The Entertainers: Paul Barry talks to JIM BOWEN

BULLSEYE star Jim Bowen says it was the viewers he felt sorry for when the plug was pulled on the popular quiz show last year.

"I was gutted when Bullseye finished. Not for myself, because it's got me a nice Rolls Royce on the drive, but for the viewers," said Jim, who spent his formative years in East Lancashire before taking the clubs and television by storm.

"People used to look forward to Sunday tea-time and it became a part of British culture. That slot has gone pear-shaped now. There's just nothing as good as Bullseye was.

"I know all my groupies have Zimmer frames, but a lot of people enjoyed it, even the students who used to take the mickey out of it.

"I did 14 years of Bullseye and the time I had was absolutely magic. And, of course, it's supporting my present lifestyle."

And what a lifestyle it has become since Jim was adopted by Joe and Annie Whittaker in Clayton-le-Moors at the age of just 12 months.

Jim and his wife Phyllis have bought a village pub and will spend 100 days this year making ten cruises on the QE2. The couple sold their former railway station home near Lancaster when the kids moved out and now live in a luxury apartment in a converted mill four miles down the road at Caton.

Jim's story is a real rags to riches one. His mum was a weaver at Atlas Street Mill and his dad was a foreman at Accrington's Nori brick works. Later, the couple moved to Nelson where they ran a grocer's shop before moving to Padiham.

"This is well before your time," he tells me, "but I used to deliver the Telegraph in Padiham when I was a lad. Of course it was called the Northern Daily Telegraph in those days." Jim failed all his nine O-levels at Accrington Grammar School and worked as a dustman for Nelson District Council before going back to pass those exams.

When he qualified as a teacher, he taught PE at Hyndburn Park School, Accrington, and then gymnastics at St Augustine's in Billington.

His road to fame and fortune began with an impromptu performance over a pint at the old Regent Hotel in Penny Street, Blackburn, and his first paid gig was at Ewood Social Club.

It's to Ewood Park that Jim returns when he comes to the area these days.

"I don't really get much chance to visit the area, with all the cruising. But I do sometimes go down to see the Rovers, who I support as best I can. Roy Hodgson has done a tremendous job and it's great to see the club doing so well."

Even when he's cruising aboard the QE2, Jim still can't resist getting on stage and he plays trumpet on board the ship.

"I get up and play with what must be one of the best jazz bands in Europe. I'm not as good as them, although I've played for years, but it's a lot of fun."

In fact Jim is so keen on the ship that he has made it the theme of his new pub. His HMS Royal Oak is packed with fittings from the famous ship.

He says: "A lot of the artefacts I have rescued came from when the ship was having a re-fit and they kindly let me have them. Some of them, I must say, I unashamedly pinched.

"Thwaites have been marvellous and they've made a magnificent job of the refurbishment.

"They dealt with things in true East Lancashire fashion - with honesty, efficiency and the minimum of fuss."

Jim turned 60 back in August and says: "It focuses the mind a bit. But as I reach the end of my shelf-life, it's wonderful to look back on what good luck I've had. "And I've had a brilliant wife who has put up with me for the last 38 years. She drives a Jaguar XK8 now and doesn't have to worry about things like whether she can afford to buy another pair of shoes."

Jim's two children are also enjoying success. Both of them hit the headlines in their teens, but for very different reasons. Daughter Sue was studying in Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre and son Pete dropped out of university after a drug scandal which made tabloid headlines.

He says: "Pete had a bit of a rocky patch, but now he's doing very well for himself, running a pizza bar out in Tenerife.

"Sue works for a stockbrokers down in London, working with foreign customers because she can speak Japanese and Chinese."

Asked if he expects to be a grandad soon, Jim snorts: "God no. None of that silly business, thank you very much. I've told the kids that grandchildren are banned."

Jim's future plans? Just to enjoy life. He has been approached about radio work and occasionally does stand-up. But he's enjoying working for fun, rather than for money.

"My ambition," he says, "is to wake up tomorrow morning and feel good. And if Phyllis wakes up tomorrow and feels good too, then that's enough for me."

And Jim's advice to those who want to get into showbiz? "None. I've been very lucky and that's all it is - just a case of right place, right time."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.