Comic Relief

Comic Relief is an operating British charity, founded in 1985 by the comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to famine in Ethiopia. The highlight of Comic Relief’s appeal is Red Nose Day, a biennial telethon held in March, alternating with its sister project Sport Relief.

A prominent biennial event in British popular culture, Comic Relief is one of the two high-profile telethon events held in the United Kingdom, the other being Children in Need, held annually in November. At the end of the 2015 Red Nose Day telethon on 14 March it was announced that in the 30-year history of Comic Relief the Red Nose Day and Sport Relief appeals had raised in excess of £1 billion.

Comic Relief was launched live on Noel Edmonds‘ Late, Late Breakfast Show on BBC1, on Christmas Day 1985 from a refugee camp in Sudan. The idea for Comic Relief came from the charity worker Jane Tewson, who established it as the operating name of Charity Projects, a registered charity in England and Scotland.

On 4 April 1986 the inaugural live fund-raising show, “Comic Relief Utterly Utterly Live”, was staged at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London featuring popular alternative comedians and pop stars (including Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Kate Bush and Cliff Richard). An audio recording was released on WEA which included a live performance of the charity single “Living Doll” by Cliff Richard and The Young Ones.

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The highlight of Comic Relief is Red Nose Day. On 8 February 1988, Lenny Henry went to Ethiopia and celebrated the very first Red Nose Day Telethon. Over 150 celebrities and comedians participated. The event raised 15 million British pounds sterling and attracted 30 million television viewers on BBC1. To date, Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry are still active participants of the Red Nose Day Telethon which continues to raise funds for numerous charities that help children in need and tackle worldwide poverty.

The charity states that its aim is to “bring about positive and lasting change in the lives of poor and disadvantaged people, which we believe requires investing in work that addresses people’s immediate needs as well as tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice”.

One of the fundamental principles behind working at Comic Relief is the “Golden Pound Principle” where every single donated pound (£) is spent on charitable projects. All operating costs, such as staff salaries, are covered by corporate sponsors, or interest earned on money waiting to be distributed.

Currently, its main supporters are the BBC, BT, Sainsbury’s supermarket chain and British Airways. The BBC is responsible for the live television extravaganza on Red Nose Day; BT provides the telephony, and Sainsbury’s sells merchandise on behalf of the charity.

The July 2010 accounts for charity registration 326568 show grant payments of £59 million, net assets of £135 million, with an investment portfolio held in a range of managed pooled funds and fixed term deposits. The average full-time staff was 214, with 14 staff paid over £60,000 with remuneration for the year, excluding pensions, for Kevin Cahill, chief executive of £120,410.

In 2002, Comic Relief and BBC Sport teamed up to create Sport Relief, a new initiative, aiming to unite the sporting community and culminate in a night of sport, entertainment and fund-raising on BBC One. Sport Relief is a biennial charity event, and the campaign deliberately alternates years with Red Nose Day, Comic Relief’s flagship event. Red Nose Day occurs in odd-numbered years, and Sport Relief in even-numbered years.

In 2009, Comic Relief launched a website calling for a financial transaction tax, the “Robin Hood” tax.

At the end of the 2015 Red Nose Day telethon on 14 March it was announced that in the 30-year history of Comic Relief the Red Nose Day and Sport Relief appeals had raised in excess of £1bn (£1,047,083,706).

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The television programming begins in the afternoon, with CBBC having various related reports, money raising events and celebrity gunging. This is all in-between the regular programmes, but after the six o’clock news, the normal BBC One schedule is suspended at 7 pm in favour of a live show, with a break at 10 pm for the regular news programme. Whilst the BBC News at Ten is aired on BBC One, Comic Relief continues on BBC Two, and then resumes on BBC One at 10:35 pm, with each hour overseen by a different celebrity team. These celebrities do the work for free, as do the crew, with studio space and production facilities donated by the BBC.

Regular themes throughout the shows include parodies of recent popular shows, films and clips, events, and specially filmed versions of comedy shows. Smith and Jones, and a parody sketch starring Rowan Atkinson are both regularly featured.

1980s and 1990s

1988

The First Red Nose Day was held on Friday 5 February 1988 with the slogan: “The Plain Red Nose”, and raised £15 million.

1989

The Second Red Nose Day was held on Friday 10 March 1989 with the slogan: “Red Nose Day 2”, and raised £27 million. (This is also when the event would start generally being scheduled in mid-march, often close to, or on the 17th of March – St Patrick’s Day.)

1991

The Third Red Nose Day was held on Friday 15 March 1991, with the slogan “The Stonker”, and Raised £20 million. The charity song was a double A-sided single featuring “The Stonk” performed by Hale & Pace and “The Smile Song” performed by Victoria Wood.

1993

The Fourth Red Nose Day was held on Friday 12 March 1993 with the slogan “The Invasion of the Comic Tomatoes”, and Raised £18 million.

1995

The Fifth Red Nose Day was held on Friday 17 March 1995, with the slogan “What A Difference A Day Makes”, and Raised £22 million.

1997

The 1997 Red Nose Day event was held on 14 March. Its slogan for the year was “Small Change – Big Difference”. The event raised over £27m for charitable causes. The Spice Girls song “Who Do You Think You Are” became the official Comic Relief single of this event and sold 672,577 copies. The telethon was hosted by Father Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan) and Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon), characters from the sitcom Father Ted.

1999

The 1999 Red Nose Day was held on 12 March and raised over £35m. Perennial hosts Jonathan Ross and Lenny Henry were joined by Davina McCall, Chris Evans, Ben Elton, Jack Dee and Julian Clary, with Peter Snow providing regular updates on donations. Angus Deayton hosted a live cross-over panel game, Have I Got Buzzcocks All Over. A parody of the Doctor Who series starring Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, was featured during the show, as was Wetty Hainthropp Investigates (a Victoria Wood parody of Hetty Wainthropp Investigates) and The Naughty Boys (a mock 1967 pilot for Men Behaving Badly).

On Radio 1, Simon Mayo set the record of 37 hours of consecutive broadcasting (which was later broken in March 2011 by Chris Moyles on the same station for 52 hours, “BBC Radio 1’s Longest Show Ever with Chris Moyles and Comedy Dave for Comic Relief”, the world record for the longest show in radio history). The 1999 Comic Relief song was When the Going Gets Tough by Boyzone.

The most prominent symbol of Comic Relief is a plastic/foam “red nose”, which is given in various supermarkets and charity shops such as Oxfam in exchange for a donation to the charity and to make others laugh. People are encouraged to wear the noses on Red Nose Day to help raise awareness of the charity. The design of the nose has been changed each year, beginning with a fairly plain one, which later grew arms, turned into a tomato and even changed colour.

This regular re-design was in part to stop people from re-using previous years designs, and having to buy the latest version, as for example some people may re-use the same Poppy, repeatedly, rather than buying a new one each year. In 2007, the red nose was made of foam; this was to facilitate the “growing” of the nose (by rolling it in the user’s hands) to keep in line with that year’s tagline, The Big One (see the table below). Larger noses are also available and are designed to be attached to the fronts of cars, buildings and, in 2009, a 6-metre (20-foot) diameter inflatable nose was attached to the DFDS Seaways cruiseferry King of Scandinavia. However, the nose’s material used for buildings was classed as a fire hazard and was banned from the Comic Relief Does Fame Academy shows.

In April 1986 the first Comic Relief charity record was released. It featured Cliff Richard and the cast of The Young Ones in a rendition of “Living Doll”.

Some of the money raised from the sale of each single is donated to Comic Relief. Normally a song is released just before the official Red Nose Day. There have been exceptions, such as “(I want to be) Elected” which was released to coincide with the 1992 UK general election. Before 1995’s song, they were all more-or-less comedy records, mostly involving an actual band or singer, and a comedy group. From 1995 on, they have been generally more serious, although the videos still feature comical moments.

1986 Living Doll Cliff Richard and the cast of The Young Ones No. 1
1987 Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree Mel & Kim (Mel Smith and Kim Wilde) No. 3
1989 Help! Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo (French and Saunders with Kathy Burke) No. 3

More Information and highlights are available on the Official Website.

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