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Bullseye

DESPITE LATTERDAY APPROPRIATION BY lazy stand-ups, this is still a sleeping giant as far as fondly-remembered classics go. To wit:

1) Funky opening Chas ‘n’ Dave/pub rock paean and three types of title sequences down the years, each featuring show icon BULLY in cartoon form (dressed in classical red-striped darts shirt):

a) Early years depicted The Bull pub sign with Bully incorporated into it. Suddenly static Bully moves, taking a quick glance to the right to check no-one’s looking before jumping out of sign and landing on ground with loud tympanum noise. Bully makes way into The Bull, with ‘Darts Contest’ banner over door, then proceeds straight to oche, throwing one dart and landing bullseye. Cartoon busty barmaid serves pints in background. Customers not fazed by presence of huge bull playing darts.

b) Second and most memorable sequence (used from around 1986-92) showed Bully leaving The Bull apparently after said darts match and hopping into cartoon coach, giving lift to six stereotypical fat darts players who all sat on the back row and gave a genial thumbs-up to the camera. Action turned sinister, however, as coach suddenly inherited flying ability and entered bizarre world of darts iconography, with giant metal-wire darts numbers and dartboards spinning past the windows. Human darts players pointed and looked worried. Rush of the blood to the bovine head caused Bully to press “ejector seat” button on dashboard and launch himself clear of the coach, thankfully grabbing onto the flight of a massive dart and presumably sending the six players and bus plunging to their deaths. Bully ended up flying directly into camera, and screen exploded in shower of dartboard sector dividers.

c) Show underwent radical repositioning in 1993: final and most laughable sequence changed tack completely but seemed to continue story laid out in previous two incarnations, with Bully apparently gaining unauthorised access to Bullseye studio. Mad Roger Rabbit-style adventures commenced with Bully excitedly bounding down the studio steps, sending adjacent audience members flying. Other shots included Bully giving show compere JIM BOWEN a big kiss (cue wavy-line face from Bowen), and Bully seemingly losing it and hanging on to the Giant Rotating Dartboard Structure (of which more later) whilst it spins really fast. Bully’s breakdown completed by a big leap-frog across the studio, causing Bowen to dive for cover.

2) Show gets under way. Early years saw studio adopt standard game show layout of audience out of shot behind camera and BULLSEYE logo hanging on back drape. Aforementioned compere Bowen emerges from underneath another standard device of rising vertical partition, sporting dartboard sector design. Later series saw studio topography reversed with audience in full view along back of studio, and Bowen appearing to rapturous applause from top of flight of steps (the ones Bully pegged it down during his “episode”). Here Bowen would stand mid-flight and deliver some tired opening gambit, usually revolving around a clearly made-up viewer’s letter. Also in later years Bowen would at this point introduce darts-shouter and nominal scorer TONY GREEN, normally involved in hackneyed sketch to much derision from audience, for some reason.

3) Quick burst of theme music then onto the contestants, three teams of two people – one darts player (standing up) and one non-darts player (sitting down). Chat to punters, ask about anecdote. Bowen: “Super, smashing, great.” (though he insists he never said this).

4) At last the first round: CATEGORY BOARD. Non-darts players (or NDPs) take up positions at satisfying circular desks, darts players (or DPs) occupy stools along the back. Bowen moves over to show’s central device, the Giant Rotating Dartboard Structure, first showing aforementioned category board. Clockwise from the top: Faces, Places, Sport, Showbiz, Affairs, History, Books, Words, Britain, Spelling. Other series featured Food, General Knowledge, and Bible (amazingly). Each of the ten sectors was further divided into sections denoting various amounts of cash, ranging from large £30 sectors round the outside to tiny £100 sectors near the middle, and the famous £200 “wildcard” bullseye marking the centre. NDP nominates category, DP aims one dart at chosen topic. “Questions get more difficult” as Bowen warns us – first is worth £30, then £50, then £100. Get the dart in chosen category, and money equivalent to value of sector is banked. If incorrect category hit, get asked a question on that subject “but there’s no bonus”. Category light goes out once question is asked. Category cannot be used twice – “The ones that are lit are the ones you can hit”. Green stands by board and verifies categories. If unlit category is hit, throw is illegal – “No, that’s in Places, and the category’s gone”. Play continues to next team in that instance. Bonus light available for attempting someone else’s question, if they got it wrong. Out of time signalled by cartoon Bully appearing in corner of screen and mooing (little puffs of steam shoot out of his nose). Spelling answer confirmed by cartoon Bully walking along bottom of screen with dictionary, leaving trail of letters behind (word “dictionary” written on back of book, for some reason). Bowen’s questions stored in large rotating dartboard/table thing. Round ends after each team gets three goes. In earlier series at this point, say goodbye to trailing team, and hand out prizes – money acquired, set of Bullseye-branded darts and the famous BENDY BULLY. In later series, they just carried on with all three teams.

5) Second round: IT’S POUNDS FOR POINTS. Rotating Structure turns to reveal regulation-type dartboard. Just get as many points as you can in three darts. Team with best score gets to answer £100-difficulty question, if correct they win DP’s total in quids. Bonus light available again here for chance to win team-mate’s total. Do this three times. Team with most goes through to final (first round scores carried over). DPs hardly ever got 180 – 41 was more common score. Each sub-round accompanied by wonderful musical pieces – standard theme tune, odd “middle-eight” part then variation of theme. After the three goes, say goodbye to losing team or teams. Hand out prizes as above, along with extra Bullseye silver tankard (silver goblet for lady contestants), and the money they won – Bowen either takes wad of cash from jacket pocket and starts to count it out (“Ten, twenty, thirty…see you after the break…forty, fifty…”), or promises that “it’ll take two minutes to count this out, see you after the break.”

6) Classic era (1981-92): Cartoon Bully plays darts and writes ‘End Of Part One’ on darts blackboard. Post-Year Zero (1993-5): Bully takes ride on Giant Rotating Dartboard Structure as it spins really fast again, accompanied by the not-so-catchphrase: “Back in a couple of throws!”.

7) Adverts.

8) Classic era: Cartoon Bully writes ‘Part Two’. Post-jumping the shark: GRDS spins round again.

9) Bizarre sub-section of show: TURN OF THE PROFESSIONAL. Bring on proper darts player (eg ERIC BRISTOW, KEITH DELLAR, CLIFF LAZARENKO, LEIGHTON REES) and ask them to throw nine darts. If they score under 301, pounds equivalent to total score given to charity of remaining contestants’ choice. If more than 301 achieved, double prize for charity. Incorporated fairly unnecessary leaderboard structure for prize of actual foot-tall Bronze Bully. Leader at series’ end retained Bronze Bully until next season. Ask guest about recent tournaments, provide banter, etc.

10) Final round: BULLY’S PRIZE BOARD. Rotating Structure changes again to special nine-prize, 17-sector board. Aim is simple: “Keep out of the black, in the red, nothing in this game for two in a bed”. Red sectors contained prizes, black contained nothing. Cartoon Bully appears from centre of cartoon prize board, and points at each number to reveal prize (except he splays out gloved right hand towards number 4). Bowen & Green accompanied, Green shouting: “IIIIIIIIN ONE!” “IIIIIIIIIN TWO!” etc. as Bully pointed, culminating with “AND BULLY’S SPECIAL PRIZE!” (reward for landing the bullseye). Bowen described risible prizes as they went along, usually in form of rhyming couplet (eg “This’ll keep you clean…it’s a washing machine” or “There’ll be laughter and whoops as you go through hoops with this fantastic croquet set”). Most ridiculous prize ever noted: a “Lazy Suzy” (ask your gran). Nine darts available, three for NDP. Thumbs-up from cartoon Bully and quick burst of theme if bullseye was hit.

11) After, Bowen lists all prizes won then offers chance to gamble those (“Your money’s safe, the money you won earlier, your darts and your tankards are safe, and the £280 going to the hospice, that’s on its way after the show…”) for mystery prize, “what’s hiding behind Bully” (or vertical partition). Limited time to decide – in fact, only “the time it takes the board to revolve” with scary space-type sound similar to ‘Lucky Star’ by Madonna in background. If they want to walk away (“Well Jim, we’ve had a smashing day, and we’re happy with what we’ve got”), wheel on second team and offer them chance to gamble their money (and Bendy Bully, no doubt). If they refuse, bring on third useless team and offer same. Task: get 101 on regulation board with six darts, “three for you, and three for you”, NDP first (Point of order: How did they know that the non-darts player was really a non-darts player? Did they use a lie detector or something?). Tense as you like, with dramatic drum-roll overlaid and Green & Bowen urging players to “take your time, there’s no rush, take as long as you need”. If they win, rush over to ‘Bully’, lift partition and reveal boat/car/caravan on giant dartboard, wheeled in by Bullseye roadies. Play exciting “party mix” of theme with various whistles, whirls and squeaks added. Bowen bundles winners into prize and insists they try it for size. If they lose, play standard theme quietly and reveal prize anyway (“Let’s take a look at what you coulda won”). Sometimes prize was a holiday, necessitating partition to reveal Quantel-swoop of various stills from destination, extensively described by Bowen, with the payoff: “All for the throw of a dart!”.

12) It’s all over. Bowen’s head appears within cartoon dartboard at The Bull, credits roll up darts blackboard as Bowen rounds off at great length – eg “a Vauxhall Nova, beautiful economical little motor car, beautiful little example of one of Bully’s star prizes! We did the rooting, you did the shooting! What a night you’ve had on Bullseye! Watch us next time on Bullseye! Could you do it, at home, with the pressure on? These lads did! See you soon! You can’t beat a bit of Bully! Byeee!”. Cartoon Bully throws three final darts (scoring 17, two missing the board; must’ve sunk one too many), then closes doors on dartboard. Central Production logo painted onto outside of dartboard doors.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Stuart Ian Burns

    January 11, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    I’m sure if someone sat down with every old episode and did a statistical analysis, the following bias would certainly be true. If the contestant team is two mates from the pub darts league the prize behind Bully is always the unsplittable boat. If they lost it is the wife domestic appliances (well it was the 80s). If it is a couple who win, it is a car. If they lost it is the boat. The added variable for the couple is if they’re from a landlocked part of the world, the likelihood of winning the boat increases ten fold.

  2. Brian Rowland

    January 12, 2010 at 12:29 am

    A very comprehensive rundown of a show that I only ever watched/heard from the corner of my eye. But one thing that wasn’t mentioned, and is my one abiding memory of the programme, is its ingenious playing of the signature tune over the end credits in a minor key if the finalists gambled and lost. In order to underline the sadness that pervaded proceedings.

  3. Ste

    January 12, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Where did “bus fare home” enter into the proceedings?

  4. David Smith

    January 12, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Bully didn’t “moo” out-of-time contestants, he “bellowed”them; I’m sure they were often told they had been “bellowed out”…

    In the fag-end of the show’s run in 1995, when it landed on Saturday teatimes, I really got the impression they were dying to be Big Break which would be running on the other side at the same time, what with Jim and Tony’s creaking attempt at a bit of Davidson/Virgo “business” at the top of the show.

    And remember the slightly desperate “let’s get the network together tonight” thing from Jim? “Welcome to another great Saturday night on ITV!” Which Challenge are presumably chopping on the repeats (be nice if they didn’t though).

  5. Brian Rowland

    January 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Theme: also contained nod to “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

  6. Chris Jones

    January 13, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    A shattering point for Peter Kay: It wasn’t only on Sunday teatimes y’know : I’m positive the first series was on a Monday night before Coronation Street.

  7. Brian Rowland

    January 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    It was indeed, Chris. And apparently went out live.

  8. ROB

    January 14, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I was led to believe that ATV were so embarrassed at the first few episodes that they wiped them completely, and that no trace of them exists.

  9. Lee James Turnock

    April 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    A landlord who runs a pub near me was a guest on this programme (or should I say contestant?) and he keeps his bendy Bully behind the bar, on proud display. Unsurprisingly, it’s a right old piece of tat!

  10. jack anory

    August 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Please, please, please!! There has to be someone out there that remembers one of the ‘star prizes’ being a personal hovercraft!! I’m sure I didn’t dream it and this has been an ongoing argument (on my behalf) for a long time!! Please can anyone confirm it?

  11. Simon

    March 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

    The Bendy Bully was not introduced until 1986 and before that they award glass tankards and bully keyrings.

  12. Sparks

    August 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Been watching repeats of this on Challenge recently. Jim was obsessed with the ITV network, especially in the early days. Contestants were introduced as which ITV region they were from rather than town name.

    Also just to correct a mistake in the listing, at the start of Part Two Bully didn’t write ‘Part Two’ on the blackboard. It was already written on it and he rubbed it off with a eraser. The camera then zoomed into the ‘erased’ bit which had the studio shot chromakeyed over it.

  13. Des E

    November 9, 2012 at 7:02 am

    At 6:33 AM on 12 January 2010, Ste asked: “Where did ‘bus fare home’ enter into the proceedings?”

    As late as 1991, would you believe.

    It’s more than likely that this change to the Star Prize Gamble – the team who had played Bully’s Prize Board gambling their money as well as their prizes – was made in order to freshen up the show as it reached double figures in age, but thanks to the BFH bit it worked a treat.

  14. watabi

    May 19, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Jack Anory… i have just been watching an old episode of catchphrase and reminiscing about old quiz shows and i recounted a very clear memory of the two man hovercraft. I am sure that it wasn’t won but just shown off. i was quite young and almost doing cartwheels as it was a bit like a land speeder from star wars… I now know that it wasn’t a dream

  15. Des E

    February 16, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    To make another clarification: only until 1988 did Bully walk away from the dartboard to reveal the “Central Production” endcap painted on the outside of the doors.

    Following the introduction that year of Central’s coloured-balls-splashing-onto-the-cake endcap, he instead turned to the camera and gave us a wink, which was nice of him. He did this for around three years, even after Central were forced to use a static endcap again following the arrival of the first ITV generic identity in September ’89.

    Then, around 1991, the dartboard was dropped altogether in favour of simply rolling the credits over Jim, the Star Prize Gamble players, the professional player and Tony as they waved goodbye. It had returned by the final series in ’95, but without any sign of Bully.

    Meanwhile, the ’93 revamp roughly coincided with the abolition of the long-standing game show prize limit, to which the producers naturally responded by making the cars and speedboats that bit more expensive. However, they also decided to start offering hard cash as a Star Prize…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he50LkXHubU

    While these guys were perfectly entitled to be over the moon at winning £5k, such a prize was simply never going to have as much charm as a speedboat.

  16. Gaz

    May 13, 2014 at 1:33 am

    It took me years to realise that the passengers onboard the bus were actually cariactures of real darts players!

    I think it’s John Lowe, Bob Anderson, Cliff Lazarenko, Eric Bristow, Keith Deller, Jocky Wilson and 2 others I can’t recall.

  17. David

    August 16, 2017 at 12:11 am

    In 1b it says that Bully is leaving The Bull apparently after a darts match: this is wrong, as the sign clearly says “Away Match”, so Bully is driving the team to the other pub.
    Curiously, however, when Bully ejects from the bus, does the bus crash, killing the passengers, or does one of the players take control?

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