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When is Red Nose Day 2023?


When the first Comic Relief was held on 4th April 1986, the internet didn’t exist in the public domain, brick-sized mobile phones cost over £6,000 and the UK only had four television channels. To say it was a very different world is an understatement. But maybe it wasn’t so different, because poverty and inequality still existed. In November 2021, the World Food Programme published a report that said 45 million people were ‘teetering on the very edge of famine’ and famine was the very reason Comic Relief began over 35 years ago.

How did Comic Relief begin?

Arguably inspired by the get-up-and-do-something attitude that had driven Bob Geldof KBE to organise Live Aid a few months earlier, Comic Relief was the brainchild of charity worker Jane Tewson CBE and founded by comedian Sir Lenny Henry and scriptwriter Richard Curtis CBE.

Its purpose was to raise funds to help Ethiopians suffering from the horrific effects of famine. Comic Relief was launched from a refugee camp in Sudan during the relatively benign surroundings of the Late Late Breakfast Show, on 25th December 1985.

What’s the difference between Comic Relief and Red Nose Day?

Comic Relief is the charity and Red Nose Day has been the main fundraising event since Lenny Henry went to Ethiopia in 1988 to launch it. Up until 2002, Red Nose was held annually, but after Sport Relief was introduced in the same year, it was decided that the two events would alternate every year. However, in 2022, Sport Relief was scrapped, and Red Nose Day is once again an annual event.

In 2023, Red Nose Day takes place on Friday, 17th March.

What was the concept behind Red Nose Day?

Quite simply, fundraising via television, but the concept of a TV telethon is actually quite old. Following the foundation of the Damon Runyon Cancer Memorial Fund in 1946, the word ‘telethon’ was first coined in 1949 when the Memorial Fund took their campaign onto US TV.

For over 16 hours, with the help of telephone operators fielding call-in donations and an assortment of celebrities, which included host Milton Berle, the first-ever live TV Telethon raised an astonishing $100,000 for cancer research. That’s over $1.25 million in today’s money.

How does Red Nose Day work?

Broadly speaking, much in the same way as the first-ever TV telethon in 1949: generate money by appealing to the public for their support with a balance of quality entertainment and hard-hitting facts. Red Nose Day also offsets its fact/fun package with footage of how the public’s money is being used by Comic Relief to help others.

But its success lies in attracting big-name celebrities, usually taking part in events outside of their comfort zone. Over the years it’s attracted acts such as Justin Bieber, U2, One Direction and Take That, plus international stars such as Whoopi Goldberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rowan Atkinson CBE, Ricki Gervais and Robin Williams.

Is Red Nose Day the longest-running TV telethon in the UK?

Only Children in Need, which was launched by the BBC in 1980 has been running longer, but Red Nose Day has raised well over £1 billion for Comic Relief. While the internet, smartphones and streaming services were unheard of to the former generation, the demand to alleviate suffering remains as essential as it did in 1986.