BBC Children in Need (also promoted as Plant Mewn Angen in Wales) is the BBC’s UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £1 billion for disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.
One of the highlights is an annual telethon, held in November and televised on BBC One and BBC Two from 7:30 pm until 2:30 am. “Pudsey Bear” is BBC Children in Need’s mascot, whilst Sir Terry Wogan was its long-standing host for 35 years. A prominent annual event in British culture, Children in Need is one of three high profile British telethons. It is the only charity belonging to the BBC, the other telethons being Red Nose Day and Sport Relief, both supporting Comic Relief.
Following the temporary closure of Television Centre, the telethon broadcasts take place at the BBC Elstree Centre.
The BBC’s first broadcast charity appeal took place in 1927, in the form of a five-minute radio broadcast on Christmas Day. It raised about £1,342, which equates to about £69,950 by today’s standards, and was donated to four children’s charities. The first televised appeal took place in 1955 and was called the Children’s Hour Christmas Appeal, with the yellow glove puppet Sooty Bear and Harry Corbett fronting it. The Christmas Day Appeals continued on TV and radio until 1979. During that time a total of £625,836 was raised. Terry Wogan first appeared during this five-minute appeal in 1978, and again in 1979. Sometimes cartoon characters such as Peter Pan and Tom and Jerry were used.
In 1980, the first Children in Need telethon was broadcast. It was a series of short segments linking the evening’s programming instead of the usual continuity. It was devoted to raising money exclusively destined for charities working with children in the United Kingdom. The new format, presented by Terry Wogan, Sue Lawley and Esther Rantzen, saw a dramatic increase in public donations: £1 million was raised that year.
The format was developed throughout the 1980s to the point where the telethon segments grew longer and the regular programming diminished, eventually being dropped altogether from 1984 in favour of a single continuous programme. This format has grown in scope to incorporate further events broadcast on radio and online. As a regular presenter, Wogan had become firmly associated with the annual event, continuing to front it until 2014. This was because in the following year, he started to battle ill health from which he died in 2016.
In 1988, BBC Children in Need became a registered charity (number 802052) in England and Wales, followed by registration in Scotland (SC039557) in 2008.
The telethon features performances from many top singers and groups, with many celebrities also appearing on the 6 1/2 hour long programme performing various activities such as sketches or musical numbers. Featured celebrities often include those from programmes on rival network ITV, including some appearing in-character, and/or from the sets of their own programmes. A performance by BBC newsreaders became an annual fixture. Stars of newly opened West End musicals regularly perform a number from their show later in the evening after “curtain call” in their respective theatres big bombs.
The BBC devotes the entire night’s programming on its flagship channel BBC One to the Children in Need telethon, with the exception of 35 minutes at 10 o’clock while BBC News at Ten, Weather and Regional News airs, and activity continues on BBC Two with special programming, such as Mastermind Children in Need, which is a form of Celebrity Mastermind, with four celebrities answering questions on a chosen subject and on general knowledge. In recent years, before the telethon itself, the BBC has broadcast Children in Need specials including DIY SOS The Big Build, Bargain Hunt, The One Show, in which hosts Matt Baker and Alex Jones did a rickshaw challenge and a celebrity version of Pointless in which Pudsey assists hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman.
Unlike the other BBC charity telethon Comic Relief, Children in Need relies a lot on the BBC regions for input into the telethon night. The BBC English regions all have around 5–8-minute round-ups every hour during the telethon. This does not interrupt the schedule of items shown from BBC Television Centre as the presenters usually hand over to the regions, giving those in the main network studio a short break. However BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland opted out of the network schedule with a lot of local fundraising news and activities from their broadcast area. Usually they went over to the network broadcast at various times of the night, and usually they showed some network items later than when the English regions saw them. This was to give the BBC nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a much larger slot than the BBC English regions because the “nations” comprise a distinct audience of the BBC. Usually BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland handed back to network coverage from around 1:00 am on the telethon night. For the 2010 appeal this changed, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales deciding not to have their usual opt-outs and instead following the English regions’ pattern of having updates every hour.
- Sir Terry Wogan (1980–2014)
- Sue Lawley (1980–82)
- Esther Rantzen (1980–82)
- Gloria Hunniford (1983)
- Sue Cook (1984–95)
- Joanna Lumley (1984; 1988)
- Andi Peters (1992–94)
- Gabby Roslin (1995–2004)
- Fearne Cotton (2005–08; 2010–15)
- Natasha Kaplinsky (2005–06)
- Matt Allwright (2005)
- Chris Moyles (2006)
- Tess Daly (2008–18)
- Alesha Dixon (2008–09; 2011)
- Peter Andre (2009–10)
- Nick Grimshaw (2012–15)
- Zoe Ball (2013)
- Shane Richie (2013–15)
- Rochelle Humes (2015–18)
- Marvin Humes (2015–18)
- Dermot O’Leary (2015)
- Ade Adepitan (2016–18)
- Greg James (2016)
- Graham Norton (2016–18)
- Russell Kane (2016)
- Mel Giedroyc (2017–18)
- Matt Edmondson (2017)
- Rob Beckett (2018)
The mascot which fronts the Children in Need appeal is called Pudsey Bear. He was created and named in 1985 by BBC graphic designer Joanna Lane, who worked in the BBC’s design department. Asked to revamp the logo, with a brief to improve the charity’s image, Lane said “It was like a lightbulb moment for me, We were bouncing ideas off each other and I latched on to this idea of a teddy bear. I immediately realised there was a huge potential for a mascot beyond the 2D logo”. The bear was named after her hometown of Pudsey, West Yorkshire, where her grandfather was mayor. A reproduction of the bear mascot (made of vegetation) is in Pudsey park, near the town centre. Originally introduced for the 1985 appeal, Pudsey Bear was created as a triangular shaped logo, depicting a yellow-orange teddy bear with a red bandana tied over one eye. The bandana had a pattern of small black triangles. The mouth of the bear depicted a sad expression. The lettering “BBC” appeared as 3 circular black buttons running vertically down the front of the bear, one capital letter on each, in white. Perpendicular to the buttons, the words “children-in-need” appeared in all lower case letters along the base of the triangular outline. Accessibility for young readers, and people with disabilities including speech and reading challenges, were factors weighed by the designer Joanna Ball, specifically the “P” sound in “Pudsey” name, and the choice of all lower case sans serif letters for the logotype
The original design was adapted for various applications for use in the 1985 appeal, both 2D graphics and three-dimensional objects. Items using the original 1985 design included a filmed opening title sequence, using cartoon cell animation, a postage stamp, and a prototype soft toy, commissioned from a film and TV prop maker (citation). The original prototype soft toy was orange and reflected the design of the logo, which was then adapted for approximately 12 identical bears, one for each regional BBC Television Studio. These bears were numbered and tagged with the official logo and auctioned off as part of the appeal. The number 1 Pudsey Bear was allocated to the Leeds region. Joanna Lumley appeared with one of the soft toys during the opening of Blackpool Illuminations and named Pudsey Bear as the official mascot of the BBC Children in Need appeal.
In 1986, the logo was redesigned. Whilst retaining the concept of a teddy bear with a bandana over one eye, all other elements were changed. Specifically, the triangular elements of the underlying design were abandoned, as well as the corporate identity colour scheme was changed. The new bandana design was white with red spots, one of the buttons was removed and the logotype now appeared as building blocks, which spelled out “BBC CHILDREN IN NEED” in capital letters. Pudsey now has a smiling expression on his face rather than a sad one like the previous logo.
In 2007, Pudsey and the logo were redesigned again. This time, Pudsey’s bandana had multicoloured spots, and all of the buttons were removed. By 2009, Pudsey had been joined by another bear, a brown female bear named “Blush”. She has a spotty bow with the pattern similar to Pudsey’s bandana pattern. In 2013, Moshi Monsters introduced Pudsey as an in-game item for 100 Rox.