"Perhaps the most widely celebrated object of ridicule was the ‘Eurovision Song Contest’, an annual television competition first broadcast in 1970 [sic]. A commercial exercise glossed as a celebration of the new technology of simultaneous television transmission to multiple countries, the show claimed hundreds of millions of spectators by the mid-Seventies. The Eurovision Song Contest — in which B-league crooners and unknowns from across the continent performed generic and forgettable material before returning in almost every case to the obscurity whence they had briefly emerged — was so stunningly banal in conception and execution as to defy parody. It would have been out of date fifteen years earlier. But for just that reason it heralded something new." (Tony Judt, Postwar. A History of Europe since 1945. New York 2005: Penguin Press, pp. 482–483)
"You can't guess my secret from looking at me. There are no outward and visible signs, no giveaway look in my eyes, no tell-tale scarring, that might tell people passing me in the street that I'm a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest. Seriously, I can't get enough of it. I wish it was monthly, weekly even."
(John Peel, A For ABBA, 1993)
The Eurovision Song Contest (French: Concours Eurovision de la chanson), often shortened to ESC, Eurovision, or EuroSong, is an annual song competition held among the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) since 1956.
Each member country submits a song to be performed on live television and radio and then casts votes for the other countries' songs to determine the most popular song in the competition. The contest has been broadcast every year since its inauguration in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the world. It is also one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world, with audience figures having been quoted in recent years as anything between 100 million and 600 million internationally. Eurovision has also been broadcast outside Europe to such countries as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, South Africa, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam, although these countries do not compete. Since 2000, the contest has also been broadcast over the Internet, via the Eurovision website.
Winning the Eurovision Song Contest provides an opportunity for the winning artists to capitalise on the surrounding publicity and further their career. Artists whose international careers were directly launched into the spotlight following their participation at Eurovision include: Italian Domenico Modugno, who came third with the song "Nel blu dipinto di blu" ("In the sky, painted blue", popularly known as "Volare") in 1958; ABBA, who won the contest for Sweden in 1974 with "Waterloo"; Céline Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988 with the French-language song "Ne partez pas sans moi" ("Don't leave without me"); the Spaniard Julio Iglesias, who has sold over 300 million records worldwide; and Bucks Fizz, who won in 1981 for the United Kingdom with "Making Your Mind Up".
Links To Peel
Peel was old enough to remember the early days of the Eurovision Song Contest, which began four years before he moved to the USA. But the earliest known comment on the contest by him was on 15 March 1967 (Radio London), when he mentioned disliking Sandie Shaw's eventual contest winner, "Puppet On A String", stating that it was 'dismal and won't stand much chance in San Remo.'
In December 1967 he made his sole appearance on BBC TV's Juke Box Jury show, and one of his fellow panellists was Britain's Eurovision Song Contest presenter, Katie Boyle. But it seems that Peel started taking an avid interest in the competition the following year, according to an article he wrote for the Observer on 17th May 1987 (later republished in The Olivetti Chronicles):
"Since 1968 when Massiel won for Spain with 'La La La', I have had a well-nigh ungovernable appetite for the Song Contest, an enthusiasm fired by the unchanging rituals of the competition, the increasingly anachronistic songs themselves, and the blatant tactical voting of the national juries."
On many occasions on his shows, Peel would comment on how he was looking forward to seeing the Eurovision Song Contest on television and also on the aftermath.
Peel crushed a rumour that Blind Faith recorded his Eurovision Song Contest song called Ding Dong Billy Bong on his 20 July 1969 show. He also mentioned again on his 31 July 1987 (Radio Bremen) show that he had the song between 1975 and 1976 and wanted it to be a UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, but mentioned that it didn't get very far.
Peel saw the Eurovision Song Contest twice in person: first in 1987 in Brussels, Belgium, where he met the King and Queen of that country; and also in 1989, in Lausanne, Switzerland. On his show of 08 May 1989, he proclaimed the British entry, from Live Report, to be the best in the competition for many years:
"The best record, the best song and certainly the best performance featured in the Eurovision Song Contest for years and years and years - and it only came second. I was outraged."
On the same show, Peel explained why he took such an interest in the competition:
"As regular listeners will know, I'm a great admirer of the Eurovision Song Contest - genuinely so. I mean, I really look forward to it each year, because it does have a kind of innocence and charm to it and things which you don't often get these days, and also the record industry doesn't seem to be terrifically interested in it. And I said rather cynically over the past week that this was perhaps because it as impossible to kind of rig the results in any way, but that's probably not a very discrete thing to say."
Peel would sometimes contribute to documentaries and reports on the Eurovision Song Contest via radio and television, including the behind-the-scenes special John Peel At Eurovision (BBC Radio 1, 1987) and Douze Points (BBC Radio 1, 1989).
Eurovision Songs Played
- 08 April 1981: Finn Kalvik: Never In My Life (English version of Norwegian Eurovision entry that received 'Nul Points' and ended up last)
- 01 April 1982 (TOTP): Bardo - One Step Further ("Our Song for Europe: my song and your song.") (British entry that reached 7th place)
- 28 April 1983 (TOTP): Sweet Dreams - I'm Never Giving Up ("Well what do you think of the song that won the Eurovision Song Contest? Ah, you too eh?")
- 27 April 1987: Vicky Rosti: Sata Salamaa (7") Flamingo (Finnish entry that reached 15th place)
- Peel 060 (BFBS): Novi Fosili: 'Ja Sam Za Ples (I'm Up For A Dance) (7")' (Jugoton) (Yugoslavian entry that reached 4th place)
- 11 May 1987: Rikki: Only The Light (British entry that reached 13th place)
- 11 May 1987: Johnny Logan: Hold Me Now (Irish entry that won the contest)
- 08 May 1989: Live Report: Why Do I Always Get It Wrong? (7") Ariola (British entry that reached 2nd place)
Mentioned In Shows
- 15 March 1967 (Radio London): Peel mentions Sandie Shaw's Puppet On A String has no chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest and calls the record "dismal" and "won't stand much chance in San Remo". In fact the song ultimately won Britain's Eurovision Song Contest of that year.
- 20 July 1969: Peel crushed a rumour that Blind Faith recorded his Eurovision Song Contest song called Ding Dong Billy Bong.
- 24 March 1980: Introduction to show: 'I'm not supposed to mention Newsbeat, of course, but aren't I right in thinking that last year Newsbeat was the Norwegian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, which got no points at all? I think I am.' (John is incorrect: the infamous zero point artist, the first occurrence of such an event, was Jahn Teigen, whose 'Mile After Mile' gained 20th and last place in 1978).
- 26 April 1982: Peel opens the show reciting the first few lines of the year's winning song 'Ein bißchen Frieden' (A Little Peace) by Nicole. "This achingly lovely verse is a translation from the winning German entry in the Eurovision Song Contest and I hope it will mean as much to you as it already means to me."
- 27 April 1987: Peel reveals that he will be going to Belgium for this year's Eurovision Song Contest and says it's a boyhood dream to go there and then plays the Finnish entrant for this year's Eurovision Song Contest by Vicky Rosti.
- 04 May 1987: Peel is looking forward to going to the Eurovision Song Contest at the end of the week.
- 11 May 1987: After returning from the Eurovision Song Contest in Belgium, Peel talks about it in the programme.
- 20 May 1987: Peel mentions today he interviewed Terry Wogan for a Eurovision Song Contest radio programme.
- 31 July 1987 (Radio Bremen): Peel admitted that he had a song called Ding Dong Billy Bong between 1975 and 1976 and wanted it to be a UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, but mentioned that it didn't get very far.
- 03 May 1988: Peel mentions watching the Eurovision Song Contest on TV and says it is one of the greatest he's seen but says none of the songs on it were remotely appealing. However, he did enjoy the Yugoslavian entry and the winning one last year when the contest was held in Belgium.
- 01 November 1988 (Radio Bremen): Peel thinks Robert Lloyd And The New Four Seasons' Nothing Matters track would be a great Eurovision song entry and says the Eurovision Song Contest is the one event that he never misses on television.
- 07 February 1989: Peel mentions looking forward to seeing the Eurovision Song Contest, he hopes that he would go this year to the event in Switzerland and then plays a track from the Swiss band Liliput. Peel eventually did go to Switzerland to see the event and reported for BBC Radio One when he was there.
- 08 May 1989: (JP: "And as regular listeners will know, I'm a great admirer of the Eurovision Song Contest - genuinely so. I mean, I really look forward to it each year, because it does have a kind of innocence and charm to it and things which you don't often get these days, and also the record industry doesn't seem to be terrifically interested in it. And I said rather cynically over the past week that this was perhaps because it as impossible to kind of rig the results in any way, but that's probably not a very discrete thing to say. But at the same time, I was very disappointed that the results went the way they did. I really did think that Live Report should have won it… And I drove down to Lausanne for the event and there will be a report on it at 7.30 on Wednesday evening on Radio One that Mike Hawkes and myself have put together over the weekend.")
- 09 May 1992: Peel mentioned missing watching the Eurovision Song Contest, which he normally watches every year.
- 12 May 1995: (JP: 'Of course, it's now Saturday, it's six minutes into Saturday, in fact. Eurovision Song Contest, eh? How you're going to fit that in with your round the clock listening to Radio 1 I'm not quite sure, but I don't think anything that's going to come up in the Eurovision Song Contest is quite going to beat Cliff Richard singing 'Congratulations' to the Queen Mother on VE Day, which seemed to me to say so much about the state of the nation, really. I mean, it's one of those things that I've been sitting thinking about that for hour on end, and musing on life, and getting really pretty depressed.')
- 15 May 2001: The Eurovision Song Contest had been on the same night as the FA Cup final. "It really was I think the worst ever. Spectacular in its dreadfulness ... majestic in its awfulness. If I say I can't wait until next year's, that would be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is going to have to go some to match this year's."
- 27 May 2003: Peel had watched the 2003 final and was pleased that Turkey were the winners.
- June 2003 (FSK): Peel thought the Eurovision Song Contest was spectacular, but was also embarrassed by the UK entry of Jemini's performance who got zero points in the competition. He goes on to say that they may got zero because of Britain's involvement in the Gulf War.
- 18 May 2004: Peel had not watched this year's final, to his regret.
- Nul Points: A Brief History Of The Eurovision Song Contest
- Douze Points
- A Song For Europe
- Finn Kalvik
- Vicky Rosti
- Johnny Logan
- Live Report