Each year since 1980, the BBC has set aside one evening of programming on its flagship television channel, BBC One, to show events aimed at raising money for charities working with children in the UK. BBC coverage also extends across the BBC's other television channels and national and local radio channels. A mascot called 'Pudsey', a teddy bear with a bandage over one eye, was introduced in 1985 and has become a regular feature. Children in Need was registered as a charity in 1989.
The appeal gains the majority of its money from donations of private individuals who may themselves have raised the funds by taking part in sponsored events. Sponsored sitting in a bath of baked beans is a perennial favourite. Companies also donate either money directly or benefits in kind, such as HSBC donating banking facilities, and BT donating telephone lines and operatives. On the night of the televised appeal, donations are solicited by celebrities appearing on the seven-hour long programme performing various activities such as sketches or musical numbers, intermixed with featurettes showing what the money will be used for. Featured celebrities often include those from programmes on the BBC's rival ITV network, including some appearing in-character, and/or from the sets of their own programmes. A sketch by BBC newsreaders has become an annual fixture (most recently Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 2005 and a 'James Bond' theme in 2006). Stars of newly-opened West End musicals regularly perform a number from their show later in the evening after 'curtain call' in their respective theatres. The total raised so far is frequently flashed on screen, with presenters urging viewers to part with "any penny they can spare" to help push the total beyond the target milestone.
Though Children in Need is welcomed by a large proportion of the British public, there are some who offer an alternative view, that the portrayal of children, particularly disabled children, as victims is unfortunate and counter-productive. It is argued that a change in social attitudes will benefit the disadvantaged more than money and public sympathy.
The money contributed to Children in Need is distributed to children's charities.