The first time I watched the Eurovision Song Contest was in 1967, and I remember it really well. For those of my readers who won’t immediately know what happened that year, the winning entry was ‘Puppet on a String’, written by Bill Martin and Ireland’s Phil Coulter and performed by Sandie Shaw. It was a runaway success and won by a mile. Sandie Shaw always declared she hated the song and thought it sexist and trivial, but it was difficult not to be carried away by it. Or at least that’s the way it was back then; I have no idea how it would fare today.
Back then it was all so different. Every entry was accompanied by the orchestra of the European Broadcasting Union, and while I cannot remember his name, there was a very respectable looking English gent who chaired the whole proceedings and gave it a degree of gravitas that really wouldn’t work in the show as it is today. There also used to be some folks sitting at desks doing what looked like office work. Anyway, when Sandie Shaw took the prize people felt that it could never again be won by any country other than the UK, and the next three years seemed to bear that out until Dana did it for Ireland. By the way, in 1967 Ireland’s entry was Sean Dunphy with ‘If I Could Choose’ – try entering that today.
So here we are, some decades on, and last night we had another bout of the Eurovision Song Contest. It is compulsive viewing. I don’t care that it’s kitsch, I don’t care that the presenters are almost always an embarrassment, I don’t even care about the obvious geopolitical voting alliances: you just have to watch. And this year there were actually some really good songs. Not the one that won, of course, which was an instantly forgettable number from Azerbaijan, but lots of others. On the BBC, Bandon’s very own Graham Norton is making quite a good fist of the commentary, although (and who’d think you’d need to say that to our Graham) he could actually ratchet up the sarcasm a bit more.
Ireland and the UK both did quite well yesterday. They didn’t win of course, but performed respectably. And this time they got the songs right (as distinct from last year, when both produced totally wrong entries). So what’s missing? Well, about two-thirds of the votes are based on political and cultural alliances. So these islands need to get out there and make some friends fast in the Balkans and the Baltics. There’s no time to lose. And that’s one government policy that will make sense to everyone.