I was encouraged in the 1970’s by both Gordon Piller and Ray Powles to get involved with the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. It was Ray who formed and ran one of the most innovative blood cancer units worldwide at the Royal Marsden Hospital, where he was responsible for the first successful bone marrow transplant in Europe, undertaken in 1973, and reported the first autologous stem cell transplant for myeloma as well as being the first to use cyclosporine and acyclovir. At that point in time Gordon Piller had around seven people working with him at Great Ormond Street.
The first big event was a suggestion made by a group of students who lost a friend from through the illness, they wanted to hold a cycle competition for school children at the military stadium in Aldershot. This was the forerunner to the Woking event, too, which is now the fabulous cycle event that the charity runs.
I was fortunate to be able take the winning school team to London Weekend’s World of Sport Studio to see the programme going out on the Saturday. We wer also shown around by the Anchor Man Dickie Davies who was a great supporter of the charity and I was even able to present the person who raised the most money with a racing bike.
A number of events were to follow with His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, the patron of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, giving his support to a series of fundraising events at the Lakeside Country Club. The first was with Morecambe & Wise, then Matt Monroe, followed by Petula Clark, and then last - and by no means least - American pianist composer and song writer Randy Edelman who is renowned for his film scores along with his wife the super star Jackie DeShannon. They were possibly the most famous couple to fly themselves over from LA to support us. It was a great honour for them to meet His Royal Highness and our patron came out on numerous occasions to meet our celebrity team.
In 1981, Lennie Bennett and I decided with the agreement of TVTimes to form a team of celebrities to run in the second ever London Marathon. It was intended to be just a one off but 31 years later we are preparing for next years event - how time flies!
At that time no charities were involved, now you can’t move for them, how things change?! What was quite useful was that Lennie had a regular spot on London Weekend with the 6 o’clock show which gave me the opportunity to suggest to the show's editor Greg Dyke hat they arrange a Marathon special on the Friday night with the audience consisting of people running in the race and a special live phone-in from 6-9pm with celebs manning the switchboard. This raised a considerable amount of money for the charity and having a background in advertising, marketing and music certainly helped!
Later Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research was named the charity of the London Marathon. We also became BUPA’s charity for the Great North Run.
Throughout the past 30 years, TVTimes have supported the charity by financing the team, contributing a large amount of money to the Christmas Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The Christmas Concert started in a very small way but has now escalated to a sell-out audience. Unfortunately, we can’t satisfy everyone but on the whole most people seem to be very happy!
Throughout my support of the charity my wife was a wonderful motivator and was with me all the way. She was known as the team's mother and everyone simply adored her. Sadly she died whilst we were on a training weekend in Carnoustie for the London Marathon. I gueess You could say that she died for the cause. We were due to be in Edinburgh on the Monday to launch the Great Scottish Run sadly that was the first event that we missed, but at least she was with me when I was awarded the MBE for my services to leukaemia.