Comic Relief is an operating British charity, founded in 1985 by the comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to famine in Ethiopia. The highlight of Comic Relief's appeal is Red Nose Day, a biennial telethon held in March, alternating with sister project Sport Relief. Comic Relief is one of the two high profile telethon events held in the United Kingdom, the other being Children in Need, held annually in November.
Comic Relief was launched live on Noel Edmonds' Late, Late Breakfast Show on BBC1, on Christmas Day 1985 from a refugee camp in Sudan. The idea for Comic Relief came from the noted charity worker Jane Tewson, who established it as the operating name of Charity Projects, a registered charity in England and Scotland.
The charity states that its aim is to "bring about positive and lasting change in the lives of poor and disadvantaged people, which we believe requires investing in work that addresses people's immediate needs as well as tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice.".
One of the fundamental principles behind working at Comic Relief is the "Golden Pound Principle" where every single donated pound (£) is spent on charitable projects. All operating costs, such as staff salaries, are covered by corporate sponsors, or interest earned on money waiting to be distributed.
Currently, its main supporters are the BBC, BT and Sainsbury's supermarket chain. The BBC is responsible for the live television extravaganza on Red Nose Day; BT provides the telephony, and Sainsbury's sells merchandise on behalf of the charity. Since the charity was launched in 1985, Comic Relief has raised over £750 million.
Critics of Comic Relief and other BBC charity events say that the BBC is diverting funds from well established charities and smaller charities, there is no accountability for who decides on where the money is held or spent, and the main beneficiary is the BBC – goodwill and free programming – the bankers who hold the funds – and especially the celebrities promoting themselves on prime-time TV for free. The July 2010 accounts for charity registration 326568 show grant payments of £59 million pounds, net assets of £135 million pounds, with an investment portfolio held in a range of managed pooled funds and fixed term deposits. The average full-time staff was 214, with 14 staff paid over £60,000 with remuneration for the year, excluding pensions, for Kevin Cahill, Chief Executive of £120,410.
In 2002, Comic Relief and BBC Sport teamed up to create Sport Relief, a new initiative, aiming to unite the sporting community and culminate in a night of sport, entertainment and fund-raising on BBC One. Sport Relief is a biennial charity event, and the campaign deliberately alternates years with Red Nose Day, Comic Relief's flagship event. Red Nose Day occurs in odd-numbered years, and Sport Relief in even-numbered years.
In 2009, Comic Relief launched a website calling for a financial transaction tax, the "Robin Hood" tax.