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.
There's always been an air of Channel 5 about the contest - even before Channel 5 existed! Why not let them take over the UK entry and see if Dirty Des can do any better.
There's a theory going round that European countries don't vote for the UK at Eurovision because they all hate us. If that was true, European pop/rock charts would be free of British musical acts instead of being full of them, like they are at the moment and have been for the entirety of my lifetime. No, the reason they don't vote for us is because we persistently send truly terrible songs to the contest. Just sending a fairly well known act ain't enough. You have to send him/her/them with a decent song. Bonnie was sent to Sweden with a song that is so unmemorable that even Brits don't like it. It's currently residing at Number 93 in the charts, three places below Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car', which has been out for a quarter of a century. If people in Bonnie's own country don't like her song, why should we expect people anywhere else to like it?
Well, we can't blame anyone else except ourselves for the race to the lowest common denominator.
If it isn't unmemorable, the UK's entry has all too often been cheap and cheesy.
And that didn't start with the Brotherhood of Man or Buck's Fizz: check out the time we first won, in 1967 in Vienna. Compare our winning song with the one that came fourth (and became one of the most recorded and covered songs ever).
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