IN 1973, SAS Channel 10 Adelaide created the Children’s Medical Research Foundation of South Australia and began the annual broadcasts of the Channel 10 Christmas Appeal.
Every year, until 1989, on a designated weekend in December, the stars from around the national Ten network, as well as other major showbiz celebrities and personalities, would gather for a marathon 24-hour, non-stop, live show from the Ten studios at Gilberton. Household names from competing channels and shows would come together and appear on camera simultaneously, much to the delight of local audiences, old rivalries forgotten as they gave their time for the worthy cause.
The Children’s Medical Research Foundation was established to raise much-needed funds for children’s charities, including Novita, which was known back then as the Crippled Children’s Association of South Australia.
Game show host Gary Meadows was the anchor for the early years and until his premature death in 1982. Gary was a well-known radio and TV personality, originally from Perth, but through appearances on national TV shows like The Price is Right, he’d captured a large and devoted following around Australia. He is remembered, even today, for the compassion and caring he showed for the children during the telethon.
We remembered Gary and the days of the Christmas appeal recently in a post on the Adelaide Remember When Facebook page. “I remember Gary with tears streaming down his face as a little girl in a wheelchair sang Smile,” recalls Melanie Chadbourne. “It was beautiful.”
Several of our readers wrote to say they had volunteered to work in the phone room over the course of the telethon and shared their experiences of meeting the stars, helping with the children and answering the phones as the people of Adelaide rang through with their donations.
Mary Scriven remembers: “It was a pretty crazy weekend. The phones would hardly ever stop ringing even during the wee small hours of the morning. Children used to call with the contents of their money boxes, families would ring in and donate so generously, it was a real eye-opener. Some of the biggest names on Australian television at the time, including stars from Number 96 and The Box, would wander through the phone room. It was a great chance to be up close to real celebrities.”
In the ’70s, television stations would generally always close at around midnight but for the Christmas Telethon Appeal, Channel 10 would remain on air for the full 24 hours.
“It was the first time I was allowed to stay up until after midnight and watch TV,” recalls Damian Shea. “All the other TV stations had shut down at the usual time but the telethon ran all night. It was good, fun entertainment, too”.
Almost the whole 24 hours was completely off the cuff, with no scripting and no rehearsals. Local artists and performers would simply turn up at the TV station and volunteer to sing or provide some form of entertainment and they would be slotted in. Superstar personalities, actors, singers, comedians and VIPs would sit on the panel and read out donations, all the while chatting and joking with the audience and each other.
When a very large donation was read out the whole panel would leap to their feet and form a conga line and break out singing “Thank you very much for the kind donation, Thank you very, very much”. When a new milestone was reached with the donation tally, panellists would do a “dead ant”, rolling over on their backs with feet and legs in the air.
Audience participation was another major part of the program. From early on Sunday morning, teams of people would gather at stop lights and intersections and wave their collection tins at cars and pedestrians passing by in the hope of raising more funds for the telethon.
Over several years, recording artists donated their time and talent to help produce a special LP called Sounds for Hope and Happiness, which, from memory, was sold at petrol service stations and featured both international and local stars.
Over the years the SAS Channel 10 Christmas Appeal raised millions of dollars for local children’s charities but in December 1987 a very strange event occurred in Adelaide television. Channels 10 and 7 switched call signs and overnight it became the SAS7 Christmas Appeal. As the television industry was consolidating in Australia, the two channels had each become associated by ownership with interstate networks bearing the opposite channel numbers, so to simplify network requirements and interactions they agreed to swap channel numbers. The stations remained exactly the same but Seven now became Ten and vice versa.
The SAS7 Christmas Telethon Appeal continued for another two years but was phased out in 1989, never to return.
I should just mention here that all three local television stations at one time had their own charity fundraising telethons. ADS 7 in 1969 started the 5AD/Channel 7 Good Friday Appeal, and each year media personalities, performers and the public pitched in to raise millions of dollars over the years for the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, while NWS9 aired their Telethon broadcasts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, raising money through The House Of Hope, a home that was built each year for Telethon.
The SAS7 Children’s Research Foundation of South Australia, founded back in the 1970s, continues with its work today and according to the website: “The purpose of the Foundation is to provide grants to fund research into issues affecting the health, education and wellbeing of children. Each year the Foundation disburses approximately $1.35 million in research grants and has disbursed in excess of $26 million since inception”.
Christmas is always a special time but back in the days of the Christmas Telethon, when the nation’s top stars, celebs and personalities came to
Adelaide and the TV stayed on right through the night, it just seemed a bit more special.