After Band Aid and Live Aid in 1985, in 1986 there came, Comic Relief. I was 11 years old and like many people at school I was very familiar with The Young Ones, it was the talk of the playground. The Living Doll charity single was released in March 86 and went to Number 1. The video was shown on Top of the Pops, and everyone at school loved it, quoting “Get Down!” and “I feel sorry for the Elephant.” At 11 years old, I was buying Smash Hits and Lookin magazine, both of these had features about it:
Also in May 1986 there was the Comic Relief Utterly Utterly Live show, which took place at The Shaftesbury Theatre in London. It featured many of the bright young comics of the times plus established comedians, music stars and celebrities of the era. I had a copy of the concert on VHS and loved watching it, especially Rik’s energetic stand up routine before the rest of The Young Ones came on.
Red Nose Day
The first Red Nose Day and night of Comic Relief was two years later on 5th February 1988. The Red Noses I remember sold out really quickly, the shops had run out before I had even tried to buy mine. I didn’t want to be left out, so I painted my nose red that day. I also remember staying up really late with my Dad to watched the whole telethon, I thoroughly enjoyed it, the live atmosphere of the event meant you just didn’t quite know what was going to happen next!
Towards the end of 1988, when I was 13, I was visiting a friend’s house. Her older sister had come home, she had recently been to the BBC and was in the audience for the recording of Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. She had me and my friend transfixed telling us all about it, it sounded absolutely amazing, I was so jealous, Blackadder was one of my favourite shows! When I got home I told my mum all about it, she had worked at Television Centre in the 1960s, and said to me, “You do realise you can get FREE tickets for shows don’t you, a lot of TV programmes need an audience.” Well, this prompted me to think, what could I go and see?… The night of Comic Relief at Television Centre immediately sprang to mind, here you actually saw the audience, and it looked like an amazing night to be apart of, plus so many of my favourite comedians were involved. I was too young for the second night of Comic Relief on 10th March 1989 – you needed to be 16 to be in the audience. There was a break in 1990, but in 1991 it was announced that Red Nose Day 3 – The Stonker, would be on Friday 15th March 1991.
Here’s Ade trying to get himself a Red Nose!
I was now 16, so seized the opportunity. With my dear friend, we wrote to the BBC and asked for studio audience tickets. We were really pleased to get a reply saying that we were on the waiting list, and tickets if available would be sent 7 – 10 day before the show, so we just had to keep our fingers crossed and wait.
Red Nose Day 3 – The Stonker
Sure enough, we were lucky. I came home from school on Friday 8th March to find some post for me. There in a BBC envelope, was a letter and two audience tickets for the night of Comic Relief in just a weeks time! I was thrilled, and immediately rang my friend to tell her the good news, she screamed so loudly down the phone, my ears were ringing. We really couldn’t wait and were so very very excited, it was all we talked about at school for the next week. Wondering, who was going to be there? What was it going to be like? And thinking, wouldn’t it be amazing if Rik showed up!!
Friday 15th March 1991
Luckily, our school happened to have a teacher training day that day, so we didn’t even need to skive off school! My Mum and Dad took us up to London on the train and we made a day of it. Once in London we headed for Covent Garden, where we had heard the Radio One Roadshow was set up for Red Nose Day. Here we saw Bruno Brookes, Liz Kershaw, Caron Wheeler from Soul to Soul, Tom Jones, The Oblivion Boys (Steven Frost and Mark Arden), and Chesney Hawkes sing “I am the One and Only”. The day had got off to an amazing start already. We left about 2pm and made our way to Oxford Circus to go to the massive HMV (of course), had a little rest before then making our way to Television Centre.
When we got out of the tube at White City, it was dark, but the the BBC was all lit up and the studios had a giant Red Nose stuck to it, there was also a little kiosk selling Comic Relief goodies. Here we were able to buy a goodie bag, and I treated myself to a Comic Relief Easter egg. We could see the queue for the audience starting to form, so my parents took our bags and said goodbye, we then headed over clutching our tickets, and in through security. We were in a queue waiting outside in the freezing cold for about half an hour, when we discovered we only had a £1 between us, we had left everything in our bags, oh well we thought, I doubt we’ll need to buy anything now. It was so very cold outside waiting in the queue, but so very exciting, the anticipation was killing us… Hurry up and let us in!!
Finally, after about an hour, they started to let the audience in. We had to walk up some stairs and through a corridor to get to the big Studio 1. Entering from the back we were told to fill up the seats from the front, we ended up sitting about three rows from the front, we couldn’t quite believe we were sat so close and literally had to pinch ourselves. There in front of us was the desk and three chairs for the main presenters, Lenny Henry, Griff Rhys Jones and Jonathan Ross. The set was amazing, far smaller than I had imagined it to be. It was made up of three parts, one area for a ‘noses update’, another area where different comedians could come on and perform, and of course the main desk area in the centre. There were lots of people around the studio getting everything ready, amongst them I spotted Tony Robinson looking very busy. The floor manager came over an said a few words to explain how the evening would work, he then introduced Lenny and Griff, Jonathan would be dashing across town after his talk show ends. Griff Rhys Jones didn’t say a lot, he left most of the talking up to Lenny Henry, Griff I remember just had a massive excited grin on his face. It was now approaching 7.30pm, and nearly time to go live. Lenny Henry got into position and at this point started getting very keyed up and excited.
A lot of the show was shown as pre-records on the monitors above us, but we were privileged to see a couple of comedy legends there that evening, Frankie Howerd and Ronnie Corbett. Frankie Howerd went right off script and ad-libbed with Simon Mayo, which had Lenny Henry banging his head on the desk in disbelief, and Ronnie Corbett sat in his infamous chair, for one of his monologues. Tony Robinson presented a cartoon hits slot and Chris Tarrant had some funny home videos. We could see Jonathan Ross at the side getting ready to come dashing on, “Two Colours Clashing” I think Lenny Henry called him. Fry and Laurie were there towards the end, they brought on Sarah Greene who got a gunging.
At 9pm it was time for us to leave, as there was now a break for the 9 O’Clock News. We were all just getting into it and sadly now had to leave, a new audience was about to take our place. We were both really in awe with the whole experience, it had had an amazing evening, to end what had been an incredible day. It felt strange travelling home knowing it was all still going on, but once home, I switched on the TV and continued to stay up and watch the rest of the show. It had been a truly amazing and inspiring day.