Following on from my last post when I wrote about the sad passing of Sir Terry Wogan, I feel I can’t end that thread until I have mentioned The Eurovision Song Contest. Love it or loathe it, the contest is a big fixture in television’s annual calendar and is watched by, wait for it…… up to 600 million people worldwide!
Terry presided over the television commentary of the contest from 1980 until 2008 after which he hung up his headphones, making way for another witty Irishman, Graham Norton. During his years at the helm, Terry’s commentary was far more of a draw for viewers than the contest, or nonsense as he called it. Who can forget all the “eejit” on-stage hosts we had to endure, and his observation that the Danish pair in 2001 looked like “Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy”.
My first memories of Eurovision were from 1967 when a barefoot Sandie Shaw won for the UK with Puppet On A String. I have mentioned my “anorak” tendencies before in this blog and The Eurovision Song Contest is a dream for people like me – Endless possibilities when it comes to stats, lists and databases. Who won in which year; where the contest was held; which artist represented each country and so it goes on…
Anyway, in 1967 when I was still only 6 years old I remember using a little blue Silvine notebook to record my family’s verdict on the songs which had made the shortlist as potential contenders for our entry to that year’s contest. I can’t remember if as a family we did pick Puppet On A String but I do remember that we all had to give each song points out of 10 and I was savvy enough to realise that if I started with a lowish score of 5 out of 10 there would be room for manoeuvre. I also can’t remember if we actually sent in our verdict on a postcard (or if you couldn’t afford one of those a stuck down envelope), but for me, it was the start of a long love affair with all things Eurovision. As the years went by I became an even bigger fan of the contest and when colour came to our television screens things just got better and better.
Sadly when my teens and twenties came along, and I found myself a social life, Eurovision lost out as I tended to be out on a Saturday night but it would have been impossible to miss the fact that we won again in 1976 with Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses for Me, and soon after in 1981, with Bucks Fizz and Making Your Mind Up.
The contest at this time was entering a fallow period and it was definitely not cool to admit to being a fan. Terry’s commentary continued to amuse but we didn’t really put up any worthwhile candidates and didn’t win again for another 16 years. During the ’90s however the Celtic Tiger was rearing its head and Ireland won the contest four times in five years. It seemed they could do no wrong and when Bill Whelan’s Riverdance was performed as the interval “filler” during the 1994 contest, a new and very lucrative art form was born. Gone were the days of folksy, green velvet-jacketed Irish dancing and in breezed Michael Flatley and a cast of thousands with their toe and heel-tapping spectaculars. Johnny Logan who won the contest himself for Ireland in 1980 and 1987 also wrote the winning song for Linda Martin in 1992, making him the most successful entrant ever. Wonder if any of this success was down to Terry and his Irish charm?
The times they were a-changing however and when the wall came down, Eastern Europe suddenly wanted to be a part of this music-fest, not realising that here in the UK it was still seen as a bit of light-hearted nonsense. In the rest of Europe, the contest has become a juggernaut of a show with each country putting up their most talented artists and in the build up to the live final, practically bankrupting their country with the promotion of their song. It all got a bit too much for Terry however, and his astute observation that there may well have been some political voting (never!) led to his eventual departure from the commentary box.
Since my daughter has been old enough to enjoy Eurovision with us, it has become one of my favourite nights of the year. We print off the scoresheets, invite friends round, serve the food and drink of the host nation and wave our little flags when the UK entrant appears on stage. Since the debacle of 2003 when Jemini had the distinction of receiving the first ever score of “nil points”, we have generally languished around the bottom of the scoreboard and it is hard to see how things are ever likely to change. We don’t really take it seriously, we are part of the “Big 5” who pay for the thing so go straight through to the final (no-one likes someone to get an unfair advantage) and yes, political voting is absolutely part of the contest and pretty much nobody wants to pal up with us in the world of Eurovision.
You are probably wondering if I am ever going to get round to the song in this post well here we go. Last year after watching the contest for nearly 50 years on television, I went to watch it LIVE in Vienna! We went with our best friends dressed as Bucks Fizz and had the best time ever. As usual the UK came about last but we made loads of new friends and were “papped” constantly in our outfits. The winner was a young Marti Pellow-lookalike called Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden with his fantastic song Heroes. Sweden are now knocking on the door of Ireland’s record of seven wins in the contest with a very impressive six, their first being the song “Waterloo” by the most successful Eurovision act of all time, Abba.
Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw:
There are a lot of problems in the world today and even in Europe we are facing big political decisions in the very near future. I just wish we could gather together some of our leaders for the next Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm. The whole concept behind the contest in the 1950s was to help a war-torn Europe rebuild itself. The European Broadcasting Union set up a committee to search for ways of bringing countries together, via a “light entertainment programme”. From our first hand experience of Vienna, it certainly works and if Angela Merkel and David Cameron want to join us we have a couple of very fetching Bucks Fizz outfits going spare?
(Song by Linnea Deb/Joy Deb/Anton Hård af Segerstad)
Don’t tell the gods I left a mess
I can’t undo what has been done
Let’s run for cover
What if I’m the only hero left
You better fire off your gun
Once and forever
He said go dry your eyes
And live your life like there is no tomorrow son
And tell the others
To go sing it like a hummingbird
The greatest anthem ever heard:
We are the heroes of our time
But we’re dancing with the demons in our minds
We are the heroes of our time
We’re dancing with the demons in our minds
The crickets sing a song for you
Don’t say a word, don’t make a sound
It’s life’s creation
I make worms turn into butterflies
Wake up and turn this world around
He said I never left your side
When you were lost I followed right behind
Was your foundation