Newest Review: ... pleasure. Unfortunately, the UK has grown increasingly out of step with the contest as it has evolved. Former presenter Terry Wogan used... more
Nation shall sing unto nation - don't say you weren't warned [with 2002 update]
Eurovision Song Contest
Member Name: JOHNDMR
Eurovision Song Contest
Date: 18/05/01, updated on 26/05/02 (220 review reads)
Advantages: Terry Wogan, Abba, Katrina and the Waves
Disadvantages: If you win, you have to host it next year
The Eurovision Song Contest was the brainchild of a Frenchman who saw it as a way of uniting the nations of post-war Europe. People of all countries on the continent would join hands, smile sweetly at each other, sing, fluffy rabbits would play in the fields, and there would be no more bickering, war, common agricultural policy...
The first contest was staged in Switzerland in 1956. Royaume-Uni, as they tend to call us, did not take part, but we duly participated in the 1957 contest, finishing a respectable seventh, courtesy of Patricia Bredin with 'All'. Since then we have won five times, in 1967 (Sandie Shaw, 'Puppet On A String'), 1969 (Lulu, 'Boom Bang-A-Bang', as part of a four-way tie), 1976 (Brotherhood Of Man, 'Save All Your Kisses For Me'), 1981 (Bucks Fizz, 'Making Your Mind Up'), and 1997 (Katrina & The Waves, 'Love Shine A Light'), and finished second a creditable 15 times.
Being runner-up is in effect winning, as it means you do as well as you can without having to blow a few million quid/francs/escudos from your broadcasting budget to stage the whole kaboodle on your home ground the next year. Spare a thought for Ireland, which has won seven times. Having reluctantly carried off the trophy in 1992 and 1993, they took their revenge in 1994 with a dreary dirge called 'Rock'n'Roll Kids' by - um, whoever. Everyone else saw through the ploy. Either that, or the other songs were even more dire. Ireland won again. In 1995 someone took pity on them and awarded the prize to Norway. And 1996? Heigh-ho, Ireland again.
But I mustn't be too negative. If nothing else, the contest is enlivened for British viewers by Terry Wogan's priceless deprecating commentary. "Here come Dr Death and the tooth fairy again," he told us during the 2001 show whenever the Danish presenters came on-screen. If the songs are irredeemably awful, Tel's wisecracks s
ave the day (or evening).
And if an appearance in Eurovision has been the kiss of death for some budding careers, it's launched others into the stratosphere. Sweden's ABBA entered in 1973 with 'Ring Ring' (a song co-written by the evergreen US late-50s rock'n'roller Neil Sedaka) and it fared respectably. Next year they tried again with 'Waterloo' - and the rest was history.
On our home patch, Bucks Fizz represented us in the 1981 contest, ripped each others' skirts off during the performance (deliberately), won, topped the UK charts - and proceeded to repeat the latter feat with two more singles within the next twelve months. Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 (yes, I thought she was Canadian too). And remember Black Lace's hardly show-stopping performance in 1979? No? Well, you remember 'Agadoo' and 'Superman' a few years later, don't you, even if you don't really want to.
Like Switzerland, we blur the European and international boundaries too. In 1996 we picked Gina G to represent us. Being Australian didn't disqualify her. She too went on to have further hit singles - oh yes, and an album with a front cover on which she appeared covered in melted chocolate and nothing else. What happened to the chocolate? Funny, I wondered that too.
Representing your (or somebody else's) country in Eurovision doesn't bar you from an alternative career. Consider Samantha Janus, who sang for Britain in 1991 and promptly threw down her microphone in favour of an acting career. And Rosemary Brown, showbiz moniker Dana, who triumphed for Ireland in 1970, was later talked about as a probable Irish presidency. As a good Catholic, Dana is not to be confused with Dana International, Israel's transsexual victor of 1998, a 'new woman' so unused to the change of gender that 'she' had trouble walking in high heels when it came to getting on sta
ge to collect an awards. Israel, for goodness sake? Well, the country is a member of the European Broadcasting Union. Now stop asking awkward questions.
Just occasionally, despite itself, Eurovision does manage a really decent song. Katrina & the Waves' 'Love Shine a Light' really shone through like a beacon in a dark night. The British entry in 1997, it trounced the opposition, with the highest score by a winning entry ever (227, 70 points ahead of the runner-up). I think we'll be playing that even after Sweden's 1984 winner 'Diggy Loo-Diggy Ley' is forgotten. Some titles don't travel well.
Of course, in recent years the voting has gone on transparently political lines. Funny how the Scandinavian and the Balkan countries seem to club together when 'douze points' are handed out. Not funny, just plain predictable. As Our Tel pointed out, Denmark and Ireland have never attacked anybody (well, as regards Denmark you'd have to go back to the Vikings, but that was a few years ago), and consequently start with an advantage.
The UK is not massively popular in Europe, and we need a pretty spiffing entry to do well. In which case, we shouldn't tempt Providence too much. In 2000, Nicki French represented us with 'Don't Play That Song Again'. "All right, we won't" was the response, and it was placed 16th - our worst result to date. Still, spare a thought for Norway, whose entries have scored 'nul points' four times. Even Scandinavian solidarity has its limits.
If you want to know more, that's your problem. Oh, all right - check out the search engines for a glittering array of sites which will tell you far more than any sane person could possibly want to know.
So why does it still attract such large audiences? Why does it continue year in, year out, twenty or thirty years after critics had assured us that its day had passed? Becaus
e it's the institution that everybody loves to hate. If you watch it, you don't do so without a sense of irony, do you?
2002. Having just watched the 47th contest at Tallinn, Estonia, I regret to say Tel seems to be mellowing in his advancing years. Halfway through, he told us ruefully that last year the Danish presenters took his repartee too seriously. Nevertheless, he informed us that the Greek contestants looked like there had been 'an attack of the clones'. (I thought the group had just unearthed a box of old Gary Numan videos by the sight and sound of them). The young lady singing for Croatia, he suggested, was one of the Corrs who had escaped from the family compound. As for the two Estonian presenters who came and did a Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald soundalike halfway through, he told us that we had got off lightly - Marco plays the accordeon as well.
However Jessica Garlick, representing the UK (and whose frock, the togmeister mused, looked like it had been through the shredder), defied the ever-political allocation of douze pwan and dix pwan to finish in joint third place with host country Estonia - our best result, er, this century.
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