What Bullseye Can Teach Us About Equality


One of my guilty pleasures is watching repeats of Bullseye on Challenge. It’s a northerner thing. Like the many millions who watched the gameshow in the 80s and 90s I fondly remember tuning in every Sunday. It was proper entertainment for the family. Harmless fun that caused no offence to anyone. Or did it?

As someone who has worked in the HR profession for many years -and who now lectures about employment law and equality- I often find myself feeling very uncomfortable when watching (occassionally binge watching) the repeats. It’s not the contestants from Tamworth winning speedboat that bothers me. It’s the continual breaches of pretty much every aspect of the Equality Act that make my toes curl backwards and forwards.

Examples of Jim’s discriminatory behaviour are almost too numerous to mention. Flicking a camp wrist and acting effeminately in a “chase me, chase me” fashion at the slightest inference of homosexuality always gets him a laugh. All homosexual people always behave like that after all, don’t they?!

Openly insinuating that Irish contestants are stupid, drunkards or both was another of Jim’s favourites. Whilst Scottish contestants are almost always introduced with a verbal disclaimer that subtitles can be found on Ceefax for all those who can’t understand what they are saying. Even though it was perfectly clear exactly what was being said. Anyone with a regional accent -me included- must therefore be stupid.

Ethnic minority contestants of course appear on the show almost as frequently as hens teeth are found. With one contestant being asked ‘You’re obviously not English. Where are you from?’. It transpired that the lady in question had lived in the UK for the majority of her life. Not quite long enough to qualify as English in Jim’s book though. Presumably, to be truly English you had to have white skin.

The group that probably come in for the most excruciatingly uncomfortably treatment though -in the unlikely event that the above wasn’t bad enough- are women. Women are effectively leched at and sexually objectified. In the era of so many now publicly known sex scandals it of course comes as no surprise. Something that Jim loved to do was ask female contestants what their husbands did for a living. Whilst asking them absolutely nothing about their own professional lives. After all, women were merely for homemaking and babies weren’t they?!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not being overly critical of Jim Bowen. He was undoubtedly a man of his time and he provided millions of people with honest entertainment that has, in many ways, stood the test of time. Rest in peace Jim.

But if you want to understand the importance of -and fundamental need for- equality you only need transport yourself back to the 1980s via an episode of Bullseye on Challenge. Watching the programme also exemplifies how far forward UK society has moved in a relatively short space of time. It is also a reminder that it is not that long ago that the UK was in the position of those countless countries around the world who now lag behind us in relation to equality.

True equality is not being told to behave in a certain ways because you fear being arrested or sued for not doing so. Nor is it a case of behaving one way in public and in a totally different manner behind closed doors. True equality is genuinely treating everybody in the same way regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, religion or beliefs or who they choose to share their bed with. Simply stating that you treat the cleaner in the same ways as you would treat the Managing Director isn’t good enough. It’s probably not true either.

Equality is still very much a work in progress. But as a society we can look with pride at what we have already achieved in the UK. The HR profession has been at the heart of driving this agenda forward. Some still don’t like where we have got to. To those people I say take a look back at a few episodes of Bullseye and ask yourself this. Does anyone really want to return to the dark days of overt discrimination being celebrated and laughed at on prime-time television?

I know where I prefer to be.

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