Dougal: I've got Eurosong fever, Ted.
Ted: Yeah?
Dougal: Oh god, yeah. I love the Eurosong competition. I just can't wait. What time is it now?
Father Ted: Half past one.
Dougal: Half one?! And the competition is on in...
Father Ted: May.
- Scene from the Father Ted episode 'Song for Europe'.

One of the current trends on social media sites is the whole, “what was number one when you were born” question. The answer can be worn as a badge of honour or a cause of social embarrassment – a quick glance at some of my friends’ answers offers such diverse musical offerings as Elvis’ 'Way Down', Chicago’s 'If You Leave Me Now', and 'The Roussos Phenomenon' by Demis Roussos.

My sister-in-law and I, I’m afraid, share a shameful secret. Despite being born five years apart, we suffer from a mutual malaise – we were both born under the shadow of Eurovision. I was born when the Brotherhood of Man’s 'Save Your Kisses for Me'was atop the charts, while in Alison’s case, it was Bucks Fizz with 'Making Your Mind Up'. Oh, the shame.

Eurovision didn’t always have its current reputation. It wasn’t always a camp celebration of naff-ness. And it started with the best possible of intentions. In the 1950s, with Europe being rebuilt after the war, the European Broadcasting Union assembled a committee to use light entertainment to bring its member countries together. At a meeting of the EBU in Monaco, chairman Marcel Bezençon floated the idea of an international song contest, and Eurovision was born.

The first contest was held in Switzerland in 1956, with a mere seven countries competing, and the contest has been an annual event ever since. Strangely, no prize was ever offered for the contest’s winner – except, of course, the prestige of having won – while a trophy is presented to the winning song’s composer and the winning country is invited to host the following year’s competition. In 1995, Ireland, who were in line to host the contest for the fourth consecutive year, asked the EBU to amend the rules so that they would not be expected to host the following year’s contest should they win – they needn’t have bothered, they came a lowly 14th. The Irish dominance of Eurovision in the early-nineties did have one other notable first – the 1994 Dublin show featured as its interval entertainment the first international glimpse of 'Riverdance'. Thank-you Ireland…

Thus far, fifty one countries have entered the competition at least once, with twenty six having won. Ireland has won the competition more than any other country with seven wins while France, Luxembourg and the UK lie in second place with five wins. Ireland also holds the honour of being the only country which has won with the same performer twice with Johnny Logan winning in 1980 and 1987. Poor old Norway became the first country to receive the infamous 'nul points' for their 1978 entry, 'Mil Etter Mil (Mile after Mile)', while the youngest winner was Belgium’s Sandra Kin who won, aged 13, with the 1986 song 'J’aime la Vie'. Awww, sweet.

Musically, one could never say that Eurovision entries have been particularly challenging – they tend to languish in the bubble-gum end of the pop scale. This is probably due to the massive differences in pop sensibilities between the participating countries. Trash, it seems, is a musical lingua franca.

The major criticism of Eurovision these days is the political nature of the voting. Historically, each country’s votes were agreed upon by a panel of “experts”, but since 1997 a telephone voting system has been in place with each country hosting a public vote. Each country can award twelve countries points, ranging from 1-12, based on their preferences. There have, however, been criticisms of voting patterns over the years, and it is easy to see why. When analysed, voting patterns do display patterns of cliques or voting blocks. Indeed, Derek Gatherer in his extremely enlightening 'Comparison of Eurovision Song Contest Simulation with Actual Results Reveals Shifting Patterns of Collusive Voting Alliances'( 'Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation', vol. 9, no. 2. 31 March 2006) cites at least two occasions when voting blocs have artificially affected the outcome of the contest. It’s a shame, because there could, if the voting were operated objectively, be a really interesting contest.

Indeed, if I were a big act, there is no way I would put my name to an entry in the knowledge that there was little or no chance of my winning – for some reason, the UK has not fared terribly well since Afghanistan and Iraq…

Eurovision nearly – NEARLY – became very interesting in 2007. When Daz Sampson's song, 'Teenage Life', came fifth from last in the 2006 contest, a truly unexpected Eurovision fan came forward. “Why didn’t they ask me?” asked Morrissey. Yes, Morrissey. Morrissey offered to write and perform the UK’s 2007 entry, on the proviso that he wouldn’t have to compete with anyone else for the UK entry. “Cliff Richard didn’t have to,” he said, “So why should I?” In the end, Moz was told that he’d have to go through the usual selection process and withdrew his offer. It would have been great to see Morrissey on Eurovision, and would have lent the contest some much-needed gravitas. Sadly, it was not to be.

So who will win this year? I’ll make the following predictions: The UK will award Ireland maximum points, and Ireland will reciprocate. Greece and Cyprus will award each other maximum points. Derek Gatherer identified five distinct voting blocs: The Pyrenean Axis, The Partial Benelux, The Viking Empire, The Warsaw Pakt and The Balkan Bloc, all of whom traditionally score each other highly.

Still, forget all this. When this year’s contest kicks off in Baku on May 25, I’ll be kicking back with a few beers and giggling at the outrageous performances, the often-bizarre music, the borderline-racist commentaries – everything about it is appealing to me. Yes, it’s a piece of camp ephemera, but it’s a hugely enjoyable one. It’s an excuse to kick off the shackles of musical snobbery for an evening and just have a giggle. So go on – embrace your inner adoration of tat! You have my permission.

Oh, and if anyone’s interested, my money’s on those two Irish fellas…







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