ONCE it was a thing of wonder but the Eurovision Song Contest has had its day argues former fan Aidan Smith
Though the event happened almost half a century ago, the memory is so vivid that I can still smell it. It is the smell of sheets and blankets hot with anticipation – my own. I was waiting for my mother and father to enter my bedroom, throw open the curtains and tell me that we’d won the Eurovision Song Contest.
I was too young to stay up for Sandi Shaw’s triumphant rendition of Puppet on a String in 1967 but our house went very European after that. Out went the sheets and blankets, in came duvets. Out went the drab dark brown kitchen table, in came a chunk of zingy Scandinavian stripped pine. We got a Renault 4 – we got a fondue set. We went on our first continental holiday and were the most European family we knew. No-one else had an au pair – and certainly not 11 winsome ones. I can still recite the roll-call, including the nationalities and flavours they brought to our pine table, like you might list kings.
Maybe the barefooted Sandi didn’t solely inspire our Euro makeover but the victory was thrilling. All televised competition was exciting. I wanted Miss Edinburgh North to win Miss Scotland and Miss Great Britain to win Miss World. On Ask the Family I rooted for the Scottish swots. On It’s a Knockout! I cheered for the Scottish idiots. The Eurovision Song Contest, because I hadn’t been allowed to watch, seemed like the most glamorous competition of them all, though the win in ’67 was hardly a surprise. That was the year Sgt Pepper was released. We wrote the best pop songs in the world, didn’t we?
But now I want us out. Out of Europe for good. It’s served its purpose and had its day. To stay would be to invite more humiliation from pipsqueak nations who laugh at our admittedly risible attempts to stay relevant and get annoyed about our lack of commitment. Yes, I want a Brexit from Eurovision.
The contest has changed complexion just as Europe has changed complexion. The show wears a lot of make-up now, and has one eyebrow painted in an outrageous arc. We’ve struggled to work out what that means. Does it signify the end of ironically bad Eurovision, or the beginning of post-ironically bad Eurovision? How camp should we go? How rubbish should we be? No, let’s get the proper songwriters back. But that hasn’t worked either.
We don’t know what we want from Eurovision anymore. To win it again? OK, but how can sitting atop this Euro mountain of disco and dirge be cause for celebration? Maybe we don’t want to be awarded “nul points” again either but I just think in our continued involvement we look like an overgrown schoolboy bumbling around in a kindergarten and trampling on toys which are too babyish for him. In shorts that are way too tight.
To be rude about these pipsqueak nations for a moment, or even more rude, they’ll maybe have two-thirds of their entry complete – working title: La-La… – and will toil right through the unforgivingly harsh winter months to finish it. This eureka moment will be national news. The prime minister no less will announce that the song is good to go and the highest state honour will be conferred on the “composer” of the final segment, the man who transformed La-La… into La-La-La.
To be slightly kinder to these pipsqueak nations, they use Eurovision to be brash and proud about who they are in the new Euro configuration and to renounce the oppression of the past with a provocative sweep of a sequinned cape. That’s all very well but they can’t write songs for toffee – theirs being the rock-hard and tasteless kind your work colleagues bring back from holiday. They will never in a million years match the 11 seconds of magic that comprise the cor anglais solo at the end of The Beatles’ For No One.
Am I musical snob? But of course. Now I know that the Fab Four never dirtied their hands on Eurovision. Puppet on a String, though, was the work of a redoubtable songwriting partnership, and what’s more a 50 per cent Scottish production, being a collaboration between Govan-born Bill Martin and the Irishman Phil Coulter. The pair also wrote Britain’s 1968 entry, Congratulations, and given I’d voted for that one in the postal ballot, my parents let me watch as Cliff Richard was beaten into second place by the Spanish entry – a result which in Eurovision legend is supposed to have been rigged by General Franco.
Maybe it was Cliff’s disastrous return to Eurovision action in 1973 – and his bizarre wobble-legged, high-five-ing performance of Power to All Our Friends – which caused me to worry less about the show and our standing in the continental songwriting stakes. By then I was buying pretentious rock records and sneering at pop. But I’m not going to apologise for my snobbery when we were all it. Katie Boyle’s polite presentation in a floor-length gown, never saying boo to a gas/gans/ganso, had given way to Terry Wogan’s mockery. Initially this seemed highly subversive and very possibly capable of starting a war. But, really, it was nothing more than gentle send-up, done with affection.Still the rest of Europe doesn’t understand Terry, even in the year of his death. The Swedish producer of Saturday’s event, Christer Bjorkman, accuses him of “totally spoiling Eurovision” by fostering the view that it was “irrelevant and kitsch”. This is bilge, like a lot of the self-important entries from this nation.
Others will claim our superiority complex is tied up in isolationism, fear of difference and change and loss of status in the world. More bilge: Eurovision is simply a ridiculous farrago full of rubbish songs. Once on the European landscape Britain stood alone against tyranny. Now is the time for us to face down taffeta.