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Terry Wogan:
"My long and happy journey with the Eurovision Song Contest"

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Terry Wogan - who sadly died on 31st January 2016 - first commentated on the Eurovision Song Contest for BBC Radio in 1971. He went onto do the television commentary for BBC One in 1973 and 1978, as well as some radio commentaries in the intervening period. From 1980 to 2008 he did the BBC television commentary every year, as well as being the co presenter of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998. In addition he was frequently the presenter of the United Kingdom finals between 1977 until 2008.

He had the opportunity to address the Eurovision TV Summit in Lucerne, Switzerland on 6th May 2009. He recalled fondly the television show that has been so long associated with, starting with the 1971 contest in Dublin, to his final commentary for the BBC in Belgrade, Serbia in 2008. Here are some of the highlights of his speech to those who were present.

“I had presented the contest from Birmingham, United Kingdom the year Dana International won, and I’m bound to say that I did laugh heartily, remembering how Dana had decided to change her dress when it was announced that she/he was the winner. Leaving me standing speechless in front of one hundred million viewers, while she changed…That was tough, particularly as I had not only presented the show, but, had to jump off the stage and run round the back to do the commentary. I lost weight that evening!”

“Dangerous work, commentating. I remember the Contest staged in Luxembourg, (1973) when the terrorist threat of Black September meant that the hall was ringed by armoured cars and heavily armed troops. Inside, just before the show started the floor manager announced :”Do not stand up to applaud during the show, or you may be shot by security”. It had a slightly depressing effect on the show. ..”

Although sometimes he might get his facts and figures mixed up, “ I remember a night, I think it was Malmo, Sweden, [it was actually Lausanne, Switzerland] when an elaborate routine that took ten minutes to set up, and was supposed to culminate, as in the legend of William Tell, with an arrow piercing an apple on a young boy's head, culminated instead, after all the preparation and the flashing lights, with the arrow missing the apple…”. He nevertheless continued to show an affection for the programme , “And if only I could remember half the foolishness…And you ask me if I love the Eurovision? How could I not ?

It wasn’t just the main contest that came in for some remarks from Sir Terry.

“As to interval acts, could I make a plea on behalf of all radio commentators ? Could you make sure that they’re musical? Trying to commentate for fifteen minutes, on Mime acts, jugglers or clowns or any kind of silent performance, that the listeners can’t see, is not easy, to say the least, and usually results in the radio commentator handing back to his home network for a selection of Eurosong hits…"

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He continued “I’m not here to criticise, I’m here to extol the virtues of the world’s greatest international television event, but if I might make just one little professional point : Please, producers, don’t try to be funnier than the Contest. I’m thinking particularly of the Green Room section of the show, when the votes are coming in. Every year, it’s an unfunny, unmitigated disaster, as two other presenters try to inject a spirit of knockabout, spontaneous humour into the event. Look, the Eurovision is exciting, camp, foolish, spectacular fun. You can’t top it with amateurish, unstructured, silliness. Just talk to the performers. Let their excitement and laughter speak for itself…”

On the positive side he went on
“It’s what the Eurovision Song Contest is about: fun. It’s Light Entertainment, the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world, and certainly over the last few years, the most brilliantly produced three and a half hours of live television ever seen…. It’s great to celebrate when your country’s song wins. Just remember, the following day, every other country has forgotten about it. It’s a marvellous, colourful occasion, but it’s a one-night wonder, like all television programmes”.

He concluded his speech by summing up “You must never, no matter how big this Contest may become in the future, never forget what it’s really about: Nations coming together in friendly musical competition…. I’m immensely flattered that you have invited me to speak to you. It’s a memory I will carry with me as warmly as my memories of all the Eurovisions that I was privileged to attend. I’ve already made my farewells to the great British public, and now I must make them to you. Keep the flames of friendship and song burning. I’ll be watching…..”

source EBU 6th May, 2009