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.
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!).
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.
Red Nose Day 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.
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.
Red Nose Day 1990 to 1991
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 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.
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.
Red Nose Day 1992 to 1995
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
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.
Red Nose Day 4 witnesses the invasion of the tomato noses and an incredible £18 million raised.
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.
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.
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.
Red Nose Day 1996 to 1998
BBC One’s Omnibus marks Comic Relief’s 10th birthday by giving it a programme all to itself. 2.8 million people tune in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Red Nose Day 7 – The Record Breaker – was, well, a real record breaker. It raised over £35 million.
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
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 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.
Year 2001 to 2002
It’s all pants!
Red Nose Day 2001 says ‘Pants to Poverty’ and raises a colossal £55 million.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 joins the Comic Relief family as a corporate partner (and has been on board ever since).
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.
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.
RND 2007 & Sport Relief 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2009 - WE ALL GO A BIT FUNNY 7 & A CHANCE TO LOOK BACK
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.
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.
Sport Relief 2010s
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Sport Relief 2012
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.
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
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.
Red Nose Day 2013 and Sport Relief 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Red Nose Day 2015 - 2017 & Sport Relief 2016
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.
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.
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.