Spare a thought for the needy and inadequate

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The Independent Online

It is the week when all of us in caring Britain must look into our hearts and remember those in the community who are less fortunate than we are. Some people call this week's charity efforts a festival of self-indulgent hype. Others complain that hours of TV are given over to distressing images that can only upset and depress viewers. There are even suggestions that public displays of tearful good-heartedness are somehow "in bad taste".

It is the week when all of us in caring Britain must look into our hearts and remember those in the community who are less fortunate than we are. Some people call this week's charity efforts a festival of self-indulgent hype. Others complain that hours of TV are given over to distressing images that can only upset and depress viewers. There are even suggestions that public displays of tearful good-heartedness are somehow "in bad taste".

So much for the whingers. As far as the rest of us are concerned, Red Nose Day is a time for giving, for caring, for showing that we are there for society's most needy and pathetic inadequates - our out-of-work celebrities. Why do former celebrities need our help so desperately? It seems shocking that, even in giving, dig-deep Britain, the question still needs to be answered. Yet it seems there are still a few people out there who have no concept of what it is like to have the cup of fame dashed from one's lips, to be in OK! magazine one moment and in the "Where are they now?" column of the local paper the next, for the person who would once be paid £5000 to open a supermarket to have to queue there at the checkout till, unrecognised, just another shopper.

Those who doubt whether celebrities in decline are a worthwhile cause need only open their newspapers to find the evidence. Only last week, for example, one of the best-loved characters from the old children's TV show Rainbow was reported to have been involved in a road-rage incident. Until nine years ago, Bungle the Bear was a national favourite, beloved by kiddies all over the land along with a pink Hippo called George and a character called Zippy. Today he is merely Stanley Bates, a 58-year-old man with a rather short temper, and his only public appearance is in the dock of a local magistrates' court.

It is for Bungle, and for many like him, that Red Nose Day exists. Once a year, people who were once rather famous but are now forgotten are given the chance to do the one thing which has given their lives meaning in the past - to show off in front of a camera.

There will, of course be tears. It is what this great event is all about. These former personalities may not be up to much these days, but they have each of them remembered the essential skills that are so important to those in the public eye: the ability to cry in public and generally show the world that they are caring, regular folk.

Some, thanks to our Third World programme, are given the opportunity to travel abroad and wander among under-nourished African children, accompanied only a camera crew and a man-size box of Kleenex. Others simply make fools of themselves in a generally good-natured way. It is one of the great advantages of Red Nose Day that, because it is all in the name of charity, questions of talent and professionalism become meaningless.

Indeed, the more hopeless the celebrities turn out to be, the more effectively they prove their essential humility and ordinariness. For the tragedy is that, before their lives were distorted by fame, these people were ordinary - sometimes very ordinary indeed. You need only to tune into Celebrity Big Brother for few minutes to see how, with our help, celebrities can get in touch with their inner ordinary person while giving their flagging careers a bit of boost as well.

Thanks to you, Red Nose Day has become more successful every year. Soon we hope to reach other people who are suffering from publicity-deficiency disorders - sacked politicians, out-of-print authors, knackered ex-footballers, former reality TV personalities.

So remember to play your part this week. Simply by watching, admiring and generally giving our out-of-work celebrities the impression that they still matter, you will be showing that you care.

terblacker@aol.com

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