Monday, June 28, 2010

How do you solve a problem like the UK at Eurovision?

So it's official - the UK's dismal showing at this year's Eurovision Song Contest had nothing to do with political voting. Even if only the juries had voted, the UK would still have finished in 25th and bottom place. It wasn't really the fault of the singer Josh Dubovie, who performed well enough and by all accounts was a fantastic ambassador for his country in Oslo. The problem was the song - and it's extraordinary that it should be that way round given that the BBC commissioned a big-name songwriter and paired him with an inexperienced 19-year-old performer. That Sounds Good to Me was so dated it would have been lucky to limp to seventh place in 1986. I find it almost impossible to believe that even the conventional open national selections we had pre-2004 wouldn't have turned up a better song.

So what's the solution? The BBC have tried just about every permutation over the years - an internally selected high-profile performer, but open selection for the song from 1992-94, an internally commissioned batch of songs from higher-profile-than-usual performers from 2004-08, and an internally selected song from a high-profile songwriter, with a casting show to select the performer over the last couple of years. But it has to be said the best results for the UK (both in the literal sense and in the sense of boosting the credibility of the contest) occurred in the mid-to-late 90s under the direction of the now disgraced "pop mogul" Jonathan King. That period marked a return to a conventional open selection, but with a much more proactive effort than ever before to encourage talented songwriters and performers to take part, and with the guiding principle that the national final should cover as many musical types as possible. 1995 and 1996 in particular were probably the highest-quality and most varied national finals the UK has ever had. So perhaps that's the most promising way forward - under a very different supremo, it goes without saying.

It's essential that the selection remains on primetime TV, though - the brief 1990s "golden age" was essentially brought to an end by the disastrous decision to shunt the show onto a graveyard Sunday afternoon slot. It wasn't so bad when the songs were still being initially showcased on the National Lottery show or Top of the Pops, but even that lifeline was taken away in 2000. The predictable result was a dramatic decline in the quality of songs being entered, ultimately leading to the "nul points" debacle in 2003.


  1. Ah fully agree, open selection has tae be the best way, BBC should tak a leaf oot ma pal Simon's book. Ye see, if the weans get tae play a pairt in choosin oor entry, then they'll watch the Contest an' mibbe even tak it seriously.

    Ah'm still mortified fer puir Pete. Whit wis he thinkin o'? D'ye think he wis sittin there in Oslo slowly realisin how auld he'd got? Nae wonder the Reynolds Lassies keep their distance noo.

  2. It's a terrible confession, Sophia, but I had to Google the Reynolds Girls. Judging from their Wikipedia entry, I'm quite glad I wasn't previously aware of their existence!