for a good few years didn’t it?

Well, yeah, it did, and it made some stars as well.

Then obviously you went onto Bullseye!

Yeah, we started recording in late 1980.

And that went on for 14 – 15 years?

14 years, yeah.

Watched by about 12 million people!

Yeah, it used to get a regular 10 on Sunday tea-times. It peaked, I think, at 18.9 million on Boxing Day in 1989.

That MUST make you feel immensely proud?

Well… Lucky is more the word. Yeah, you just feel very fortunate. You’ve been on the back of a gameshow that lasted 14 years really.

Would you give it another go? If [the offer] were to come, would you go back to it again?

I’d have to think about it. A lot would depend on the recording schedule and, I suppose, the money. I mean then, it was very good to me. Somebody else has presented it since; Dave Spikey did 30 shows for Challenge TV, so that’s probably made me a bit more expensive! The good news is that it doesn’t really matter now. Its not too much of an economic decision. Its what we make based on what we want to do rather than what we need.

Bullseye used to give away prizes that seemed like funny prizes nowadays, like a blender and a steam iron.

A blender and a toaster were quite a nice prize. You tend to lose sight, looking at it now, that it was 27 years since we made it. 27 years ago a Ford Escort was a good prize.

I mean, they used to celebrate when they won things like a cassette stereo.

Yeah, that’s right, they were fairly basic and of course they could lose them as well. Times have moved on. We’ve got more money, we’ve got more material things now and more high tech, I mean we didn’t have computer then. That’s the more frightening thought! We didn’t’ have laptops in 1980. Mobiles were only coming in then.

Was there quite a big budget for each show?

There wasn’t a massive budget, no. I seem to remember now, although I wouldn’t swear to it, I think the budget was about £7,000 for the prizes, but that was EVERYTHING. That was all the prizes around the board AND the star prize. So we couldn’t afford to have them won every week, otherwise we’d go miles over budget! And the good news it they never did win everything! They lost more than then won.

And then the shows were around 30 minutes, allowing for adverts each week.

Yeah, 27 minutes.

Did they take long to film?

Towards the end, no, we probably did them in 35 – 40 minutes. In the early stages, oh no, When I was learning the game they were taking over an hour, or at the beginning an hour and a half to do them, because I wasn’t very good! And there were 9 cameras on the shoot, so it wasn’t easy.

How may did you film in one go?

We did two a night. Two every night for 13 nights, giving us 26 shows.

Did you spend much time with the contestants?

Yes, we always spent some time with them before they went on, to see if there were any areas they weren’t comfortable talking about so that we didn’t embarrass them. We always talked to them before we went on.

You seemed to have quite a friendly air with everyone.

Yeah, well what they saw was what they got really. We didn’t suddenly put on a showbiz face, we just went on and did what we do and it seemed to work. People liked the honest of it I suppose. I certainly wasn’t a Bob Monkhouse! I wasn’t in his league!

My Dad wanted me to ask what you were up to next? You’ve been a successful radio and TV presenter, what are you up to next?

I don’t think you can assume anything in this business, you know. This business has been incredibly good to me so for me to expect or demand anything from it would be very crass. I’m just pleased I’ve done what I’ve done and if anything else comes along it would be lovely. I have always had little dreams like to have a cameo in Coronation Street, just for the fun of it, just to do them, but you can’t presume anything like that. You just wait until the phone rings. Its rung enough for me in my 35 years in the business not to expect it to ring any more. I’ve had more than my share of nice phonecalls.

We’ve seen you in a few comedies too. We saw you in Last Of The Summer Wine too?

Yeah, we’ve done all that kind of thing. We did Summer Wine, we did Jonathan Creek, we did a lot of drama, Muck and Brass, little bits of things, and its been nice to be back.

Lastly, a question that I’ve been asked to ask you by so many people, did you get to keep any of the bendy bullies?

Do I have any bendy bullies? Yes, yes I do!

Jim Bowen, it has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much for your time.

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