Our favourite moments with Jim Bowen – a scholar and a gentleman

Karen chats to Jim at his home in Carnforth
Karen chats to Jim at his home in Carnforth

Jim Bowen was my first-ever celebrity interview, but I needn’t have been nervous. Jim invited me into his home that he shared with his wife Phyllis, on a beautiful November morning in 2007…

1Jim on suffering fools…

“You have to show compassion. You’ve got to give people time to rub out mistakes and if they don’t rub them out, I really cannot be doing with them. It’s all about rules, Phyllis and I were like that with our kids, honesty is the bottom line, if you say you’re going to do it – you just do it. I don’t think there is anything clever about being brash and abrasive, it’s about an underlying integrity to be honest, and in the long term that’s helped me to survive.”

2Jim on education…

“Discipline is a pre-requisite; if you can’t sit 25 kids down and talk to them on your terms, don’t bother going into the classroom. If there is an element of fear that’s marvellous, there’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear is in the real world. Out there is the competition and soon as you leave the classroom, it’s a competition. Nowadays, everyone has to pass their GCSEs, what a load of rubbish! If 95% pass their GCSEs, why bother? Why not just have a certificate and get them to sign their name? Children are not educated to compete. There is nothing wrong with competition as long as they can handle defeat and the teachers can handle the one who has come bottom of the class and encourage them to do better. But I try not to get wound up about it anymore, I like to get up every morning and say tomorrow is another day.”

3Jim on fear…

“It worries me that in today’s society there are forces and influences in the nation that are far too powerful for the number of people they represent. What worries me is the dishonesty of it all, the government, society, politics, everybody is trying to ‘wrap up’ issues. At my age, 70, we are here based on fear: from 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, millions and millions of men were in fear of their lives to preserve a democracy we enjoy and without fear you would never have had men ‘going over the top. On the whole, fear of losing things, fear of losing a relationship or fear of hurting somebody: it’s an emotion that do gooders don’t appreciate. They may say just rationalise things: no, I’m frightened.

Without fear the world would be a very boring place.”

4Jim on maggots and potatoes!

“I was on the QE2 with a guy and his wife, and I asked him if they were enjoying it, his wife replied: ‘Oh, he never enjoys it, it costs us six-thousand pounds for each cruise and we come four or five times a year.’

‘Why don’t you enjoy it?’ I asked,

‘Bloody maggots,’ he replied.

‘What do you mean maggots?’ I asked.

‘I’ve six-thousand acres in Norfolk and 80 tractors digging up potatoes and I’m sat here wondering how many are siphoning diesel!’

I couldn’t believe that he was spending his holiday worrying about people pinching diesel and potatoes when you he had six-thousand acres in Norfolk. The ‘maggots’ were ruining his holiday. So, there is never a perfect world, even when you get to this stage in life. Phyllis and I are as near to Utopia as you can get.”

5Jim on life…

“I used to empty dustbins in Padiham when I was 15. I’d been to Nelson Grammar, we then moved to Clayton-le-Moors and then I attended Accrington Grammar. I was a real ‘pain in the arse’, I didn’t work. My dad told me to go get a job, so I went to the council and got a job emptying dustbins for two-pound, ten shillings a week. I remember sitting in Padiham, opposite Gawthorpe Hall, on the pavement at five in the morning eating an ash laden marmalade butty, crunching the ash with a pot of tea, the boss of the gang said to me: ‘Jim, I’ve been thinking, when you consider how long this world has been going on and how much longer it will go on for, we’re only here for the weekend.’ That stuck in mind, life is not a rehearsal, which makes me realise that what I have and where I live is insignificant. Treat every moment you have as special. The last thing I would want anybody to give me is a watch, I’d rather have the contents, I’d rather have time.”

6Jim on marriage…

“Phyllis has tolerated me for many years. When I came out of teaching we didn’t have a lot of money, but I would be doing the clubs, twice a night and would earn what I could in a week teaching. While I was out working Phyllis brought the kids up, all I did was put on the clothes she had got ready for me. Phyllis was the force behind it all and the underlying base on which it was built. It’s all about integrity. A relationship has got to have credibility on both sides and after 49 years you tend to get used to one another. You see I don’t love Phyllis, you can’t measure, you can’t quantify how I feel about Phyllis, love doesn’t get near it. The package I have got is priceless. She knows what I am thinking, she knows me so well. The marriage has succeeded because of her; she has done it all. I just brought the money in and tried to be a good dad to the children when I was at home.”

7Jim on Bernard Manning…

“I spoke at his funeral. He was a nice man, a funny man, and a gentleman. The funeral was the funniest day I have had in years. It was hilarious. Frank Carson was in charge; he did the service. He said he had been to see Bernard three weeks before he died, he asked Bernard how he was. Bernard replied, ‘The nurses here are a menace. Every night the nurses are giving me iron tablets … when I wake up in the morning I’m facing north!’”

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