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Making great strides s for 30 years; The BRMB Walkathon began 30 years ago. It's back next weekend on the original route and in a new guise. GRAHAM YOUNG reports.

Byline: GRAHAM YOUNG

THEY came. They dressed up. They walked. And they conquered.

It was 1983, and Birmingham's marathon-sized outer circle bus route was defeated by an army of citizen fund-raisers.

Ordinary Brummies had stepped out in their thousands, establishing in a single day one of the great landmarks of charity fund-raising in this country.

Prior to many fun runs and long before Live Aid and Red Nose Day, radio station BRMB's 26-mile Walkathon paved the way for communities to come together as one for a good cause.

Many listeners entered in fancy dress - appearing as anything from tea pots to Andy Pandy.

As an original launch DJ sent to one of eight major starting points, Phil Riley remembers the first event like it was yesterday.

"I distinctly remember getting there at 7am and finding nobody there. And then thinking: 'What happens if nobody turns up?' "But some people turned up at 7.30am and by the time we were ready to go it was full.

"It was a tremendous thing." Now the chief executive of relatively new station owners Orion, he boldly changed BRMB's name to Free Radio - an umbrella term covering other previously independent stations such as Mercia and Beacon.

It is for that reason the Walkathon name has been changed to Walk for Kids, but the spirit of the event will be exactly the same.

Phil says: "My wife appeared as Andy Pandy for the first event, though she won't thank me for remembering that.

"This year, because of the green theme which will create a spectacle, we're expecting a lot of Hulks and garden vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower."

Just two weeks ago Phil walked the route himself with his head of marketing, Andy Price.

"It's a very long way," he says.

"But you can also walk the shorter route from one starting point to the other.

"There's no longer any need to have eight starting points, so we just have lots of toilet and drinks facilities en route and two main starts - Kings Heath Park and Rookery Park in Erdington."

Running every year until 1992, the Walkathon became the biggest mass participation of its kind in the world.

Former BRMB managing director David Bagley, who was promotions manager when he launched the original walk with the then deputy programme controller, Mike Owen, says: "The inaugural event on May 1, 1983 was a very wet Sunday.

"But 24,000 Brummies took part and raised PS250,000.

"We had no idea of the real numbers needed for marshalling the route or how we would organise checking for how many people would take part.

"It was a real leap in the dark, but the Walkathon built an entire wing for Acorns Hospice, which is celebrating 25 years this year.

"We built a complete home for MENCAP and have raised millions of pounds for hundreds of great charity appeals over the years.

"This year we are helping the neonatal unit at the Woman's Hospital plus the Cure Leukaemia for Kids fund."

In its 2009 revival year, the main Birmingham walk raised PS325,000 for the Home for Heroes at the QE.

Last year's total, in memory of brain cancer boy Harry Moseley, raised PS400,000.

"That was more than we had a right to expect," says Phil. "This year, we're expecting more like a 'normal' PS300,000."

They've said it before and so, for the foreseeable future, next weekend's event is set to be the last time the original 26 mile No.11 outer circle bus route will be used.

As Phil says: "The No.11 route is not the most attractive showcase for the city. There are some nice parts, like any city, but an awful lot of it is just ordinary Birmingham."

So if you want to go for the classic full monty, register now, start training... and buy yourself some decent socks and shoes in good time for Sunday, May 19.

"It won't kill you," says Phil. "But boy will you ache the following day!"| Registration for this year's event is free and will be kept open throughout next week. Visit: http:// walk.freeradio.co.uk/ where you will also find more details of the other walks in the Black Country (June 2), Warwickshire (June 23) and Worcestershire (July 7).

40 years ago May 11, 1973 LABOUR gained a 6-1 victory in the first elections for the seven new metropolitan district councils in the West Midlands. In other news, two miners were killed and three more trapped and feared dead after a massive coal face fell 1,600ft beneath the Firth of Forth at Seafield Colliery in Scotland. Four other miners were saved by rescuers. And attempts were being made to move a dozen gypsy caravans from a site in Maypole, Birmingham.

30 years ago May 11, 1983 A SUNTANNED Prince and Princess of Wales returned from their holiday in the Bahamas travelling as Mr and Mrs Smith. Flying on a Boeing 747 named City of Birmingham, the royal party spent the journey in the first class lounge and the film Sting was shown at their request. Another story warns video recorder owners after a spate of burglaries in Tamworth. The police believed an organised gang were looking through windows to spot tell-tale video display lights and clocks which advertise the presence of the recorders.

CAPTION(S):

Adam Everson, Leigh Hull, Warren Coy, Ian Bury and Ken Johnson kilt-ed out in 1990.

Amanda Maxwell and Wendy Anderton don daring uniforms for the walk in 1987.

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali joins the walkers in 1984

Dancing the can can along the route in 1989.

The Walkathon still going strong in 2005

Ready for the off at Sarehole Mill start of the Walkathon in 1989
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 11, 2013
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