The history of Comic Relief

We've come a long way since 1985. Discover the highlights of our history, from enduring partnerships, to record-breaking telethons, to life-changing initiatives.

The 1980s

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1985

We have lift off!

Richard Curtis, Jane Tewson and friends come up with the idea to use comedy to raise money and change lives in Africa and the UK. On Christmas Day, Comic Relief is launched live on BBC One from the Safawa refugee camp in Sudan during Noel Edmonds’ Late Late Breakfast Show. The producer is Helen Fielding (before her Bridget Jones days!).

History 1980s

BT logo

1985

BT the brilliant!

BT has supported us from day one, making them a huge part of our success. They provide the telephony, call centres, network management and volunteers that enable us to receive millions of pounds of donations.

Oxfam logo

1985

Oxfam the outstanding

Oxfam has been a partner of Comic Relief since the very beginning. They’ve worked closely with us on projects to tackle social injustice and inequality in Africa, and sold millions of Red Noses in their shops and online.

Cliff Richard and The Young Ones

1986

Top of the pops

In  February, Cliff Richard and The Young Ones release Livin’ Doll onto an unsuspecting but, thankfully, very generous public. It sells more than half a million copies and goes straight to number one.

Mel Smith and Kim Wilde

1987

A song for Christmas

In December, our second single, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Mel Smith and Kim Wilde sees more money raised and peaks at number three in the charts.

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1988

First Red Nose Day

Lenny Henry and a group of children in Ethiopia celebrate the first ever Red Nose Day. Over 150 celebrities and comedians take part as 30 million viewers watch a huge night of TV on the BBC and raise over £15 million.

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History 1980s

  • Red Nose Day returns

    1989

    Red Nose Day returns

    Red Nose Day is back – and now with added Wogan. National treasure, Terry, hosts an evening of comedy gold which sees more than 70,000 events across the country raise over £27 million for fantastic causes.

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  • Lenny Henry outside Centrepoint

    1989

    Homelessness

    We enabled the homelessness charity, Centrepoint, to buy two washing machines – a much needed resource for the young people who had nothing but the clothes on their backs. We also funded research which helped to put youth homelessness on the political agenda.

The 1990s

 

History 1990s

Prince Edward launching Feet First for Homeless People

1990

Best foot forward

Prince Edward launches an initiative called Feet First for Homeless People which leads to over 1,000 people in London walking home from work and donating their transport fares to homeless charities in the capital.

Video Relief

1990

And action…

Video Relief takes place in September – a competition for young people to make videos about issues like inequality and homelessness. It was won by one Edgar Wright, who went on to direct cult zombie film Shaun of the Dead.

Jonathon Ross for Red Nose Day 1991

1991

Red Nose Day 3

In March, our third Red Nose Day (The Stonker) continues to bring in the cash and change lives by, again, raising more than £20 million.

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Rights not charity for disabled people

1991

Rights not charity

We hold an event to give disabled people in the UK a voice in the decisions affecting their lives; “rights not charity” becomes the watch-word and marks a turning point in securing rights for disabled people in the UK.

Pop Relief

1992

Pop Relief

In partnership with hit kids TV show Going Live! and Smash Hits magazine, Pop Relief – a project challenging young people to write and record a Comic Relief song – is launched in October.

Pride Against Prejudice

1993

Pride Against Prejudice

Comic Relief launches Pride Against Prejudice, a 30-minute programme about young people’s attitudes to disability that further raises awareness of disabled people’s rights.

Eddie Izzard for Red Nose Day 1993

1993

Squashing poverty

Red Nose Day 4 witnesses the invasion of the tomato noses and an incredible £18 million raised.

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AVEGA, an organisation supporting people affected by the Rwandan genocide

1994

Surviving genocide

We supported four widows in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. What we couldn’t foresee was the extent to which that organisation, AVEGA, would grow into a huge force for change – it now has over 25,000 members all receiving vital support.

Griff Rhys Jones and Sarah Plunkettin Altogether Better

1994

Altogether Better

Continuing our fight for disabled people’s rights, we create Altogether Better, an educational film starring Griff Rhys Jones and Sarah Plunkett that promotes the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream schools.

Dawn French and Hugh Grant before their kiss for Red Nose Day

1995

One day = £22 million

Red Nose Day 5 goes live. The theme is ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’, and what a difference it did make: a whopping great £22 million to be exact.

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The celebrity football team in Africa

1996

African away game

In July, fourteen brave celebrity football enthusiasts (including Frank Skinner, David Essex, Nick Hancock and Angus Deayton) go on tour in Burkina Faso and Ghana to play footie and make a TV documentary called Balls to Africa.

History 1990s

  • Omnibus special

    1996

    Omnibus special

    BBC One’s Omnibus marks Comic Relief’s 10th birthday by giving it a programme all to itself. 2.8 million people tune in.

  • Wangari Maathai planting a tree

    1997

    Empowering Women

    Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai brought local women together to plant trees, generate an income and bring them together. We supported Wangari to grow her Green Belt Movement into a huge force for change, which has given these women a voice.

The Spice Girls with their Red Nose Day counterparts

1997

Everyone digs deep

Our sixth Red Nose Day encourages people to use their small change to make a big difference. With more than £27 million raised, it proved that all amounts, no matter how big or how small, really do add up.

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Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder

1998

Our cunning book

Blackadder: The Whole Damn Dynasty, a book featuring the complete scripts from the comedy and some extra material, is published, thanks to Richard Curtis, Ben Elton and John Lloyd. All proceeds go to Comic Relief.

Children who benefit from our NACWOLA grant

1998

Memory books

We made a grant to support NACWOLA and 'The Memory Project' which gives parents the confidence and skills to tell their children that they are HIV positive and to plan for their children’s future. With our help, the project has reached over 17,000 orphans.

Johnny Depp in the Vicar of Dibley

1999

Lucky seven

Red Nose Day 7 – The Record Breaker – was, well, a real record breaker. It raised over £35 million.

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History 90s 2

  • Sainsbury's orange

    1999

    Super Sainsbury’s

    Sainsbury’s become one of our leading partners and have since gone on to sell almost 50m Red Noses, raise an astonishing £84m and set up the Fair Development Fund to help transform the lives of small producers worldwide.

  • Wine Relief

    1999

    Raise your glasses

    Wine Relief is launched, a new initiative bringing the wine industry together to raise money for Red Nose Day 1999. Such was its success it was part of every Red Nose Day right up to 2013!

The 2000s

 

History 2000s

Robbie the Reindeer

2000

Award-winning Robbie

Robbie the Reindeer's Hooves of Fire picks up a Bafta award for the best entertainment programme. The animated feature was co-produced by Comic Relief and the BBC.

Drop the Debt campaign

2000

Drop the Debt

Comic Relief joins forces with Jubilee 2000 to spread the Drop the Debt message and urges the online community to email the G7 world leaders in the run up to the July summit in Japan.

JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter

2000

Pure Magic

JK Rowling offers to write two Harry Potter books exclusively for Comic Relief. The proceeds from the sales of these have so far conjured up over £18 million.

History 2000s

  • Ali G and the Beckhams

    2001

    It’s all pants!

    Red Nose Day 2001 says ‘Pants to Poverty’ and raises a colossal £55 million.

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  • Dubble delight chocolate bar

    2002

    Dubble delight

    Comic Relief launches a Fairtrade chocolate bar made by workers of the Kuapa Cocoa Co-operative in Ghana and The Day Chocolate Company. The bar was called Dubble. Oh, and no, it didn’t taste funny.

First ever Sport Relief

2002

Out of the blocks

The first ever Sport Relief kicks off and the great British public prove they’re great sports by raising more than £14 million.

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National Domestic Violence Helpline

2003

Help at hand

Dawn French launches the National Domestic Violence Helpline – the first free domestic abuse helpline. It’s jointly funded by us and the Government to support women who feel they have no escape from domestic abuse.

Fame Academy for Red Nose Day 2003

2003

Good hair day

A Hairy Nose was all the rage back in 2003 when that year’s Red Nose Day raised a big hairy £61.6 million.

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Prince William running the Sport Relief mile

2004

Socking it to ’em

Sport Relief rallies over 81,000 people to raise cash by taking part in Sport Relief Mile events… and all in red socks. That’s a lot of socks. Over 162,000 in fact. In total, the campaign raised over £16.8 million.

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Peter Kay and Tony Christie

2005

Sha la la lala

Red Nose Day 2005 sees Peter Kay and Tony Christie finding their way to Amarillo as people across the country find it in their hearts to raise £65 million.

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Live8

2005

Live8 rocks the world

Make Poverty History gets its rock on with 10 Live8 concerts across the world in July. An estimated 3.8 billion tune in to watch and help encourage G8 leaders into greatly relieving the debts of the world’s poorest countries.

TK Maxx logo

2005

Howdy partner

TK Maxx joins the Comic Relief family as a corporate partner (and has been on board ever since).

Senior support

2005

Senior support

We launch a campaign to draw attention to the plight of older people in the UK who are abused by people they should be able to trust. As a result, Comic Relief takes its first steps into TV drama with a show called Dad.

David Walliams in the water

2006

A big splash

David Walliams causes huge waves by swimming the Channel and raises £1 million in the process. His herculean efforts inspire over 420,000 people to run a mile for Sport Relief and raise £18m.

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History 00s

  • The big one

    2007

    The Big One

    Our 12th Red Nose Day lives up to its billing as The Big One and hauls in over £67 million. That’s bigger than big.

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  • The American Idol judges

    2007

    Idol Gives Back

    Comic Relief works with American Idol to create Idol Gives Back, a two hour TV spectacular which airs in the USA in April and raises more than $75m.

Annie Lennox

2007

SING with Annie

Comic Relief helps Annie Lennox to set up a campaign to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. Called SING, it raises more than £1 million in its first year.

Trafficking helpline

2007

Trafficking helpline

In collaboration with the Home Office, plus the NSPCC and other charities, we established the first ever trafficking helpline to help young people who have been trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation.

Lemar and Ben Shepard Fight Night for Sport Relief 2008

2008

A winning weekend

Sport Relief decides it’s time to make a weekend of it and raises £28 million over three days.

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A school in Africa

2008

Education for all

We head to the UN in New York to launch a £10 million match-funded project with the UK government in support of the Class of 2015 – a global Millennium Development Goal to help every child in the world get an education.

History 2000s 3

  • James Corden and the England Football Team

    2009

    We all go a bit funny

    The nation goes wild and does something funny for money to support Red Nose Day 2009 – and they raise an astounding £82 million, which blows us all away.

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  • A chance to look back

    2009

    A chance to look back

    BBC One broadcasts Comic Relief: The Fool's Guide, a documentary narrated by David Tennant that celebrates the first 21 years of Comic Relief.

The 2010s

 

Christine Bleakley doing her waterski challenge for Sport Relief

2010

Bigger and better

Sport Relief 2010 indulges the UK in another weekend of sporting support for fantastic causes. It turns out to be the biggest Sport Relief to date and raises well in excess of £42 million.

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United Relief Live

2010

United Relief Live

34,000 turn out at Old Trafford for United Relief Live – a day of music and celebrity football as former Man Utd players and famous supporters take on a team of celebrity rivals. More than £75,000 is raised for Comic Relief.

British Airways Flying Start

2010

We join the jet set

British Airways chooses Comic Relief as its global charity partner – the first partnership to work with Comic Relief that aims to raise money all year round.

Sport Relief South Africa

2010

Sport Relief South Africa

The first ever international flagship Mile took place in Cape Town with over 3,500 runners and walkers of all ages and abilities raising funds for disadvantaged kids supported by Child Welfare South Africa.

Fearne Cotton for Red Nose Day 2011

2011

Our biggest ever!

The British public really comes together to do something funny for money for Red Nose Day 2011 and smashes all previous records by raising an incredible £108.4 million.

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John Bishop

2012

Extreme Sport

In a record-breaking campaign, over a million people run the Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Mile, and a fantastic total of £67,977,824 is raised for Sport Relief 2012.

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Time to Change logo

2012

Time to Change

We award £4 million – our biggest UK grant ever – to the Time to Change campaign, which works to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems.

Sport Relief goes global

2012

Sport Relief Goes Global

Sport Relief went global for the first time, with a season's programming broadcast in 170 territories on BBC Worldwide’s channels. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s overseas staff helped organise 36 international Miles.

Celebs tackling the Zambezi

2013

Red Nose Day 2013

Jack Dee and Dara O Briain are joined by four other brave celebs to tackle the mighty Zambezi, while our crack team of celebrity Fun Raisers encourage the country to do something funny for money, helping to top an incredible £100 million.

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Enough Food For Everyone IF

2013

Enough Food For Everyone IF

Comic Relief lends its weight to this campaign to encourage the G8 summit to change laws and bring an end to global hunger. In June, 45,000 people turned up in Hyde Park to support the campaign.

The Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Games

2014

Sport Relief 2014

Raised a record breaking Sport Relief total of £71,820,731! The Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Games took place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and across the UK.

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Gemma Cairney with Prince William and Prince Harry

2014

Queen’s Young Leaders launch

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, in partnership with Comic Relief and The Royal Commonwealth Society, launched The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme in July.

Lenny Henry announcing record

2015

Comic Relief hit £1 billion

Red Nose Day 2015 was special. If the end-of-night total of £78,082,988 wasn't impressive enough, it brought the amount raised by Comic Relief, over the last 30 years, to more than £1 billion. And it’s all thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the British public.

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Red Nose Day USA

2015

Red Nose Day USA is a huge success

On 21st May, America got its first ever taste of Red Nose Day. The night of TV, in partnership with NBC, featured some massive stars and, combined with the generosity of millions of Americans and corporate partners, raised $23 million.

Dermot O'Leary dancing

2015

Dancing Dermot raises £1 million

Dermot’s Day of Dance, an epic 24-hour danceathon outside the BBC’s London studios, proved that he’s got the moves and the stamina to keep on going through blisters, exhaustion and sleep-deprivation. His superhuman feat raised £1,011,117 for Red Nose Day 2015.

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Record-breaking total

2016

Record-breaking total

Sport Relief 2016 raises a record-breaking £72,505,165, as creator Kevin Cahill steps down as Chief Executive Officer after more than 26 years at Comic Relief.

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Ed Sheeran People Just Do Nothing

2017

Red Nose Day 2017

Your incredible generosity raised a staggering £76 million! That money will now be put to work, transforming lives across the UK and the world's poorest communities.

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