18 November, 2005

Bear facts

It's the night of the BBC Children In Need telethon. This annual passing of the Corporation collection plate has evolved dramatically over the last quarter of a century from what I dimly remember as a functional studio-based sequence of pledges and pleas to an all too prescient hysterical studio-based pageant of newsreaders dressing up, soap stars singing show tunes and "special" TV skits and spoofs.

There's nothing else like it on British television, and that's probably just as well. Compared to Comic Relief - its younger brother - Children In Need contains surprisingly few "serious bits", hardly any sense of occasion, a really unimaginative attitude towards choosing the featured artists and acts, and presenters who rarely show any respect towards their audience. Sometimes you feel that just raising the money isn't enough.

Yet you still get things like the Today programme selling customised eggcups, and a special Doctor Who mini-episode which I'm about to tune in for and which somewhat implausibly picks up from the almighty cliffhanger of the last series. But overall it's a far cry from the sense of excitement and anticipation which accompanied those first telethons back in the late 80s, when staying up to watch TV past 10pm and into the realms of authentically "alternative" and unexpected entertainment was one of the biggest kicks you could get.

I remember the first Comic Relief in 1988 completely obsessing my entire school, so much so that our miserable form tutor even turned up sporting a red nose - albeit one he'd made himself by colouring in part of an egg carton, being such a tight bastard he couldn't even bother to buy an official plastic one. But then when I was older and Comic Relief came round again, I was deeply unwilling to be co-opted - as was everyone - into taking part in a giant, well, "happening" is the only way to describe it, wherein everyone had to stand in a giant circle then lower themselves onto the lap of the person behind them. If this sounds highly preposterous as well as hugely undignified, it was. Our collective shame was only saved by the side of one of the (male) deputy heads parading around the corridors dressed as a nurse.

Of course nobody marked this year's Children In Need at work. Some kids from the creche came round with some fairy cakes, but that was it. What with that and the similar disinterest shown last week towards wearing poppies, you'd think Christmas wasn't celebrated either. You're right. There are never any decorations in our office, because nobody can be arsed to buy any. At times it feels like the most miserable place on earth. Trouble is, those times are between 9am and 5.30pm every weekday.

But enough of that, because a giant one-eyed yellow freak is beckoning out of the TV set. The last time Pudsey Bear - for it is he - ushered a special Doctor Who production onto screen, it was the woeful 'Dimensions In Time' in 1993 ("Pickled in time, like gherkins in a jar!"). This year's effort must surely be better. There's no way it can be any worse. "Please, do dig deep!"


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