In 1985, before the smartphone was even a teeny blink in a tech giant’s eye, and social media was chatting to people in the pub about what you read in the papers, Richard Curtis (the screenwriter of Notting Hill and Love Actually) and comedian Lenny Henry launched Comic Relief, their response to the famine in Ethiopia.
If Live Aid, held the same year, brought the music industry together in one big smooshy hug, then Comic Relief would go on to do the same for the entertainment world. It’s beginnings, though, were a little smaller scale.
It was launched live on Noel Edmonds’ BBC1 Late, Late Breakfast Show on Christmas Day from a refugee camp in Sudan, and the following April saw the first-ever fundraising show, dubbed ‘Comic Relief Utterly Utterly Live’ at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre.
The bill included comedians Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry and Billy Connolly, as well as musicians Kate Bush and Cliff Richard.
It took until 8 February 1988 for the first-ever Red Nose Day telethon to hit TV screens: it featured 150 celebrities, drew 30 million viewers and raised an impressive £15 million.
Red Nose Day remains the beating heart of this charitable event, now held annually following an announcement last year, and has raised more than £1 billion to date.
The Comic Relief charity aims 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”, and supports good causes both in the UK and internationally.
Despite being 36 years old, the format hasn’t dated – in fact more people than ever are keen to get involved long before the big night itself.
Among the famous faces who have undertaken challenges to raise funds are BBC Radio 1 DJ Jordan North, who attempted to row the nation’s canals between London and his hometown Burnley, diving superstar Tom Daley, who took on an epic endurance challenge as he rowed, cycled, swam and ran his way from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford to his hometown of Plymouth, and The One Show’s Owain Wyn Evans and Angellica Bell, who have been battling it out in the Red Nose and Spoon Race.
People from all walks of life are inspired to do something – even if it’s just buying a silly red nose or a pair of deely boppers – to support Comic Relief.
So, as fundraisers up and down the land gratefully put their feet up, settle down and enjoy as Sir Lenny Henry hosts, live from the MediaCityUK studio in Salford studio. He will be joined by the likes of Zoe Ball, Paddy McGuinness, Alesha Dixon and David Tennant as stars of stage, screen and the movies grace an epic three-hour comedy special.
There will be hilarious sketches, live performances, big surprises and stunning music acts – among the highlights are a special edition of The Repair Shop with Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Judi Dench, and Kylie Minogue joining forces with the cast of hit BBC sitcom Ghosts in a one-off sketch. They’ll be nestled alongside films highlighting incredible and inspiring stories of the people that are supported by some of Comic Relief’s amazing projects, both in the UK and around the world.
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