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Piloted as part of Children In Need in 1988 when former Treasure Hunt star Anneka Rice battled against the odds to arrange for an orchestra to perform the 1812 Overture on the Thames, freeze part of the river for a skating ballet and organise a firework display, all within a few days, Challenge Anneka was soon launched as a series of 40-minute programmes.
Each week, a new challenge was set by a member of the public – seemingly impossible tasks like staging a West End farce or converting an old church into a circus training school within 24 hours.
Rice – unaware of what was involved until the start of the programme – then donned her bright figure-hugging jumpsuit, boarded her ‘Challenger’ jeep accompanied by her personal cameraman Dave Chapman (who became something of a minor celebrity himself) and set about coercing people into helping her meet the challenge in time.
All challenges were aimed at providing lasting benefit and those that gained included charities and other worthy causes.
Because of the timescale allotted to each project, they were not always completed on time and on several occasions, further makeovers were required. Following one episode, a children’s playground had to be closed down shortly after it was built because it did not conform to Health and Safety regulations.
However, these minor failures were outweighed by the successes, and some of the more memorable efforts included a tape of popular children’s songs sung by contemporary artists to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital (produced by George Martin), a TV commercial to raise awareness for the Paralympics, and the renovation of a run-down Romanian orphanage that was home to 600 children living in appalling conditions.
In her Challenge role, Rice once guested on 2 Point 4 Children.
An American version of the show was made later, featuring Erin Brockovich, and called (unsurprisingly) Challenge America With Erin Brockovich.