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Memories of British charity telethons - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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July 12th, 2003


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09:15 pm - Memories of British charity telethons
An interesting story about the eventual success of the last Comic Relief event at BBC News leads me to think about the British charity telethons of my childhood.

Since 1980, BBC 1 on one Friday night each November has been dedicated to Children In Need, a charity supporting needy British youth. The 2001/2002 appeal raised around £25,000,000; as is habitual, a "pledges made on the night" figure is calculated while the programme is in progress, which typically approximately doubles by the time all the funds are collected.

Comic Relief staged a similar event, entitled Red Nose Day, in 1988 and have since repeated the venture in odd-numbered years to date. Every year there has been a toy red nose, as per the title, that you can purchase for an inflated sum (originally possibly 50p, these days about £1?) with the proceeds going to charity. The 1989 and 1991 Red Nose Days saw a trend for counterpart Car Red Noses to be strapped onto your front grille, which were briefly as prevalent as mobile phones are these days. (This was at about the time of the arrival of unleaded petrol to this country, so some cars had Green Noses instead.) Happily, the fad has worn off by now, and a genuine Car Red Nose must be worth a good 25 or 30 I-Spy points these days. However, I digress.

The 2003 Red Nose Day attracted £35,000,000 on the night, and it's interesting to note a shift in emphasis from people calling to pledge to donate to people calling to donate directly using their credit card. As per the trend, the £35,000,000 has swelled to a shade over £60,000,000, which they are claiming to be a record. However, they have a page about past Red Nose Days and how much they have raised, which tells a different story. Lest this page be yoinked anon, I shall copy the pertinent info off for the record.

1988: £15,800,000
1989: £26,900,000
1991: £20,300,000
1993: £18,000,000
1995: £22,000,000
1997: £27,100,000
1999: £35,000,000
2001: £61,000,000
2003: £60,000,000

Political sidenote: Tory boom-and-bust plus global recession bad, Gordon Brown patent prudence good.

It's true that the 2001 figure of 61M£ is made up of 55M£ from Red Nose Day and 6M£ from the books of one J. K. Rowling (which, shamefully, I still do not own) but it seems most curmudgeonly to separate the two apart just to make the record easier to beat.

A weighty question presents itself. Just why does Children In Need raise so much less than Comic Relief? Can it really be due to Comic Relief having a more attractive blend of entertainment and fundraising programming than Children In Need? Based on the past few Childrens In Need which have offered largely very weak efforts, I would be prepared (but reluctant) to believe it.

Children In Need has not experienced the same constant inflation in the sums it raises, to the point where it is no longer keen to display its year-on-year rakes. Going to my paper journal and poring through my handwriting, I notice that the 1990 Children In Need raised £17,547,227 of pledges on the night; I also noted that the 1989 Need took over 17M£ on the night which turned to 21.5M£ in the end. Therefore 1989 Need is outperforming 2002 Need on the night and almost in touch with it in terms of eventual collection, so no wonder they're schtum about the figures other than "0.3G£ since 1980". I conclude that Children In Need might be time for a serious revamp, which might possibly start with ditching That Bear and That Wogan.

(To be fair, 1990's 17.5M£ on the night turned into 20.1M£ eventually, so down on the year before, 1991 saw a drop in pledges on the night to 17.1M£ and 1992's night only drew in 11.5M£. Children In Need pledge figures as a barometer of the British economy? Not exactly reliable, but the swings and trends are comparable to the Comic Relief ones.)

A full discussion of TV telethons would not be complete without mentioning the ITV Telethon, which was a 28-consecutive-hour programming strand on the May Bank Holidays of 1988 and 1990 and do. on a July weekend of 1992. (The experts comment that it was impossible to plan for May 1992 with a General Election being planned for about that time of year.) I note that the 1988 ITV Telethon raised 23 M£ and the 1990 ITV Telethon 24M£, but I commented at the time that the 1990 event was
v. wumpee 'cos all big firms say "here 'ave £0" -> ½ 1988 donations.
which, in translation, implies that there was considerably less corporate donation to the 1990 event compared to the 1988 original. From memory, the 1988 event had considerable amounts of planned programming that was rejigged to focus about a Telethonic theme, whereas the 1990 event... did not. The 1992 telethon only attracted 15M£, possibly due to the change in timeslot away from the Bank Holiday and possibly due to the same external factors which caused the drops for Children In Need and Comic Relief, but this fall might explain why there was no 1994 ITV telethon. Furthermore, the ITV Telethon '92 opening sequence (see top posting to board) is rather funky and deeply ITV-regional-logo-tastic.

We should also mention Comic Relief's even-numbered-year July spin-off, Sport Relief, whose 2002 debut raised 14.4 M£ on the night. Not the same impact as Comic Relief by any means, but certainly fine for a first attempt and indeed very close to the same sort of sum as the 1992 ITV Telethon almost exactly ten years earlier while occupying possibly one quarter of the TV footprint. On the other hand, it's only completeness which makes me mention ITV's Year Of Plenty with a 12-hour Holmes/Vorderman-fest. It made so little impression on the memory that it took about 2½ bulletin board pages before anyone thought of mentioning it.

What conclusions can we draw?
  • Make people laugh and they'll give money to charity.
  • Children In Need hasn't been funny for years.
  • You don't see much of either Lenny Henry or Gryff Rhys Jones on Comic Relief these years for exactly the same reason.
  • Every charity telethon needs to do (and eventually will do) a game show between game show hosts. 15-to-1 is a popular way to start because 15 is a good number.
  • ITV have removed their lack of focus on regional differences to such an extent that it seems most unlikely that there will be another counterpart in the future. Suffer, ITV national marketing scum, suffer.
  • Michael Aspel is slowing down very nearly as much as Bruce Forsyth - that is, a lot.
  • This 1980s/1990s British media summary page is pretty good.
  • Windows Explorer gets very dodgy when you have a not unreasonable number (12? 15?) of MSIE windows open on the screen at once.
  • My handwriting has always been very dodgy.
  • Telethon fund figures will always mysteriously increase by at least a quarter in the final hour, no matter which charity or which occasion.
  • Er, that's it.


Unrelated topic: going through my pre-LJ paper diary, I note that I kept a track of which people I mentioned in my diary most frequently between entry one (25th December '89, at an age of 14) and entry 1322 (21st November '93, at an age of 18) by way of a pertinence metric. I note with amusement that wrestlers of the day Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan received more mentions (joint 31st with 9 and joint 41st with 6 respectively) than Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major (both joint 49th with 5 each). For a teenager, is that forgivable? (Is even making such a chart forgivable or is it as excessive as it sounds?)

Modernising the concept: for someone who wants to get into lj_nifty, who wants to produce an application which automatically goes through your entries - or, at least, your public entries - and counts how often you mention each different <lj user="">?
Current Mood: cursing Windows Explorer
Current Music: this is about the sixth time I have updated this entry

(22 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:lambertman
Date:July 12th, 2003 01:34 pm (UTC)

Whoooooo!

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Maggs couldn't do a proper figure-four if her life depended on it.
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From:imc
Date:July 12th, 2003 02:54 pm (UTC)
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Surely my diary is by definition about what I did, and not about what other people did.
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From:brigbother
Date:July 12th, 2003 02:23 pm (UTC)
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Of course, the final Telephon was a MASSIVE 30 hours long and had a blue fluffly thing as a mascot.

It was hindered by 20 of those thirty hours being "reasons why we're doing this", interrupting the entertainment every five minutes. I understand the need for them but they get very annoying at that sort of frequency.
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From:brigbother
Date:July 12th, 2003 02:37 pm (UTC)
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I agree with chocoholic7.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:July 12th, 2003 02:38 pm (UTC)
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Weaver, I choose you!
Lendl, I choose you!

Sometimes I feel so... old.
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From:ericklendl
Date:July 12th, 2003 03:47 pm (UTC)
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Oooh, are we having some sort of dramatic season finale type battle between the forces of Wogan and the forces of... errm... not-Wogan? Excellent, I'm in. Put me down for the general knowledge round.

However old thou be
Thou baint as old as me
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From:brigbother
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:03 pm (UTC)
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And on my tream today I've got... Gaby Roslin! And, er, oh.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:38 pm (UTC)

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Wouldn't Grand Slam make a workable team quiz format? You would have a team of four players, each specialising in one of the first four rounds, then send whichever team member's in the best form to represent in the final round. You could then have handicap matches - say, Clive Spate versus the Oxford University Grand Slam IV.
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From:ericklendl
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:50 pm (UTC)

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Good idea! How much extra time do you think the OUGSIV would need to make it a fair contest? ;-)

I've softened to Grand Slam now, after my initial reservations. I'm also slightly frustrated having seen the general calibre of contestant, as (modulo It's always easier when you're sitting at home) I'm bloody good at it! Still, that £1000 buy-in... that was far too much to gamble. I could probably do Istanbul And The Contest After for that kind of money.
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From:brigbother
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:50 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I think that would work. Although I would wonder if general knowledge and contemporary knowledge were a bit similar.

I like Grand Slam, it looks like being great fun to 'do' and whilst I don't think the gambling of £1000 makes the show any more tense (and hence slightly pointless), it does encourage a slightly more arrogant breed of player to play which DOES make for more interesting viewing. It's certainly the first quiz in aaaages that's had me excitingly shouting answers at the telly. Possibly it needs some tweakage to make matches a bit closer - losing a round puts you at quite a major disadvantage in starting the next round after all.

I approve, even though others don't. But they are stupid and wrong.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:July 12th, 2003 05:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm enjoying Grand Slam too, with the considerable proviso that I keep forgetting it's on. I got down to yesterday's episode at 8:26 and found it had finished already. Not impressed. I think I saw the final 1.1 rounds of the week before's episode and obviously the final 0 rounds of next week's. Not good signs, obviously.

Not sure what the ratings have been like, but I hope it takes off. I'd like to play Grand Slam some day, though not for (much) money. (Are you listening, Mr. Linham? Not that I'm challenging you, just that it seems like something you and yours might organise...) It seems to be a far more interesting game to play as a sport even at a common-or-garden level than most quiz show formats.

I'd really like to see a Grand Slam competition as an event at the Mind Sports Olympiad some year. (Maybe Swiss format, lots of parallel games conducted simultaneously using the same sets of questions.) That would be k3wl. Labour-intensive up the wazoo, but k3wl.

Sometimes I feel my writing style hasn't developed too far from my v. wumpee 'cos all big firms say "here 'ave £0" -> ½ 1988 donations. of 12½ years ago after all.
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From:petulans
Date:July 12th, 2003 02:35 pm (UTC)
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Do you think that with the post OotP, PoA movie and possibly Book 6 swelling of the fandom, its natural increase (now there would be a statistic to work out… somehow) and a better-planned and organised campaign, the fandom could make up that extra million in 2005? Hmm… guess not.

If anyone asks me to sort out some sort of Weasley-centric concept (or God forbid actually set it up) for a Children in Need fandom charity project in November, I shall first cry, then run down the nearest hardware store to buy meths to drink so that I can plead blindness as an excuse to get out of it!

Grr… that reminds me, I’m still in a sense several hundred pounds out of pocket over NasAlley. PayPal decided to ask me for bank statements before I can use the money in my account (where the money I sent a cheque to CR to cover resides) and I’m stuck in Thailand where I have no access to such things and PP refuse to reply to my inquiries on the matter. No good deed goes unpunished, it appears!

And bother, I’ve already ditched my NasAlley icon!
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:July 12th, 2003 02:55 pm (UTC)
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I have to confess that I've never actually tried to take any money out of the system with PayPal - every time I've received money, I've just let it stick there and used it for future online purposes (paid accounts and so forth). I guess you could do likewise - super-generously puchase lots of permanent accounts for your friends the next time they become available in order to soak up the cost with your Comic Relief donation.

Not saying that's necessarily a good idea, just something you could do... :-)
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From:petulans
Date:July 12th, 2003 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Ahh, but I’m a pitifully penniless uni student and having comparatively large sums of money stuck somewhere I can’t freely use it might not seem wise when it gets to the point of catching my own dinner. Still, I’d consider it if it were an option. Unfortunately it isn’t, as when I say “use the money in my account,” I really do mean ‘use’ – I can do nothing with it whatsoever, from transferring it to a bank account to using it to make payments through PP themselves – nothing. To say that I find this irksome (not to mention underhand) is putting things mildly indeed.
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From:brigbother
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:04 pm (UTC)
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There was a Varsity Club one on SKY One about 7-8 years back hosted by Chris Tarrant and somebody else. It was on Valentine's Day and raised over £3,000,000 -which I don't think is too bad considering the potential amounts of people watching it.
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From:bopeepsheep
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:22 pm (UTC)
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Just why does Children In Need raise so much less than Comic Relief?
Children in Need doesn't have merchandise. Comic Relief has had merchandise on every occasion - records, noses, books etc and they count these totals in on the night. They also get tie-in money from sales of things like Persil "Red Nose packets", which again they count on the night. They have also, recently, had much more pre-night exposure with stuff like the Driving School programmes. CiN is annual, too, which can hurt its appeal to people who feel "charitied-out". CR is biannual so it doesn't seem quite so oppressive, perhaps?

CR also has "teen appeal" where CiN doesn't ("it's all old farts"), so it gets more "zany stunts" participation in schools and so on.

Finally, CR has a commercial set-up and backing, which I don't think CiN has to such a great extent. As a result CR can haul in much bigger names and support from outside the Beeb, which I don't think CiN manages.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:36 pm (UTC)
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All excellent points. Thank you.

However, I'm not sure that some of them are exactly correct. Children In Need certainly have had songs - a quick Google points to S Club, nay, S Club 7 as was' "Have You Ever" in 2001 and a Will Young one, "Don't Let Me Down", presumably for 2002. (I say that because nobody had heard of Will Young in November 2001, had they...?)

Children In Need normally do have a big Radio 2 Celebrity Memorabilia Auction which isn't quite the same thing as mass merchandise but is along the same lines. I think they've had some little local auctions in the past, too.

Actually, the Children In Need news page suggests there's a fair bit of merchandise this year. Perhaps this could all be part of a reaction to the falling totals, because I certainly don't remember it being as prevalent for the Need in the past as for Comic Relief.

I was looking at the Children In Need 2001/2 Official Report earlier, trying to find a chart of "cash raised" against time (which doesn't seem to exist). Children In Need has quite a few patrons, when I thought most charities only tended to have one or two. One of them is Dale Winton. The prosecution rests, your honour. Meow!
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From:bopeepsheep
Date:July 12th, 2003 04:59 pm (UTC)
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True, CiN have had songs, but frankly neither of those titles ring any bells with me at all, and I can hum/remember all the CR ones. CR roped in comedians with singers, which goes for a different market and probably appeals to a wider (if weirder) audience overall. My mum liked the Gareth Gates/Kumars single, and my uncle gave me the Cliff Richard/Young Ones single (it was No1 on my birthday that year) - I can't imagine either of them buying SClub7 or Will Young, even as gifts.

Radio 2 etc - yes, but that's a much smaller market, and auctioning stuff never raises as much money as sell-through merchandise can. You can sell people red noses year on year (I think I own three), and the Harry Potter books were leaping off shelves. (I bought the Bridget Jones CR one, IIRC, and the HP ones for my godson.) The scale of CR is where they win.

I wouldn't be surprised if CiN had more merchandise in future, although I am not convinced it will bring in quite as much, because it's appealing to a different market.

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