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Stand up for blood cancer: a history of Bloodwise’s relationship with comedy

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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Updated 16 Oct 2018

Since Bloodwise began as the Leukaemia Research Fund in 1960, an array of comedians and comic actors have helped us fund research with laughter, including legendary double act Morecambe and Wise, Simpsons star Harry Shearer and cult stand up Daniel Kitson.

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise perform at a Leukaemia Research Fund gala in 1983

Hattie Jacques

Hattie Jacques was a stage, radio, film and TV actor who starred in 14 Carry On films and became a national treasure for her comic versatility. She became an Leukaemia Research Fund (LRF) patron in the 1960s and was a driving force behind a yearly celebrity fundraising event at the Chelsea Town Hall.

Hattie visited Great Ormond Street Hospital with James Bond star Sean Connery in 1966. The pair presented a cheque for £8,000 on behalf of the LRF London branch, who raised money from a midnight matinee at the London Palladium, a bazaar in Chelsea and collections in pubs.

Morecambe and Wise

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise performed together for 43 years. The double act spanned variety performances, radio, film and TV and have been described as "the most illustrious, and the best-loved, double-act that Britain has ever produced".

Eric and Ernie supported LRF’s efforts to fund blood cancer research and raise awareness. Above, they’re pictured performing at an LRF celebrity gala in 1983. In the same year, they fronted a national newspaper advert (below).

A 1983 advert for Leukaemia Research Fund featuring Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise

Calendar Girls

The story of the Calendar Girls began in 1998 when John Baker was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. John sadly passed away after just a few months of treatment.

In the months following John’s death, his widow Angela and her friends in the Rylstone and District Women's Institute set about creating a now-infamous nude calendar to raise money for LRF. The girls have raised over £5 million for the charity to date.

In 2003, a film adaptation of the story was released. The cast featured Julie Walters, Helen Mirren and Celia Imrie and won the British Comedy Award for best comedy film in its year of release. The Calendar Girls’ story has since been adapted into a musical by the film’s co-writer Tim Firth and Take That star Gary Barlow and is now touring the UK.

Buy tickets for the Calendar Girls musical.

An Audience With…

Jo Brand being interviewed by Alan YentobJo Brand interviewed by Alan Yentob at An Audience With... event

In 2013, our long-standing supporter Alasdair Campbell helped organise a series of events with his friend Ed Victor, who was diagnosed with and has overcome leukaemia. The first audience with saw Alan Yentob interview Mel Brooks, director of The Producers, Blazing Saddle, Young Frankenstein and countless other comedy favourites. It was such a great success that our American sister charity, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society, staged it for a second time in the States. HBO broadcast the event and it was nominated for an Emmy.

The series went on to feature a who's who of British comics, including Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Jo Brand, Billy Connolly and Miranda Hart. The events have raised over £230,000 for the charity.

Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer, actor and star of The Simpsons and This is Spinal Tap

Image credit: Mark Sullivan/WireImage

Harry Shearer dexterously voices a host of Simpsons characters, including Mrs Burns, Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner. He also portrayed Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap, one of the most celebrated and quoted comic films of all time.

Harry appeared as a contestant on Celebrity Mastermind on 31 December 2014. He chose to represent Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research (as we were then known) because his first wife’s brother died of leukaemia and two of his friends had, and recovered from, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Harry answered questions on the NBA from 1976 onwards and came second, losing out to League of Gentlemen star Steve Pemberton.

Laugh for Leukaemia

Comedians backstage at Laugh for Leukaemia, a charity comedy gig in aid of BloodwiseComedians backstage at Laugh for Leukaemia 2017, including Nick Mohammed (left) and Daniel Kitson (centre)

Laugh for Leukaemia is a comedy gig held annually since 2012 to raise money for Bloodwise. The gig is co-organised by Nick Mohammed, a celebrated live comedian, writer and star of films such as The Martian and Christopher Robin. Several installments have featured Daniel Kitson as MC, a cult stand-up and playwright who’s been described as ‘one of the finest comics working today’ by Time Out.

Kitson returns to compère this year’s line up which also features Josh Widdicombe, Ed Gamble and Lou Sanders. It’s held on Friday 28 September 2018 at Kings Place in central London.

Learn more about the charity's history, from 1960 to the present day