Early broadcast appeals

The first broadcast charity appeal took place in 1927, in the form of a five-minute radio broadcast on Christmas Day. It raised about £1,143, which equates to about £27,150 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 & Jerry were used.

Thames Telethon 1980 1985
ITV Telethons 1988 1990 1992
BBC Children in Need 1980-1999 Official Children in Need singles
Comic Relief Red Nose Day Official Comic Relief singles


A prominent annual event in British culture, BBC Children in Need is one of three high-profile British telethons, although the only charity belonging to the BBC, the other telethons being Red Nose Day and Sport Relief, both supporting the Comic Relief charity.

However, these events were preceded by the Thames Telethon of 1980. This was followed by the ITV Telethons that ran in 1988, 1990 and 1992.

Thames Telethon

The ‘Thames Telethon’ ran in the Thames/London ITV region only.

  • October 2, 1980: The first ‘Thames Telethon’ was held one month before the BBC’s first Children In Need appeal the same year. It lasted for 10 hours.

  • October 29-30, 1985: Thames broadcast its second and final Telethon. This time it ran for 24 hours.

ITV Telethons

The success of Thames Television‘s Telethons led to three 27-hour marathon ITV Telethons broadcast across the entire ITV network involving participation and input from all of the regional broadcasters around the country. Michael Aspel was the frontman for all three. Telethon helped thousands of charities in the UK. Many local ITV companies like Tyne Tees Television and Television South West contributed from company profits.

The ITV Telethons also offered regional cut-ins by ITV companies all over the country, featuring personalities and local celebrities from that region such as Richard Whiteley for Yorkshire Television or Ruth Madoc for HTV Wales.

  • May 29-30, 1988: The first ITV Telethon had the aim of raising money for disability charities across the United Kingdom. It raised £21m.

  • May 27-28, 1990: ITV’s second Telethon raised £24m.  TVS donated £1 million from its own charity, the TVS Trust.

  • July 18-19, 1992: ITV’s third and final Telethon raised £15m. This Telethon was subject to protests organised by Block Telethon, a protest group that believed that the Telethons reinforced negative stereotypes of people with disabilities.

BBC Children in Need

BBC Children in Need is the BBC’s UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million 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. “Pudsey Bear” is BBC Children in Need’s mascot, whilst Sir Terry Wogan was its long-standing host.

  • November 21, 1980: The first Children in Need telethon broadcast was a series of short segments linking the evening’s programming instead of the usual continuity. 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 became firmly associated with the annual event, continuing to front it until 2014 stepping down due to ill health.

BBC Children in Need Shows 1980-1999

Date Terry Wogan’s Co-presenter(s) Total raised
November 21, 1980 Sue Lawley, Esther Rantzen £1.0m
November 20, 1981 Sue Lawley, Esther Rantzen Unknown
November 26, 1982 Sue Lawley, Esther Rantzen £1.0m
November 25, 1983 Gloria Hunniford £1.1m
November 23, 1984 Sue Cook, Joanna Lumley £2.3m
November 22, 1985 Sue Cook £4.5m
November 21, 1986 Sue Cook £8.7m
November 27, 1987 Sue Cook £13.9m
November 18, 1988 Sue Cook, Joanna Lumley £21.7m
November 17, 1989 Sue Cook £21.6m
November 23, 1990 Sue Cook Unknown
November 22, 1991 Sue Cook £17.1m (broadcast)
November 20, 1992 Sue Cook, Andi Peters £16.7m
November 26, 1993  Sue Cook, Andi Peters £17.3m
November 25, 1994  Sue Cook, Andi Peters £12.0m (broadcast)
November 24, 1995 Sue Cook, Gaby Roslin £11.8m (broadcast)
November 22, 1996 Gaby Roslin £18.7m
November 21, 1997  Gaby Roslin £20.9m
November 20, 1998  Gaby Roslin £17.9m
November 26, 1999  Gaby Roslin £16.7m

Official Children in Need singles

Links go to YouTube videos

  • 1985: “Almost Seems (Too Late to Turn)” by Clannad UK #80
  • 1986:
  • 1987: “Bog Eyed Jog” by Ray Moore UK #61
  • 1988: “Children in Need” by Spirit of Play feat Paul McCartney UK #72
  • 1989: “If You Want To Help” by BBC Children in Need Choir UK #78
  • 1995: “You Better Believe It (Children in Need)” by Patsy Palmer & Sid Owen UK #60
  • 1996: “When Children Rule the World” by Red Hill Children UK #40
  • 1997: “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed & various artists UK #1
  • 1998: “Especially for You” by Johnny Vaughan & Denise van Outen UK #3
  • 1999: “Love Me” by Martine McCutcheon UK #6

Comic Relief

Comic Relief was founded in 1985 by the comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to famine in Ethiopia.

  • December 25, 1985: It was launched live on Noel EdmondsLate, 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.
  • April 4, 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.

The highlight of Comic Relief’s appeal is Red Nose Day, a biennial telethon held in March, alternating with sister project Sport Relief. 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.

Red Nose Day

  • February 5, 1988: The First Red Nose Day was held with the slogan: “The Plain Red Nose”, and raised £15m. Over 150 celebrities and comedians participated. The event attracted 30m television viewers on BBC1.
  • February 8, 1988: Lenny Henry went to Ethiopia and celebrated the very first Red Nose Day Telethon.
  • March 10, 1989: The Second Red Nose Day was held with the slogan: “Red Nose Day 2”, and raised £27m.
  • March 15, 1991: The Third Red Nose Day was held with the slogan “The Stonker”, and raised £20m.
  • March 12, 1993: The Fourth Red Nose Day was held with the slogan “The Invasion of the Comic Tomatoes”, and Raised £18m.
  • March 17, 1995: The Fifth Red Nose Day was held with the slogan “What A Difference A Day Makes”, and raised £22m.
  • March 14, 1997: The 1997 Red Nose Day slogan was “Small Change – Big Difference”. The event raised over £27m for charitable causes. The telethon was hosted by Father Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan) and Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon), characters from the sitcom Father Ted.
  • March 12, 1999: The 1999 Red Nose Day 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.

Official Comic Relief singles