The bear that made £1billion: Children In Need turns 40

Jeremy Vine in stockings and suspenders, newsreaders belting out Abba, chef Ainsley Harriott doing the Full Monty. Children In Need has brought television viewers all manner of eye-popping highlights over the years.

Tomorrow night marks the 40th anniversary of the star-studded extravaganza, which has raised more than £1 billion to support children and young people. Here, BETH HALE looks at the highlights and the important work it’s still doing with your help.


Children In Need can actually trace its origins back to 1927. The radio appeal, billed as the BBC Christmas Fund for Children, aired on Christmas Day and lasted just five minutes, raising more than £1,300 for four children’s charities.

In 1951 it became known as Children In Need Of Help. But it wasn’t until 1980 that Children In Need became a full-scale appeal on television. Presented by Sir Terry Wogan, Esther Rantzen and Sue Lawley, it raised more than £1 million.

Sir Terry continued to present the show until 2015, when he had to pull out owing to ill health. He died two months later, having kept his struggle with cancer a secret, leaving millions of fans in mourning.

Glam: Fiona Bruce does a Chicago tribute in 2007

The Rocky Horror Show with newsreader and weather presenters

The Rocky Horror Show with newsreader and weather presenters 


Pudsey Bear has certainly had a facelift since the stuffed toy first appeared in 1985.

He was created by designer Joanna Lane after she was asked to revamp the charity’s monochrome logo.

Wanting a mascot, she went looking for a teddy bear, finding one in the props department ‘almost as big as me’. Her own upbringing in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, provided the inspiration for the bear’s name.

A darker shade of brown, with buttons spelling out BBC and wearing a red bandana, the original Pudsey was a sorrowful-looking thing. But he proved popular and returned the following year, having been given a bright new coat of yellow fur. His image was updated over the years.

NEWSREADERS’ razzmatazz

In a night crammed full of sketches, musical numbers and short films, many highlights have come from a normally serious source: the BBC news presenters.

Susanna Reid strutted in skintight Lycra to Mamma Mia! in 2008, did some boogying to Beyonce in 2009 and went gaga to Lady Gaga in 2010. 

And who can forget when Fiona Bruce showed her very sultry side performing All That Jazz from the musical Chicago in 2007? Not to mention when the newsreaders did The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 2002 — starring Jeremy Vine in fishnets — and their version of Strictly in 2011.

Nicola Wilson, Tina Cook and Zara Tindall (l-r above) do Gangnam Style in 2012

Nicola Wilson, Tina Cook and Zara Tindall (l-r above) do Gangnam Style in 2012


Children In Need has long had a cheeky side. In 1998 celebrity chefs Ainsley Harriott, James Martin, Antony Worrall Thompson, Brian Turner and Tony Tobin whipped viewers into a frenzy by performing The Full Monty. It saw them strip down to red satin thongs, then just hats to protect their modesty.

They weren’t the first. In 1983 even Terry was left speechless when actress Joanna Lumley stripped down to her black lingerie.

Her impromptu striptease came after the duo promised that swimmer Sharron Davies was poised to strip in Plymouth — only for the link to encounter ‘technical difficulties’. Joanna decided to take her place.

Terry Wogan with Joanna Lumley and Sue Cook in 1986

Terry Wogan with Joanna Lumley and Sue Cook in 1986


For memorable moments with a heavy cringe factor, look no further than Katie Price and her then husband Peter Andre belting out A Whole New World in 2005.

More appetisingly, royal Zara Tindall joined two of her Team GB Olympic eventing team, Nicola Wilson and Tina Cook, to perform Gangnam Style in full horse-riding outfits in 2012.

This year, Countryfile presenter Matt Baker’s rickshaw challenge has been confined to pedalling in gardens because of coronavirus.


Children in Need supports more than 3,900 local charities and community projects that work with children and young people facing a range of disadvantages such as living in poverty, illness or disability, and those experiencing distress, neglect or trauma.

This year it launched a number of dedicated Covid-19 response programmes to support organisations providing help to the young during the pandemic. So far, £19.6 million has been allocated specifically to help charities providing essential support.

Terry Wogan with Joanna Lumley and Sue Cook in 1986

Terry Wogan with Joanna Lumley and Sue Cook in 1986

The stories shared are often sad but can be uplifting. In 2017 we met Harry, a softly-spoken 11-year-old who was bereft following the death of his little brother, Bobby, six, in a road accident.

Bobby’s death outside Harry’s school gate left him so frightened he missed nearly a year of school. But viewers learned of the friendship Harry developed with Joan, from the Liverpool Bereavement Service, which helped him to regain his confidence.

The same year, viewers met eight-year-old Ted, a little boy with Stickler Syndrome, which meant he could only see light, dark and shadow. However, he told viewers he loved to read.

The charity helping Ted enjoy his passion was Living Paintings, which provides ‘touch to see’ books for those who have visual impairments.


The films showing children in need of our help are a key part of the telethon. But we don’t always see what happens next.

Karen McAlister, now in her 40s, featured in an appeal that ran during the 1996 telethon. Karen was in the care system when, as a teenager, she became a volunteer for a new organisation advocating on behalf of children in care, Voice Of Young People In Care (VOYPIC).

Thanks to funding from Children In Need, the charity was able to continue helping her after she left the care system, providing her with her first job at a time when her disrupted schooling meant she had to give up on A-levels. She was filmed telling viewers: ‘I’ve lost a lot of my childhood. I do feel that I lost a lot of my innocence.’

She has now gone full circle to help other young people facing similar circumstances.

Strictly newsreaders in 2011

Strictly newsreaders in 2011

Having worked her way up to become assistant director of VOYPIC, getting a degree and a masters in social work along the way, she is now working on her doctorate and is head of young people and family services for homeless charity the Simon Community in Northern Ireland.

‘That first funded post changed my life,’ says Karen. ‘When you grow up like that, you remember how you felt when you were lonely, you remember what it was like when the door closed and you were on your own. I think that drives me forward to ensure that we are giving kids the best chance we possibly can.’


Children in Need has generated 16 Top Ten hits and seven No 1s, including a star-studded cover of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day in 1997.

This year’s single, a cover of Oasis’s Stop Crying Your Heart Out, features stars including Kylie Minogue, Cher and James Morrison, and is released on Friday.

Kylie this year

Kylie this year


There is no live audience for tomorrow night’s show because of coronavirus social distancing, but there will be plenty of live link-ups throughout the evening.

The hosts are Mel Giedroyc, footballer-turned-pundit Alex Scott — tipped to be the new host of A Question Of Sport — comedian Chris Ramsey and actor Stephen Mangan. There will be special editions of Strictly, EastEnders and Doctor Who.

Musical performances include Shawn Mendes, Cinderella: The Musical and the ‘big bubble sing-along’, a compilation of videos from around the country of people singing along to McFly hit Happiness.

  • Children in Need will air on Friday night from 7pm on BBC1.

By Esther Rantzen 

Standing next to Sir Terry Wogan in a dark, barrack-like hotel in West London in November 1980, I prepared to embark on the mammoth task of presenting one of the longest studio programmes the BBC had ever made.

Before us were six complicated hours of films, interviews and — we hoped — pledges from viewers. Could we pull this off?

TV screens shivered into life with the opening titles and the floor manager started the countdown. ‘Five, four, three . . .’

Terry and I stared into the camera about to read the opening words: ‘Welcome to the BBC’s Children In Need . . .’ when our autocue script rolled backwards and disappeared, leaving a blank screen. It was one of those moments where you feel the only choice is to faint or run.

But, of course, my panic only lasted a split second. I was standing next to the finest ad-libber in the business. And so the programme began.

We told stories of vulnerable children who needed support, we kept score as viewers responded in their millions, and, at the end of the evening, Terry and I half-lay in our chairs, exhausted, thanking everyone for their amazing efforts.

The first Children In Need telethon had raised an unprecedented £1 million.

It all started when producer Mark Patterson saw a charity telethon on American television. It was chaotic, dangerous — and raised millions of dollars. He suggested we try our own.

Now that Children In Need is part of the fabric of our lives, it’s difficult to understand what a huge, brave decision that was. Apart from state occasions, nobody had tried to make a programme on that scale before. It remains the most memorable night of my career.

A few years and several telethons later, Mark called. ‘Esther, we have to find a way for Terry to have a loo break and change his clothes. Have you an idea?’ I had just attended a Barnado’s event celebrating children of courage. How about doing a version for television? The resulting segment ran for seven years.

Of all the programmes I have presented, this was my favourite, and the viewers’, too, always raising the most money.

No wonder; the children we featured were extraordinary. Some saved their families from catastrophes, such as house fires. Some had survived incredible illnesses and yet were determined to help others, serving as an example to all of us.

Children In Need has grown exponentially over the years, but its mission is still the same: to fund crucial work with children and young people. I know the difference it makes.

I am so grateful to have been there at the beginning and so glad it has endured. It’s cheering to know that, even in these challenging times, we still have the compassion and generosity to make fools of ourselves, bathe in baked beans and do anything we can to raise funds to help the nation’s children in need.