The UK at Eurovision … We used to be good once

For the fourth part of my look at the woes of the Big 5 we focus on the country of my birth, Estonia … no, the United Kingdom of stuff.

It began so well

Image result for Golden YearsIf France was the doyenne of the formative years of Eurovision, then the UK was arguably the major player in its adolescence. 1967 to 1977 were arguably the golden years. The Brits had three wins (1967, 1969 and 1976. Five second places (1968, 1970, 1972, 1975 and 1977) added to five from the previous decade. The UK came third in 1973. Two fourth-place finishes rounded off eleven years where they were never out of the top four.

In fact, if we go back to 1957 the UK only finished outside the top four twice – in 1957 and 1966. They didn’t take part in 1956 and 1958.

All this made the UK a force in the contest. Famous singers queued up to represent the country at Eurovision. Anyone entering was guaranteed a hit record.

But change was afoot …

A postcard from the UK at EurovisionA change in selection procedure, from public postcard vote to regional juries, in 1978 saw a slight dip in fortunes. But the wins kept coming, with a fourth victory in 1981.

Longer term, the introduction of juries saw results slide. The UK missed out on the top three and a single fourth place in 1985 led to a return to trusting the public to pick a winner.

Things picked up. There were four second places in the six years that followed, but ultimately fortunes declined again. It took Jonathan King and his puffa jacket of musical destiny to right the ship. Under his tutelage, the UK had its first massive Eurovision hit in many years with Gina G. This was followed by a win in 1997 and a second place in 1998. King’s subsequent fall from grace, it could be argued, was the start of the current malaise.

The wilderness Wogan years

Image result for Wilderness WoganWhen the results stopped being good, the public started to desert the contest, aided and abetted by (the late) Terrence Wogan. More and more, he uses his job as BBC commentator to ridicule Eurovision. British viewers saw Wogan as the face of Eurovision and his annual drubbing reduced its status.  His constant jibes were reflected in the quality of songs and thus the results. The BBC relied on Wogan’s increasingly xenophobic slant. During the voting, he dismissed nations voting for near neighours as ‘political voting’, dismissing any possibility that it might be down to cultural similarities. What hope was there to tempt established songwriters or performers to the Eurovision stage?

The lows

captureBetween that last win in 1997 and Wogan’s retirement in 2008, the UK managed to finished once in second and once in third. After this, there were many less impressive results. Three times the BBC came last. Scooch, Andy Abrahams, James Fox, Javine and Daz Sampson performed woefully inadequate and ill-thought songs. Was it any wonder that Europe took one look and said: ‘Are you having a laugh?’. That was precisely how it seemed.

The UK stopped taking the contest seriously because, it can be argued, that was what the BBC wanted. Nobody at the corporation actively stopped Wogan. He continued to spread ill will around Europe. By saying nothing, they encouraged him.

Wogan knew Eurovision had 300 million viewers, but it suited the BBC to have him run it down. They framed the contest as a joke. A bit of fun. To fans this came over as incredibly myopic and downright stupid.

It was not until Wogan and the then Head of Delegation moved on, that the BBC started to try again. By this time, song writers and performers saw Eurovision as lacking in credibility.  It took Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, a threat not to go to the contest and Jade Ewen to start saving the day.

It wasn’t their time, it was hers

Image result for Francine and Nicola GleadallIn 2009, the BBC pitched Eurovision: Your Country Needs You as a variation on ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’. While that show rescued a flagging West End musical, this one was to rescue the BBC’s lowly reputation at the contest.

Wise viewers knew the show was in trouble from the get go. At the end of the first episode, an unseen someone withdrew. What a drama! If only there happened to be someone waiting in the wings to take their place. There was. Jade Ewen stepped in. She might as well have worn a t-shirt that said ringer.

Ewen was clearly the best singer and ended up in the final with Francine and Nicola Gleadall and some other bloke. It was clear to all watching that Jade was the BBC’s favourite. Andrew Llloyd Webber threatened not to go to Moscow unless “the right singer won”. He might as well have added a knowing wink. Ewen duly won. Promoting the hell out of the song was the right thing to do. The UK ended in fifth place with 172 points.

That sounds shite to us …

Image result for Seriously?Sadly, the following year the BBC forgot everything. It was almost like they had forgotten to fail in 2009. In 2010, we ended up with semi professional wedding singer and all around nice bloke Josh Dubovie. The Beeb saddled him with a Stock Aitkin and Waterman song previously tucked away in a file marked “toss”.

Internal vision

In 2011, the BBC had had enough with the British people and went all internal. Someone decided it might be worth trying to commission a song that happened to be good. They started out well. Grown-up boy-band Blue and “I Can” ended up in eleventh place. From then, on the decision making got more and more bizarre. Two has-beens, Englebert and Bonnie Tyler were given the job in 2012 and 2013.

Predictable failure followed even if the songs were semi decent. The BBC turned properly inward in 2014 with #lovelymolly from BBC Introducing. The song was good enough, but viewers and juries overlooked it. Electro Velvet was an attempt to get people cheering, but it just made them cringe. It was all neon shades of wrong for Eurovision. Last year, XFactor’s Joe and Jake failed to make a dent in the televote (despite doing good business with the jury).

So what now then?

Image result for British coinsThat really is the 64 million pence question. In many people’s eyes, the UK need to have a public selection. But is that really the best way to go? Honey G is in the XFactor … do you trust the public again? Is the onus on the BBC to ensure that doesn’t happen again by going internal? Do they make sure that the songs the public do get to hear are of decent quality? Yes, probably, in my opinion.

The “Great British Public” should not have a say in this.

The BBC needs to lay down a marker for rebuilding the contest in the public psyche and for their credit, they have moved on to being “sensible” about the contest.

A free man

Guy Freeman has come back to the fold and realised that “fans” know something, though not everything, about Eurovision. He’s employed a record exec Hugh Goldsmith to get some talent in (because without a name, it’s unlikely any record company worth their salt would put in some talent of their own. Eurovision is toxic, don’t you know?).

This seems like its the right way to go but for those of you expecting a win any time soon, sorry, that chalice was poisoned long ago.

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7 years ago

First a little bit of history correction:
1976 – 3rd win
1981 – 4th win
1980 – Irish win-Johnny Logan and all-so no UK win on that year.

If the regional juries were introduced in 1988 how come a 4th place in 1985 meant the end of juries. Something in this time line is not correct

Second-The big question- what to do?
Freeman is doing the right thing by trying to win the public confidence but for that he need to have some well known/good artist to further show the public that Eurovision isn’t the joke Terry Wogan made them think it is.Maybe the Dutch way is the way the BBC should take(not always successful, 2015 anyone?), but after 4 years, the AVROTROS has more choice of artists who want to do Eurovision and that already is a progress.

BBC need to go to school and learn how you stage a song in the modern Eurovision.