How Terry Wogan sees Europe
So, yet another Eurovision Song Contest, and get another round of chest-beating and sour grapes from people who think that the reason the UK came last was because of a Europe-wide conspiracy against us and in favour of any of those commies to the east. Every year the protests seem to get louder, and every year they annoy me even more.
Apparently it was inevitable that Russia were always going to benefit from “political” voting. So inevitable that I didn’t see anyone predicting it. Terry Wogan himself didn’t, except until Russia started racking up the points at which point it had become an obvious conspiracy.
The thing is, this is nonsense. As Chris Applegate has pointed out, this is the first time Russia has ever won the Eurovision Song Contest. So much for the inevitability of Russia’s success.
While so many wise-guys are quick to say after the event how predictable the result of the ESC was, I’ve yet to see so many people successfully predict who will win beforehand. Derek Gatherer predicts who will win, but only after the semi-finals have taken place. This is a bit like buying a lottery ticket once you know what the first five balls are. Even then, his prediction — Ukraine — was wrong (although close).
There were three specific countries that Terry Wogan said twice during the broadcast would benefit from political voting across Europe. He said this for each of the three countries during their turn, and he said it again during the recap while the phone numbers are displayed on the screen. (Check it on BBC iPlayer.)
The three countries that, according to Terry Wogan, were inevitably going to benefit from political voting? Romania, Albania and Poland. These countries finished 20th, 17th and 24th respectively — out of 25 countries in the final. If there was a conspiracy, whoever was behind it cocked it up big time.
Of course, Terry Wogan could have seen that his theory was bogus if he simply looked at the results of the semi-final (he did do that, didn’t he?). He would have seen that Poland only got through because it was chosen by the jury and did not finish among the top seven chosen by the televote. Albania also just scraped in, having come 7th in the televote.
The fact that Poland came joint-last in the final along with the UK shows just how hollow the ‘bloc votes’ theory is. It is certainly not as simple as “countries in the east are bound to benefit”. Poland’s paltry score of 14 was made up of points from just two countries — Ireland and the UK. The last time I checked, neither of these countries were in eastern Europe.
Furthermore, the past fourteen Eurovision Song Contests have been won by fourteen different countries. This is completely unprecedented in the history of the ESC (the previous longest run being eight). Incidentally, only 7 of those countries can be credibly described as “eastern European”.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that the countries that make up the British Isles have been the most successful in the ESC’s history, Ireland and the UK having won twelve contests between them, including an incredible run of five wins in six years in the mid-1990s. The UK has also finished second 15 times, more than any other country.
Far from becoming predictable, the Eurovision Song Contest is more open than it has ever been. You can put this almost entirely down to the introduction of televoting in 1998. As Chris Applegate says, it is far easier to rig Eurovision when it is just a few jury members rather than the entire population of the EBU countries that have to be manipulated.
All of this is not to say that there is not political (or cultural, or whatever) voting going on. Incidentally, the cultural-similarity argument is quite strong, though not watertight. Even correcting for linguistic and cultural similarities, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania still engage in bloc voting.
Even so, this is a very small number of countries. As Ewan Spence points out most “blocs” consist of 5 or 6 countries.
In fact, Derek Gatherer’s Venn diagram shows that “blocs” are actually as small as two countries, or four at a push. Of course, the UK and Ireland have formed their own little bloc, which is what makes little Britishers’ protests all the more pathetically hypocritical.
As such, the fact that Russia won cannot credibly be blamed on bloc voting. In order to win the ESC, any country has to appeal beyond their bloc and gain votes from across Europe. For this reason, the idea of entering different songs for England, Scotland, etc. (or even full-on independence — any excuse to bring that up, eh? 😉 ) so that the UK could engage in its own bloc voting would fail.
The ESC Today website has analysed the votes of “western” and “eastern” European countries separately. What they show is that even in the western-only table, Russia came fifth. That’s not a win, but it is only 13 points behind the western winner, Greece. Also of note in the western-only table is the fact that Germany finished bottom and the UK also did very badly. Meanwhile, in the eastern-only table, Poland finish joint bottom with nul points.
Clearly, blaming the iron curtain as Terry Wogan does (hopefully in jest) is wide of the mark. Even locking the eastern Europeans out of the voting, eastern Europeans would still pick up plenty of points.
The thing about the “bloc votes” theory is that it’s just the sort of thing that becomes true if you just say it often enough. Ignorance has a lot to do with it.
Recently I had the misfortune to catch an episode of The Paul O’Grady Show where Terry Wogan was a guest talking about the ESC. He mentioned in passing that Azerbaijan were participating for the first time — to hoots of laughter from the audience. “Azer-ban-jan?!”, yelped O’Grady. “I’ve never even heard of Azer-ban-jan! Is it even in Europe?” I hope O’Grady was joking (though there’s every chance he wasn’t), but I just know that some of the laughing audience members were thinking exactly that.
I think for a lot of people, the Eurovision Song Contest is perhaps the only time of the year they discover a Europe beyond, say, the EU-12 or the iron curtain or Mediterranean holiday resorts. In a contest of 41 countries, and with many well-known western European countries (Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg) declining to participate, the chances are high that the winning country will be one that many people couldn’t point to on a map. It might be as if “eastern Europe” is just one big country for these people.
If a country people can’t point to on a map (or those dirty commies in Russia) wins the ESC rather than a country a stone’s throw away from the UK, people jump to conclusions and start concocting the conspiracy theories. So if Russia wins, it’s political voting because eastern Europeans don’t want Russia to shut down the gas pipe. If Serbia wins, it’s the Balkan bloc voting that did it. If Finland wins, it’s the Scandinavian bloc vote. And so on.
Well here is a radical idea. Perhaps the countries that win the Eurovision Song Contest do so because they write songs that appeal to a wide variety of European countries and performed well on the night.
The real reason the UK tends to do so poorly in the ESC these days is that its entries are so mediocre. The UK seems to alternate between entering a song that is overtly camp and too knowing and / or stupid to be taken seriously (Scooch, Jemini, Daz Sampson) and insipid, bland, instantly forgettable dross (Javine, James Fox, Andy Abraham). It’s no accident that the last time the UK won the ESC back in 1997, it was with a song that was actually quite good (and incidentally holds the record for the largest winning margin in the ESC) and performed by a well known band and not some reality TV reject?
I mean, really, what can the UK expect if it enters someone like Andy Abraham? The man lost at The X Factor for crying out loud. What made anyone think he would win Eurovision?! As for the performance, it was nothing to write home about was it? Terry Wogan said he liked it, but I seem to remember he said the same about Jemini’s notoriously bad performance.
Blaming the UK’s loss on bloc voting when there are more sensible explanations just reflects badly on Wogan and all the others who bring up this red herring. It comes across as sour grapes.
I suppose the question is, does the UK really want to win Eurovision? The ESC is seen as trashy kitsch by most in the UK. This helps explain why most of the UK’s entrants these days are desperate reality television losers. Some countries may see the ESC as a joke, but others are clearly passionate to win the contest. Russia in particular tends to enter more famous artists. Their performer this year, Dima Bilan, is one of the country’s biggest pop stars who is on the verge of making a name for himself internationally.
It seems to me as though there are many countries who want to win the Eurovision Song Contest much more than the UK wants to. So why not let them win rather than throwing your hands up and shouting “conspiracy”?
As for Terry Wogan’s hints that he may quit Eurovision, I do hope he calls it a day. I can’t stand his commentary. The man is not a fraction as funny as he thinks he is. He mistakes rudeness for wit. He has been past it for as long as I can remember. If he quits, I hope Paddy O’Connell get the job. He has always done a fantastic job at commentating during the semi-final. He is witty but not cynical, and obviously still likes the ESC, unlike Wogan.