In 2019 it seems that the ever-pressing and moral issue of charity remains a dominant thread running through the television schedule. The month of March has always been associated with red noses and more recently sporting achievement but now Channel Four have extended their Stand Up To Cancer appeal to take advantage of the public’s charitable appetite at this time of year. Just as the award season seems to increase every year, now we welcome yet another period to the television calendar and the real beneficiaries of such a season aren’t a bunch of overpaid celebrities. Instead monies raised go to ordinary people coping with unbearable circumstances.
This relatively new television trend began in 2013 when BBC opened the Bake Off tent to welcome sixteen famous faces including: Warwick Davis, Claudia Winkleman and Ed Byrne as they tackled signature challenges, technical bakes and the showstopper challenge. So when Bake Off made a controversial move from the BBC to Channel Four in 2016 the broadcaster already knew that the format could cross the television boundary and welcome some of the nation’s favourite stars into the famous tent for the sake of charity. Sure enough, last month saw the return of Celebrity Bake off as sixteen celebrities once again entered the tent prepared to have their culinary skills put to the test by Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. Among the stellar line-up was: grime artist Big Narstie, comedian James Acaster, TV presenter Caroline Flack and Channel Four News stalwart Krishnan Guru-Murthy who swapped their day jobs for dough in a bid to impress the fearsome twosome.
The British public have always got a substantial amount of pleasure out of seeing their favourite stars step out of their comfort zone to tackle something different. Whether it’s in a house, in the Australian jungle, ballroom dancing or singing live. Comic Relief were the first people to realise the significance of this in relation to raising vital funds and discovered that if the audience was invested in something they would be more inclined to pick up their phones and donate. Over thirty years and one billion pounds later, it would be wise to say they were right. Yet with the constant mission to go bigger and better, where do production companies draw the line in ensuring big ratings and even bigger investment?
The greatest example of this is Channel Four’s most recent offering SAS: Who Dares Wins For Stand Up To Cancer. Twelve famous faces from the world of sport, entertainment and politics are putting everything on the line to attempt the trials and tribulations of SAS selection. Instructed by the directing staff (DS) lead by Ant Middleton, the celebrities were subjected to an intensive course of training reduced to just seven days. A stellar cast of twice Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, Radio 1 DJ Dev, reality star Camilla Thurlow, former footballer Wayne Bridge, actor Jeremy Irvine, TV presenters AJ Odudu and Jeff Brazier, Loose Women’s Andrea Maclean, internet sensation Sam Thompson, MP Louise Mensch and England rugby heroes Heather Fisher and Ben Foden relinquished all rights for seven days in the hope of passing the most formidable test in the armed forces. This is probably the hardest celebrity competition in TV history and it was enthralling to see how it would unfold.
In 2019 the special forces is preparing for a revolution as they prepare to welcome women into their brotherhood for the very first time. Therefore the series echoes this drastic change and the inclusion of the female protagonists makes the show all the more fascinating. At 49, who would have thought Andrea Maclean could fireman’s carry a full grown man around a training ground. This is the biggest difference between the real competition and the celebrity version as the DS are used to working with the physical elite and despite the inevitable withdrawals, all recruits are still working at the same level of physical stamina. Whereas the celebrities are totally alien to the regime and have a variety of fitness which is both a help and a hindrance to the course. In these situations we are reminded that it’s merely a TV show with the main aim being to raise as much money as possible for sufferers of such a brutal illness. So everything else is merely secondary and although the SAS training is a battle of mental and physical strength, nothing can be compared to coping with the trials of cancer.
So make sure you tune in to SAS: Who Dares Wins For Stand Up To Cancer on Sunday at 9pm on Channel Four and witness the twelve celebrities putting their bodies to the ultimate test. In a world with unlimited television choice, it’s fascinating to observe that a lot of the interesting and experimental formats are coming from charity appeals. Contradictory to my earlier blogs about Comic Relief and Stand Up To Cancer where I question the future of the charity telethon, maybe such original and insightful vehicles may just be the future of TV charity events and long may they continue.