Comic Relief. back after a year’s break. is now off the road and on your screens as the BBC hands over prime Friday night to charitable chuckling on 5 February.
Hosts Lenny Henry and Griff Rhys Jones will be serving up the stars and the sketches helped by Jonathan Ross from Telecom Tower. into which buzzing phonelines will pour credit card donations. Plastic can feed a famine. For those without ﬂexible friends they want us to laugh all the way to the bank. or building society. and on arrival dig deeply.
This time Comic Reliefaren‘t interested in just filling the breadbasket. a programme initiated two years ago. but also the medicine chest. Immunisation against the big six preventable diseases including cholera. tuberculosis and typhoid. costs 50 pence. but as Lenny Henry says. "There aren‘t enought fifty pences to go round.‘ Redistribution from your pocket on Friday night is the answer. African aid accounts for 80% of the spending plans. the rest will be going to help Britain‘s young homeless.
Contained in the box and controlled from the gallery. this will be a safer affair than the big daddy of them all. Live Aid. three years ago. We‘re on the ebb tide ofearnestness. deadened to Bob‘s expletive-peppered exortations. Comic Relief is closer to Variety Club-style than the wild hairy men of rock and their heaving and sweating audience.
Nevertheless. as the money is raised. a little piece of television history will be being made. Channel loyalty goes out the window (I'I‘V‘s Spitting Image offers ‘A Question of Spit‘ at 8pm in which lampooners and the real thing meet) as the BBC mounts a mammoth non-stop selection ofcomedy programmes. As with all comic fare there‘s the running gag. or in this case gags. provided by ‘Supersketch: 73 ofa Kind‘ for which a host of stars churn out innumerable skits throughout the evening to provide the most unlikely couplings and probably the highpoints of hilarity. but watch out for weathermen. An undoubted unmissable is ‘Blackadder—The Cavalier Years‘ at 9pm. Atkinson‘s on form. but Stephen Fry‘s Charles I as a more familiar present-day. cuff-tugging royal is brilliant. Topped by Radio 1 listeners‘ comedy countdown of ten favourite sketches.
That‘s national on the night. but locally. echoing Live Aid. the format is being handed to performers countrywide to take to the stage and increase the take. Local bands. thespians. magicians. jugglers. acrobats et al will step out. For those who indulge in the nation‘s favourite
pastime. the box will provide mirth, exortation and heartsearching. with the funny guys and gals getting serious — accepting that some matters are not laughing ones. While ribaldry shares an uneasy platform with worthiness. no doubt it will be carried off. despite the stretched sincerity ofa few.
Lenny Henry has been Michael Burkeing in Africa and Griff Rhys Jones is just back from filming in the
ALLTHEWAY TO THE BANK
This fortnight red noses br ‘ak out like pimples all over our screens and streets as Comic Relief raises money for famine relief in Africa. Comic Griff Rhys Jones. who went to Sudan. talks to Toby Rose.
Sudan. Here before the assembled showbiz hacks Griff sports short hair in the style ofthe non-stylist. He stood in for partner Mel at short notice when he went down with ‘gippy tummy‘ — not a thing you take to the desert. ‘It wasn‘t serious but he had to go to hospital for a few days. They searched to find somebody to step in and my name kept coming up!‘ Griff put on his investigative hat. From the sniff of the greasepaint to the whiff of camel‘s breath must be a feisty move for the smart and casual quintessential Eighties‘ entertainer. This volunteered volunteer put thoughts ofGeneral Gordon and David Mellor far behind for his fact-finding mission to cover the plight ofthe Beja in a landscape of
desolate desert where. due to drought. their average goat herd has fallen from forty to four animals over the past two years. But there was a surprise in store. ‘lt was raining. almost a complication. You arrive and expect to show harrowing pictures ofarid desert. But ofcourse there‘s still a long way to go before famine is averted. It was very moving for me to meet some of the poorest people in the world. But they are a proud. tough. admirable people. When famine comes it affects people who are already living very close to the breadline.‘
Filming was a crush as everywhere the team went. Pied Piper-like. they drew crowds. instead of filming basket-weaving it was more like Rugby Union. ‘We attracted an
enormous crowd. So Butch the director put the sound equipment on a stand so it looked as if that was filming— meanwhile the cameraman went round the corner filming with the camera under his arm.‘
Two years ago Comic Relief raised £1 million. this year it‘s hoped to double that amount at least. ()ver 2% million red noses have been sold so far. and with the sponsored events and T-shirts and sweatshirts sold through Burtons. sights are soaring. A good response will ensure continuity. ‘For two years. work has been going on to rebuild their lifestyles. but if we stop now we are effectively creating a problem for eternity — permanent refugees.‘
But should an international tragedy be seen through the medium of television comedy‘.’ Surely there‘s something a bit strange about following the latest Ronnie Barker sketch with Lenny‘s report on hungry Ethiopia? ‘1 hope it‘s not too strange. We‘ll see. I hope the film I made isn‘t too harrowing in that sense — but optimistic. We‘re going from raising questions on the spot to sketches. I hope the transition will work.‘ muses Griff. And indeed his good-sense report encourages optimism.
Griff and team were out there fora week but it could have been a lot longer. ‘We were due to fly back from Port Sudan but the air company had suddenly folded. We had to take the Land Rover back across the desert — a 20-hour trip. Half-way back. in the middle ofthe night. we broke down. There we were. surrounded by an empty expanse. with the huge sky over us and only the Land Rover illuminated. It‘s like leaving a ship in the middle of the night — walking away and seeing this thing that is your world.‘
Becoming such a speck of humanity brought home the vulnerability of the Beja‘s world of 700.000 souls. "The space shows the incredible life the Beja live. In a sense what we would think of as an unbelievably primitive life is also an ennobling one. When famine comes along it prevents them living even that simple life.‘
Understandably in good times the Beja enjoy their way oflife. ‘The desert is a clean. beautiful place and the towns are dirty. messy. and noisy.‘ Griff has particular memories ofhis visits to Port Sudan. ‘I tried to sleep in this old cotton plantation house. which sounds fantastic. but isn‘t. Cats kept coming in and making love extremely loudly about six yards away from my head. Made worse by the brew up ofextremely strong coffee. We drank out of thimble-sized cups and I had four or five. not realising how unbelievably strong it was. One ofthe longest nights I‘ve ever spent.‘
Join (Jrijffor Comic Relic on Friday 5 February. a night sure to pass extremely quickly and en joyahly. It kicks off at 7. 35 pm with what's billed as a 'L i ft ()ffScreamer'. and continues through until the classic comedy film ‘The Bed Sitting R oom' ends at 3 .35 ant. Stock up with ()ptrex’
The List 5 — 18 February 1988 5