14 Things You Genuinely Didn’t Know About The Eurovision Song Contest

Each year, our fine continent’s cultural trouts and tiddlers wriggle together to suck at the very Euroteat of Eurodiversity. They wear Euroshoes, drink Eurobooze, and then they sing some songs and invite each other to pick the least worst one. The 45th version of a contest referred to by the French cultural minister as “a monument to drivel” will be held in a big dome in Stockholm, Sweden (remember last year’s winner Charlotte Nilsson? – thought not). Bubblegun salutes the ESC in all its disturbingly compulsive, kitschy audacity…

  1. The first contest was held in Switzerland in 1956. It was a by-product of a plan by all the state-run European TV networks to pool their resources and share the then-astronomical costs of actually making TV programmes. With no satellites, landlines were laid to link up the countries and cosy, Euro-modulated sport, plays, news and documentary shows were rustled up. Someone suggested calling the landline link-up ‘Eurovision’. And then someone else suggested a Euro-wide contest of songs. Hence ‘Eurovision Song Contest’. Is that clear?

  2. The official entry rules state: “The lyrics and/or performance of the song must not bring the contest into disrepute”. Which is why you’re unlikely to see Cradle Of Filth’s ‘I Raped The Virgin Mary And Hung The Bastard Christ’ receiving a Euro-airing.

  3. This year, the UK will be represented by Nicki French, with the fate-temptingly titled ‘Don’t Play That Song Again’. You may not wish to remember that Ms French had a hit in 1995 with an abysmal discoed-up version of ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’.

  4. The German entry for 2000, ‘Wadde Hadde Dudde Da’, is sung by a man called Stefan Rabb, who is clearly TV’s Ali G.

  5. Selective memory tells us that Cliff Richard won the contest in 1968, with retchingly up-beat, clap-happy love song ‘Congratulations’. He didn’t. He came second.

  6. Ireland have won the most times (7), while the accepted emperors of ‘Nul points’, Norway, have actually won more times than Germany (2 to 1).

  7. In 1985, presenter Lill Lindfors’ skirt was ripped off on-stage by a jutting nail in the set. It was a stunt, but the European Broadcasting Union weren’t amused and have since banned such needlessly entertaining behaviour.

  8. Last September, the EBU pointlessly ruled that Croatia’s 1999 entry score be reduced by 33%, because the song, ‘Maria Magdalena’ used synthesised male backing voices, while no male singers were on-stage.

  9. Way before Titanic transformed Celine Dion into a friend of the bereaved (‘My Heart Will Go On’ is the most popular song to be played at funerals in the UK and US), the moose-featured old squawker won at 1988 Eurovision with ‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi’, which almost means ‘They Do Not Know Why I Am Without Me’.

  10. 10. Earnest Italian sweat factory Julio Inglesias denies he ever participated in Eurovision. But he did, in 1970, with a sphincter-sealing monstrosity by the name of ‘Gwendolyne’. Which didn’t win.

  11. Eurovision winners tend to spend a year milking their decreasingly illustrious status on Finnish variety shows and Eurotrash before slouching into obscurity. Apart from ABBA. And one Udo Juergens, the 1966 German winner who went on to become an enormous hit with post-menopausal Austrian and German women. In a desperate attempt to shake off the Teutonic Barry Manilow image, Udo recorded a manly, but ill-fated album of football songs with the 1978 German squad.

  12. You stand a better chance of winning if you’re a lone female artiste. Ignoring the bands, 27 Eurowinners have been ladies, while only 7 have been men. Israel’s 1998 winner Dana International was a bit of both who, unsurprisingly, has since paid the rent as a Shirley Bassey-wannabe mardi gras favourite. She also fell over when handing the heavy trophy to last year’s winner. Which was quite funny.

  13. Pretend rubbish singer-songwriter John Shuttleworth once genuinely tried to submit his song, Pigeons In Flight, to Norwegian Eurovision officials (“Pigeons in flight/I want to see you tonight/I want to hold you/If I may be so bold to/And tell you some things that you’d like/To hear/Oh my dear/In your ear”). Shuttleworth impresses the entry committee, but is thwarted by the lateness of his submission. Trust us. It’s funny. Hear it on The Shuttleworths 2 CD/Cassette from the BBC Radio Collection.

  14. Part of the fun of watching Eurovision lies in tracking the blatant cultural favouritism and political sulking which never fail to seep out in the voting stage. Norway loves Sweden and Greece loves Cyprus, which hates Turkey. Croatia loves Bosnia, but Israel hates Germany. Oh, and Russia are always pretty sneery towards former Soviet republics Lithuania and Estonia. This year, keep an eye on the French-British angle (following the beef barney) and see if Euro 2000 co-hosts Holland and Belgium are extra-nice to each other.

The 45th Eurovision Song Contest is on BBC1, Saturday 13th May, 8pm.  

Andy Lowe

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