Every year since 1997, the UK has turned up at the Eurovision Song Contest, participated, expected to do half decently, and most of the time come away with zilch, with pundits asking if we should bother. I mean, this time we sent Bonnie Tyler, and she’s been Number One more than once. But Ms Tyler is not someone at the peak of her career, and thus our problem with the event.
Singers and songwriters who can make a decent crust elsewhere are not going to trouble themselves with a one-off competition that might look bad on their CV if they don’t walk away with it. So the singers are either unknowns or have already made their pile of dosh. It was not always thus: the problem used to be that we regularly came second, and by heck, did we complain about it.
Also causing grumbles – this before we joined the then EEC – was that we ended up hosting Eurovision when others pleaded poverty. London had staged the contest twice before the UK’s first win, with Edinburgh and then Brighton stepping in in the early 70s (the former was after Monaco had bodyswerved hosting after winning in 1971. Yeah, Monaco couldn’t find a suitable venue. Like hell it couldn’t).
But we were better than those dastardly foreigners, even when they won. When Cliff Richard was beaten by the Spanish in 1968, there were mutterings of fixes. He couldn’t possibly have lost in a fair fight to a girl singing “La, La La La, La La La, La La La”, could he? Er, yes he could. Cliff got another chance in 1973. This time he came third. You guessed it, Spain were second.
And we kept getting suckered into more: Mary Hopkin was going to win, until the pesky Irish in the shape of Dana came along. The re-formed Shadows (the NME rather cruelly headlined the event “Ex-Group Exhumed Shock”) lost to a really crap song from the Netherlands. And The New Seekers did their polished best, only to be ambushed by Vicky Leandros, an expat Greek singing for Luxembourg.
Those artists were chart-toppers at the time, though, and that’s the difference, as well as there being so many more countries taking part. When the UK first took part – 1958, the second year of the contest – there were ten entries. Now, there have to be semi-finals to get the overall number down from the high 30s to 26. There is so much to sit through. Yet still the punters tune in.
Eurovision is also ridicule proof: when the Pythons depicted a fictional contest in 1972, won by “Bing Tiddle Tiddle Bong” (the UK’s joint winning 1969 entry might just have been in their thoughts), with another of the songs called “Ding Ding A Dong”, three years later, the winning song was called ... Ding Ding A Dong. Yes, it’s so daft, it’s impossible to ridicule it. But we still want to win it.
Sadly, we don’t look like adding to the five wins or fifteen second places right now.