Decade spawned new TV format… and murdered some songs

The Children In Need logo from 1980.

The Children In Need logo from 1980.

As I was looking at the schedule for last night’s Comic Relief I began to wonder where it all began: This telethon lark, I mean.

Like many television formats we now take for granted, it originated in the UK during that decade of television firsts – the Eighties.

Back then – as with Live Aid – it was genuinely ground-breaking as a form of mass entertainment and in terms of a technological achievement.

The first terrestrial TV telethon was screened in Britain in 1980 and it has since gone on to spawn Comic Relief and Sport Relief – all fronted by the BBC.

Thirty three years ago the Beeb’s Children In Need charity – which has its roots in a 1927 Christmas Day appeal for children’s charities – took centre stage for a single themed programme which lasted the whole evening.

Presented by veteran Terry Wogan, newsreader Sue Lawley and That’s Life’s presenter Esther Rantzen, we were all shocked when it raised more than £1 million from public donations.

The show benefited, of course, from the fact that there was no cable or satellite TV back then and so most people in the UK tuned in to watch this most unusual bit of programming.

The massive success of that first telethon persuaded BBC bosses to keep the format which has been an annual fixture ever since.

Using its massive resources, Auntie has turned Children In Need Day into a huge annual fund-raising exercise – with all its regional TV news teams and local radio stations encouraging their viewers and listeners to do something daft for the good cause.

In 1985 Pudsey Bear became the charity’s mascot – designed by a BBC graphic designer and named after her home town in Yorkshire.

Originally, the teddy which now pops up on all Children In Need branding and brightens up supermarket checkouts during the month of March, was brown in colour and didn’t sport an eye patch.

Interestingly, the telethon isn’t universally popular – with some observers arguing that such events detract from other charities.

Others have criticised a lack of accountability in terms of where the money goes and the fact that some celebrities are able to promote themselves for free on prime time television.

But the telethon has surely done more harm than good since that historic first broadcast in 1980 – even if some of the telly is woeful.

Just look at the numbers: To date Children In Need has raised more than £600m – all of which has helped disabled children and vulnerable young people across the UK.

Five years after that first Children In Need extravaganza, comedian Lenny Henry and comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis founded the Comic Relief charity in response to famine in Ethiopia.

It was launched on BBC1 on Noel Edmonds’s Late Late Breakfast Show on Christmas Day with a live appeal from a refugee camp in Sudan.

Since then Red Nose Day has raised more than £800m while, over the years, inflicting upon us some devastatingly awful music.

This tradition began in 1986 with Cliff Richard and the cast of The Young Ones who murdered Living Doll.

The following year Mel and Kim and Kim Wilde did similar to Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – with a little help from comedian Mel Smith.

But worst of all was Bananarama’s version of Help! in 1989 which was ruined with the assistance of comediennes French and Saunders and Kathy Burke.

In 2002 Comic Relief and BBC Sport came together to create a new charity initiative. Sport Relief now alternates with Red Rose Day as Comic Relief’s big annual fund-raiser.’

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

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