I came to Bullseye quite late. Not being born in the 1980s I missed Bullseye at its peak, but Challenge has me covered, showing Bullseye pretty much non-stop every day of the week. Of all the weird and wonderful shows to air on Challenge, Bullseye, which ran from 1981 to 1995 with a brief reprisal in 2006, is one of the weirdest. It’s essentially a darts gameshow and the vibe is of a Saturday night at the pub, but instead of winning a gift voucher in the pub quiz you win a washing machine. There are three elements that make this show so incredibly iconic.
“Jim is the second magical ingredient in this bizarre cocktail of a Saturday night game show”
Firstly, the prizes: you’d expect that an ITV Saturday night gameshow would have pretty good prizes—or if not they’d present their cheaper prizes as novelty items, right? Not Bullseye. To Jim Bowen and the Bullseye team all prizes were created equal, and all deserve an equally punny intro. Everything from handheld vacuum cleaners to cafeterias to roller skates are described as ‘state of the art’- as if that makes them any less random. Every item that a woman might remotely enjoy gets a light dusting of 80’s sexism – ‘this beauty kit for that special woman in your life… or your wife!’, but every single prize invokes a satisfied chuckle from Bowen, making it all feel that little bit more wholesome. Yes, sexism was rampant, yes the prizes are a bit crap, but Jim Bowen is enjoying himself and we should be happy too. In fact Jim is the second magical ingredient in this bizarre cocktail of a Saturday night game show.
“Sometimes they can’t even be classed as jokes because they make no sense, but when he looks to camera you can’t help but laugh”
The prizes aren’t always so crap - the star prize of a speedboat is not to be sniffed at, but classic Jim got just as excited whether they won the speedboat or the matching lamp set. And when I say excited, I mean he chuckles consistently and makes a crap joke about it. In fact that’s his thing, making crap jokes and chuckling. Sometimes they can’t even be classed as jokes because they make no sense, but when he looks to camera you can’t help but laugh. Case in point: ‘Ooh, you work in social security? Must be very busy then! (chuckle chuckle)’. I can’t even fathom what this means, maybe it was funny in the 1980s.
“To be a contestant on Bullseye you must have one of the following: a mullet, a feathered fringe, yellow tinted glasses, a moustache, a very tight belt that fits snugly under your beer belly”
But does this really matter? The contestants and the audience loved it! Which brings us to our final magical ingredient. To be a contestant on Bullseye you must have one of the following: a mullet, a feathered fringe, yellow tinted glasses, a moustache, a very tight belt that fits snugly under your beer belly, a pastel shirt or a combination the six. I didn’t realise the darts playing community of the 1980s had such unique style, but it’s such a great look. The contestants don’t care about the money, or the fame, they’re genuinely there to have a good time playing darts. And maybe that’s what makes the show so magical. To quote the immortal Bullseye mascot, you definitely can’t beat a bit of bully.