Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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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="">?
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