It has become a national tradition that every two years Britain comes together as one to raise money for those less fortunate both here and in the most deprived areas of Africa. Over the last thirty years, Comic Relief has raised over a billion pounds and shows no signs of slowing down. As the new millennium dawned, the rise of reality television began to gather momentum and Comic Relief aimed to be on the forefront of such a revolution in entertainment. In March 2001 Jack Dee was victorious as the first and only winner of Comic Relief Does Big Brother which proved to channel controllers that there was a public appetite to see famous faces in a “natural” arena.
Just a year later, the BBC launched its very own singing contest to rival Simon Cowell’s Pop Idol. Fame Academy proved a substantial hit for the corporation and it was promptly decided that a celebrity spin off would be perfect to launch the 2003 Comic Relief campaign. A host of stars including; Ruby Wax, Jo Brand and John Thompson agreed to swap their lavish lifestyles for up to seven days of gruelling voice coaching from David and Carrie Grant before performing live each and every night on BBC1. In the days before I’m a celebrity… this was one of the few opportunities the public got to see their favourite stars in a completely new environment. Comic Relief Does Fame Academy survived for three series and was won by Will Mellor, Edith Bowman and the late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson before its natural end in 2007.
Personally, I’ve never been able to fathom why CRDFA came to an end. To me, any channel controller’s dream is to have a relatively cheap and popular entertainment show running for 7 consecutive nights or more. You only have to look at ITV’s autumn lineup to work out how significant I’m a Celebrity is to the broadcaster and the BBC could have the same for a fraction of the cost. Yet Fame Academy did pass us by and in its place arrived Let’s Dance For Comic Relief: a four part dance extravaganza featuring well known faces attempting to reproduce famous dance routines in front of a comedy panel. Popular with the public, Let’s Dance… provided shiny floor Saturday night entertainment which helped to fill the Strictly void which was still lingering since Christmas.
Over five series, the great and good shimmied, moonwalked and in some cases flew across the studio at Television Centre to bring us the very best in bizarre television. Who could forget Robert Webb’s Flashdance routine? Or Keith Lemon and Paddy McGuiness’ Dirty Dancing? Or even Russell Kane’s Crazy in Love? It was silly, even a little bizarre but there was something about it that made you smile. Yet in 2013, due to the BBC’s commitments to The Voice (then on BBC One), Let’s Dance… was never recommissioned and Comic Relief spin offs were too few and far between (except that little baking show!).
Yet this year sanity has prevailed as the BBC revived the format adding elements of Fame Academy as Let’s Sing and Dance For Comic Relief was born. This week was the first of four outings for the revamped show together with new presenters; the always charming Mel and Sue. Radio hosts Rickie and Melvyn won the first public vote with their Will Smith medley while comedian Sara Pascoe beat DJ Matt Edmondson to go through as the judges choice with her version of Sia’s Chandelier. In an age where reality singing contests take themselves too seriously, it’s good to know that there is still a need for light-hearted entertainment and I can’t wait to see what’s in store over the next few weeks.
It’s clear that Comic Relief has become woven into the fabric of British life and every two years you can be sure that most of us will don those red noses and do something funny for money. Yet it goes hand in hand that to get that money, they have a responsibility to entertain and surely Let’s Dance goes some way to achieving that.