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Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People: We did it!

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Andy Brereton Andy Brereton | 14:30 UK time, Friday, 18 March 2011

One of the joys of developing television shows is the freedom to write a stupidly ambitious idea on two sides of A4, safe in the knowledge that it probably won't happen.

However, in this instance, BBC Three and Comic Relief had other ideas and on 2 January 2011 we decided, with less than two months to go, to create the BBC's first ever 24-hour online panel show marathon - and 24 Hour Panel People was born.

David Walliams on Celebrity Juice with Jedward and Keith Lemon.

The next step was relatively straightforward. All we needed to do was bring the biggest comedy talent in the UK to BBC Television Centre on the same day and convince them to perform live to the world, without the protection of being edited.

We'd then build a set that could transform into 20 different sets, show the inner workings of making a TV show, broadcast it on the web, and do all this while still protecting the BBC's reputation - easy.

With Comic Relief at our side, our production team began contacting every production company that owned the most iconic panel and comedy entertainment shows across radio and TV.

From Angst (who make Mock The Week) to Zeppotron (8 Out 10 Cats), they all agreed to help and without their blessing this show would not have got off the ground.

For us, it was important to be as faithful as we could to these iconic shows.

The final piece of the puzzle was to find a comedian who was willing to front the entire 24-hour broadcast and put their comedy name on the line - step forward Mr David Walliams.

It's hard enough preparing for one panel show recording. David had to prepare for 20 or more.

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It's no mean feat having to be as quick-witted as Paul O'Grady in Blankety Blank, as intelligent as Stephen Fry in QI, and then make up hilarious improvised comedy with the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? team, all in quick succession.

But he did it, and remained charming and, more importantly, funny throughout. Well done David.

While the production team were in full flow, the BBC's online team and editorial policy were busy re-writing the rulebook left right and centre. This kind of online event had never been done before by the BBC.

They had their work cut out deciphering how to make the live stream available to as many people across the globe as possible whilst managing the large amounts of viewer interaction through tweets and emails.

And, crucially, what measures could we put in place to have adult content available at two o'clock in the afternoon?

As with everyone on this production, they rose to the challenge and, whatever we asked for, they figured out a way to do it.

And finally, logistics (hurray). There's really not enough time or need to explain the ridiculous logistics of putting on a 24-hour event.

For me, a symbol of just how organic and changeable this event was is best summed up by the board in our production office.

The board in 24 Hour Panel People's production office

The production team would refer to "the board" with the same hushed reverence the Toy Story aliens referred to "the claw". That board would change every minute of every day.

In our office you would constantly hear phrases like, "If Sir David Frost says yes, but Keith Lemon says no, then let's move Jedward to Blankety Blank and then get David Tennant to play Give Us A Clue and see if Stephen Fry will hang around for Just A Minute. Has anyone spoken to Clive Anderson, Christopher Biggins or Jimmy Carr?"

I'll never be really clear whether we controlled the board or the board controlled us - it was one of the most organic shows I've ever been involved in.

Five weeks later, and through everyone's hard work, on 5 March at midday, we began our live 24-hour broadcast on the web.

Throughout the day we broke online records across the board for views and tweets.

We also discovered that the online audience loved seeing the behind the scenes of the production so we tried to adapt accordingly.

I only really got a sense of how the whole machine was working together at around 3am while eating a beef lasagne (I know).

I wandered into the stream team's online area and saw the world reacting to what we were putting out. Who'd have thought Nicholas Parsons would be a global sensation?

Here's David Tennant in one of our backstage pictures - you can see the whole set on BBC Comedy's Flickr account. I hope they convey a little of the sense of the day.

David Tennant backstage at Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People

Twenty four hours later, it was over, and this incredible team from the runners, the art department, to the studio crew and our own production team had done it. They were, as my series producer would say, "amaze-bags".

Then, after little sleep, it was straight off to the edit with the unenviable task of trying to make the whole 24-hour experience fit into five half hour shows for BBC Three and a little over a week to do it.

It's almost impossible to sum up an event like this in five half hours of TV because it was so much more.

It was an incredible one-off broadcast that featured so many talented people behind and in front of the camera with several factions of the BBC working together in coffee-fuelled harmony.

If you watch the cut-down shows on BBC One on Friday, in iPlayer then I hope they raise a smile and make you donate.

If you watched all 24 hours, then thank you, you were part of a ridiculous and magnificent thing.

But please remember there was only one real reason we all did this - to raise as much money as possible for Comic Relief.

Update: I have just discovered a note in my back pocket that was handed to me at 3am during the broadcast. It reads, "The marching band cannot return tomorrow but we still have the motorised bed on standby." Brilliant.

Andy Brereton is the executive producer of Comic Relief's 24 Hour Panel People.

Half hour episodes, first shown on BBC Three, are currently available in iPlayer.

Find out how David Walliams got on in part three of Comic Relief on BBC One at 11.05pm on Friday, 18 March.

A compilation of episodes of 24 Hour Panel People is on BBC One on Friday, 25 March.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

For more information on Comic Relief please visit the BBC's Red Nose Day site.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I was actually in the audience for some of it. Felt lucky and very happy to be there. then I went home and watched the rest on the online stream. Only made it as far as 3am though.

  • Comment number 2.

    I love these marathon programmes - great entertainment and very worthwhile.

  • Comment number 3.

    Absolutely well done to all concerned - splendid entertainment!

    Daisy @ [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 4.

    I loved the small set of complete hours that were posted to youtube, warts and all. Would the individual hours ever be made available?

  • Comment number 5.

    Were you being sarcastic when you describe Mock the Week and 8 out of 10 Cats as 'iconic shows'?? Panel shows are the cheapest, least original format on TV. The televisual equaivalent of shovelware.

  • Comment number 6.

    Which is why you can can get enough of them to fill 24 hours. Still, it's for charidee innit.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's a shame that we can;t see this online tonight. I am a tv licence subscriber but because I am away for a couple of days it seems so sad that I can;t see what is being done tonight, even yhough I have also sent money ! Come on BBC, show some charity on a night like tonight !!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Who the hell do the BBC think they are? Why do they think that when you sit down with your 9 year old daughter to watch Comic Relief as a family you want to watch an episode of Eastenders. We watched Comic Relief as an alternative to Eastenders. Also Davina McCall is nothing short of awful.

  • Comment number 9.

    A record donation from the British public. Now lets see the Whigdem government tax us even more. Its obvious we can afford it.

  • Comment number 10.

    In case nobody noticed there is a major disaster in Japan instead of congratulating ourselves about this event we should be donating all proceeds to the Japanese people
    Dave Scotland

  • Comment number 11.

    Congratulations to all those organising and contributing to red nose day charity. However I must ask why is not more energy devoted to make those running those countries ensure they provide their people with the care they need. Millions given by charity means those corrupt leaders with fat Swiss bank account are laughing all the way to the bank knowing there is no need for them to care for their people. I felt the whole thing is a sham. When food, medical help etc. run out all is back to square one. The only help important is to force the leaders of the country take responsibility now and for the future for their people.

  • Comment number 12.

    Andy says, "(a)nd, crucially, what measures could we put in place to have adult content available at two o'clock in the afternoon? well it seems to me unsuccessful ones in particular I was very offended later in the day when Lenny Henry apparently texted on to a screen a profane & blasphemous coded message.

    If you can all calm down a lot it would help. In reality it is excruciating to watch "celebrities" straining to be all at once (as they think) funny, yet cool, serious, yet frivolous and emotionally involved yet concernedly detachment. Yes one or two bits of prerecorded sketches were funny in that peculiar "knowing way" that marks out the "in crowd". But he majority of the programs was appallingly dull I mean DULL. Not that this view will penetrate your self congratulatory buzzing in the ears.

  • Comment number 13.

    Yeah, great, would be nice to see the same enthusiasm for saving british public services. Charity is no substitute for government investment in public infrastructure.

  • Comment number 14.

    Great news at the record breaking amount that Comic Relief have raised from the public!

    However, will Comic Relief be contributing to help alleviate the nightmare that is happening in Japan too?

  • Comment number 15.

    In case nobody noticed there is a major disaster in Japan instead of congratulating ourselves about this event we should be donating all proceeds to the Japanese people
    Dave Scotland

    Japan has a fully functioning (and wealthy) government and is able to make do with the aid they are currently getting.

    I don't see why a child starving to death somewhere in Africa should have to miss out because of the Japanese victims. If you wanted to help the Japanese in particular then you should have donated to the numerous Japanese aid appeals - and not comic relief...

  • Comment number 16.

    A fantastic Comic Relief this year. Profoundly moving, mostly, and excellent special TV. Jasper of thedogsblog.blogspot.com has also encouraged his readers to donate. He and I gave what we could - but we wish it could have been more. There should NEVER be starving babies in this world - ANYWHERE - while other humans have a few surplus pennies. Thank heavens for schemes such as Comic Relief - they show that, now matter how wretched and tough life can be, there are STILL good, selfless humans in the world who are prepared to use their talents to make a difference for those less-fortunate.

  • Comment number 17.

    Oops - posted wrong link above (No. 16). Should be: Jasper-thedogsblog.blogspot.com! Silly me.

    To all those commenting about the tragic situation in Japan: At the beginning of the evening's programming, one of the presenters stated that they are currently awaiting advice from the appropriate sources as to how best funds from Comic Relief can be deployed in Japan and the affected areas. Once they receive this information, some of the funds WILL be used to assist the Japanese as best they can.

  • Comment number 18.

    I can't understand why every show isn't available now via the BBC on the internet. I wouldn't say it was very well advertised at the time and I didn't find out about it until Red Nose Day. A lot more money could be raised if each entire 1 hour Panel Show costed a pound on iTunes.
    Also what's the point in doing 24 hours of TV if you're only going to show two-and-a-half hours of it on TV! It would be nice for the BBC to show 1 hour a night on BBC Three for example.


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