Bullseye (partially lost episodes of dart-based game show; 1981-1986)
Bullseye was a long-running ITV darts-based game show that originally aired new episodes from 1981 to 1995. Hosted by comedian Jim Bowen, the show pitted three teams consisting of a general knowledge expert and a skilled darts player, who were both tasked to participate in quizzes and darts games. While the show proved iconic during its original run, 15 episodes are now confirmed to no longer exist within ITV's archive.
The show was established by Andrew Wood, who combined Britain's growing appreciation of darts with his own research findings on what made a British game show viable. With Bullseye greenlit by ATV, comedian Jim Bowen was then selected as the show's host, having been the company's fifth candidate for the role. Initially, Bullseye appeared as a one-series wonder, following two disastrous pilot episodes and a loss of 7.5 million viewers by episode 7.
However, the show suddenly gained a rapid surge in viewership and popularity, attributed to Bowen's deadpan humour, gaffes, the awarding of absurd prizes like speedboats, and the combination of elements that greatly appealed to a primarily working-class audience. At its peak, episodes reached nearly 20 million viewers, with extensive waiting lists to become a contestant and even an audience member. Also iconic was Bullseye's bull-themed animated mascot Bully, who shares a strong passion for pub darts.
The show ran for over 300 episodes from 1981 to 1995 and was still boasting 10 million an episode by Series 14. It usually aired on Sunday evenings, essentially dominating the timeslot and pulling an average of 15 million throughout its run. Alas, Bullseye was cancelled in 1996 following internal pressure from ITV to revamp the show, which Wood felt would damage Bullseye's appeal. A 2006 Challenge revival with Dave Spikey failed to replicate the success of the Bowen era and ran for only two series. Nevertheless, its legacy has been secured thanks to re-runs on channels like Challenge, road shows, and brief revivals on programmes like Alan Carr's Epic Gameshow.
A typical episode began with three teams of two. One member generally held some quiz talent, while the other displayed competency in the game of darts. The first round featured an oversized dart board containing ten quiz categories. Before any darts are thrown, the general knowledge player will select a category. It is then up to the darts player to throw the dart within said segment, and as close to the bullseye as possible to earn money. Regardless of the darts player's success, the general knowledge player answers a question relevant to that chosen category. Each team repeated this three times. From Series 1 to 7, a team would be eliminated for accumulating the lowest score, though this would be scrapped in later shows.
In round 2, the darts players are tasked with accumulating the biggest score possible from three darts, this time on a typical darts board. Whoever scored the most would give their partner an opportunity to answer a question, where a correct answer would convert the dart player's score into pounds. Naturally, a maximum of £180 could be won here. After this, whoever accumulated the most would proceed into Round 3. During the darts segments, commentary was provided by Tony Green, who provided BBC commentary of the BDO World Professional Darts Championship and was a BDO official.
Bullseye also played host to a charity game, where a top darts player like John Lowe, Bob Anderson, or Eric Bristow would throw nine darts with the intent to score at least 301. Doing so would see them earn double the amount they scored for charity, though all good causes were given at least £60 regardless of the player's performance. On occasion, other celebrities like footballer George Best also participated in the game. The player with the biggest score during a series earned the Bronze Bully Trophy. Alan Evans held the highest score during the original run by accumulating 401 in Series 4. For round 3, better known as Bully's Prize Board, the leading team were tasked to hit the red zones of another oversized darts board. Doing so would earn them prizes, but hitting the same sections twice would take the prize away. Hitting black sections rewarded nothing, but a bullseye hit would allow one to claim what was appropriately titled "Bully's Special Prize". Theoretically, it was therefore possible to win every prize during this round.
After this, the team were given the opportunity to play one final game: They could gamble all of their prizes thus far to earn a possible star prize, ranging from cars and caravans to speedboats. Most went ahead with this thanks to the mystery and allure of the prize plus pressure from the audience. If they declined, the lower-scoring teams would have the chance to play instead. The premise involved both players throwing three darts each at a standard darts board. If they accumulate 101 or more overall, they win the star prize. Failure to do so meant the team lost their prizes, simply received a BFH or Bus Fare Home, and had the opportunity to "have a look at what you could have won".
The show's popularity meant it was frequently subject to re-runs on Challenge and other channels. However, by the mid-2010s, both Challenge and television archival company Kaleidoscope discovered ITV no longer held a portion of the episodes. Following communication between the three parties, it was confirmed ITV had, in addition to the two unaired pilots, lost 39 Bullseye episodes from Series 1 to 6. This prompted appeals from Challenge for anyone with VHS recordings to come forward with their finds. This included the 1987 Christmas episode, which has since been successfully recovered.
As of 2023, the extent of lost aired episodes has been reduced to 15, consisting of three Series 1, six Series 2, and six Series 6 episodes. Bullseye's first two aired episodes, on 28th September and 5th October 1981, are among those declared officially lost. While still within ITV's archives, a 1989 episode featuring serial killer John Cooper is mostly inaccessible for public viewing.
Unaired "Irishmen" Episode
Also among the show's lost media was an unaired episode that Bowen frequently discussed during interviews and stand-up routines. In that episode, one team consisted of two Irishmen who had performed poorly in both darts and general knowledge, having accumulated just £20 and generally being uncooperative during filming. They were subsequently eliminated in the first round; the other two teams achieved great success, the first earning £720 and eight of the nine prizes on the Bully's Prize Board, whereas the other gained £640. Neither couple were interested in participating in the star prize, in this instance a car.
During a break in filming, the Irish pair retreated to the green room and became super inebriated, subsequently destroying the bar. Bowen was nevertheless forced to fetch the pair for the star prize gamble. They had forgotten about their winnings and were ecstatic to learn they had earned £20 during the show. However, they were perfectly satisfied with their £20, insisting they enjoyed the experience and were uninterested in battling for a bigger prize. Three teams rejecting the gamble was exceptionally rare, happening only twice during the original run. Bullseye's director Peter Harris, in wanting the segment to be filmed, dashed to the contestants and guaranteed them £20 if they participated. However, the pair again rejected the offer, triggering a major argument between them and Harris. Things calmed down backstage and it appeared Harris had convinced the pair to play the game.
However, when filming restarted and Bowen again asked them how much they won, they responded "£40". This forced a re-take where they were instructed to state they won £20. Finally, the non-darts player threw for 101 and managed to score 114 by landing two consecutive treble 19s. Amidst the celebrations, the camera was directed towards the darts player, who suddenly yelled "WHY CAN'T I THROW SOME FUCKING DARTS THEN?!". Considering the word "fucking" has a taboo nature on British television, the edit tried to remove the offending language, all to no avail. ATV henceforth scrapped the entire programme, though was still forced to give away the car and other prizes. The unaired episode was presumably wiped alongside those that did air, and, like the pilots, will likely never be publicly seen.
- Bullseye (lost pilots of dart-based game show; 1981)
- Bullseye (partially found coverage of professional darts tournaments; 1979-1981)
- Darts and Shove Ha'penny (lost early BBC televised darts matches; 1936-1939)
- Television Heaven detailing the conceptualisation of Bullseye, its format and its success. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Professional Darts Players Association detailing the history of darts in Britain, including its rise in popularity in the 1970s. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Bullseye where Wood discussed the show's conceptualisation and legacy. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- 29th October 2006 issue of The Sunday Mail reporting on how Bullseye almost never became successful under Bowen and the infamous unaired Irishmen episode. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- The Daily Mirror where Bowen reflected on his time hosting Bullseye and how it rebounded from its shaky start. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- UK Game Shows detailing Bullseye's format. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Big Issue summarising the show's appeal to a working-class audience Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Darts501 summarising the history of Bullseye and its long-lasting legacy. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Birmingham Mail summarising Bullseye and its short-lived Spikey era. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Global Darts page on Tony Green. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- TalkSPORT summarising George Best's appearance on Bullseye. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Missing Episodes discussing the lost Bullseye episodes. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Kaleidoscope listing the currently missing episodes of the show. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Challenge appealing for missing Bullseye episodes on its Facebook page. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Independent detailing the Bullseye episode featuring John Cooper. Retrieved 29th Sep '23
- Bowen discussing the unaired Bullseye episode featuring two Irishmen. Retrieved 29th Sep '23