May can only mean one thing. Eurovison. (Well actually, Eurovision, the FA Cup, the Champions League Final and the end of the domestic football season…but mainly Eurovison). Eurovision is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it (actually I don’t mind Marmite, but I wouldn’t rave over it. I’ve pretty much just undermined that analogy haven’t I?). This year the show is being shown in USA for the first time. Goodness knows what they will make of it. And last year Australia joined us…yeah I don’t understand that either. But Eurovision has never made sense, and long may it never do so.
Today it may be the biggest, campest annual celebration, but like so many things, its origins were not where you would expect. It’s all down to the EBU boffins. (Have you noticed that only newspapers use the word “boffins” to describe people cleverer than themselves? “Chiefs” is another one. Why is it always “Council Chiefs”? Surely in this day and age that would be classed as being derogative to Native Americans…or am I reading too much into this? Anyway, back to the EBU boffins). The EBU (European Broadcasting Union) was created to bring a sort of unity across Europe after half a century of…well ununity. One of the roles of the EBU was to bring technical harmony across Europe (hence the reason European tellies are PAL instead of the American NTSC, Except for France who used SECAM. Typical French). Anyway, one day in the 1950’s the engineering department of the EBU were stroking their beards and smoking their pipes and began considering whether an event could be staged that would link together all the EBU countries (of which there were only 10 in those days). Admittedly the European Cup was televised across Europe, but that was just an outside broadcast from one place. What these crazy sock and sandal wearers wanted was an event that everybody could contribute to. Hence the Eurovison Song Contest was formed …as a technical exercise, nothing to do with entertainment.
The formation of the Eurovision Song Contest must go down as one of those happy accidents, like the discovery of Post It notes and the slinky. To be honest, nothing has changed. Faceook, Twitter and Google were not created for fun; they were created because some nerds thought it would be a good idea to see if they could. (Can I just ask…is geek offensive and nerd not? Or is it vice versa? Or does one out nerd/geek the other? It’s very hard to know what to call people these days without causing offense. I remember the days when a geek/nerd was just known as a boffin. Happy days.) So the contest was formed and it actually became very popular. In Europe. In the UK we knew that this was just an engineering exercise and so never made a real effort. Occasionally we got lucky and won, but the problem with that was that we had to stage the blooming thing. Between the 60’s and 80’s it was acceptable to host the event in a local conference centre (Harrogate and Brighton being examples of two peaceful towns who had their Saturday night ruined. It must have been like all of the UK’s twin towns turning up at once in one location). But then in the 90’s it all got a bit silly. More countries came into Europe and the EBU and the event got bigger. Semifinals were needed to thin out the numbers and t suddenly became, well, serious. The last time the UK won it was in 1997 and so the next year we had to find somewhere to host the flaming thing, not to mention 2 hosts. One host was obvious, Sir Terry, but what about the other one? Well as luck would have it, Ulrika Jonsson had just finished filming Gladiators at the NIA in Birmingham and said there was a good Travelodge close by, so suddenly both problems resolved themselves. When you now look back at that show, it looks a bit small compared to what we witnessed from Stockholm this weekend.
Some countries seemed to actively not want to win it as they could not afford to stage it (yes, we are talking about you Spain and Greece). Actually Spain and the UK do share a common problem (and I’m not talking about expats and criminals on the run on the Costa del Sol). We are both one of the Big 5. Now this may sound impressive, but it isn’t really. The Big 5 are the 5 countries who have contributed the most money to the EBU/Contest and so get automatic entry; thus there is no chance that we would get knocked out in the semis by Germany on penalties. The remaining big 5 countries are Italy, France and Germany. Basically, the Big 5 were decided by the modern languages curriculum of any 1970’s UK school. The problem we have by not being in the semifinals is that no one knows our songs. By the time I watched last night’s final I was used to the gothic hen party from Serbia, the curly haired Amy Adams lookalike from Belgium and even the Australian lady who appeared to have come dressed as toilet roll holder. But I had no idea about the Bjork look-a-like from Germany or the dungaree clad lass from Italy, not to mention the Frenchman who sang the chorus in English.