Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eurovision Memories Part 5: Previews, cassette tape and a vow of silence....

OK it's time for another in my occasional series of random Eurovision memories which I like to share from time to time.
Let's face it, these days in the internet age we are spoiled rotten.  Whilst many casual viewers probably look on the Eurovision Song Contest as a one night only event - they probably don't even know about, or watch, the semi-finals - we fans know better.  It's a year-long event, with a little bit of off-season in the middle.  Every little piece of news, every song/artist announcement is shared, and thanks to the wonders of technology, we can watch national finals and follow the process from beginning to end.
Yet it's hard to believe, especially if you're a 'younger' fan who has embraced the contest in the internet age, that there was once a time when exposure to Eurovision songs was top-secret.  So it was in the 1970s and 1980s (and maybe even the 90s if I remember rightly) that Eurovision songs were chosen, then you weren't allowed to hear them again - apart from your own country's choice of course.
The only way of hearing Eurovision songs before the final was via the Eurovision Song Contest Previews.  In this country, there were usually two programmes, broadcast over two weeks, on a Sunday afternoon.  The previews would consist of a video clip from each country - either a 'music video' or a clip of the national final.  Even as a child, the Eurovision geek in me craved the national final clips, to see the song in a more honest, live form rather than the music videos which often doubled as a tourism clip.  You could bet your life that a contestant from one of the Mediterranean countries would either be walking along a beach, or climbing a mountain, and you could rely on the Greek artist to be wailing against the backdrop of some important ruins.  Over the years, the previews were presented on the BBC by then-TV-royalty, the likes of Michael Aspel, David Hamilton, David Vine, Gloria Hunniford and a certain Mr Terry Wogan, long before the cynicism set in.  The other absolute certainty in the previews was that the United Kingdom entry would be shown last, after all the other entries.
In 1977, I got my first cassette player.  Apart from taping the top 20 off the radio - admit it, we all did it! - I quickly realised that it would be a good idea to tape the preview shows off the telly.  Just stick the cassette player as near to the TV speaker and hey presto!  There were some conditions attached to this of course: if mum and gran were watching, they had to keep quiet so that I could just record the TV sound.  Amazingly, they agreed and would watch in complete silence while I recorded the show!  Once the recording was made, I would play the songs over, and over, and over again.  My 1977 favourites were "Telegram", "A Million In One Two Three" and "Mathema Solfege" which got more plays than most, however it would be fair to say that all of the songs got an equal hearing.
The preview-taping would continue for the next few years.  Later on, I would also record Ken Bruce's Radio 2 commentary, which was always very descriptive and informative, in the hope that I'd pick up some additional snippets of information about the songs and/or artists. 
All good things were to come to an end.  The BBC eventually stopped broadcasting the previews, so it meant that our first hearing of the songs would be in the final.  As I said earlier, it's hard to understand that fact in the internet era.
In the early 2000s, the BBC resurrected the previews in a new format, Liquid Eurovision.  This was an offshoot of BBC Three's daily entertainment round-up Liquid News, presented by the late, much-missed Christopher Price.  In 2002/2003 there was (by UK standards) pretty impressive coverage by BBC Three - back in the days when it was actually quite good - and even after-shows, which came in very handy in 2003 for the Jemini nil-points post-mortems.
Over the past couple of years, Chart Show TV has stepped in with their ESC preview videos - hope they'll be back again this year!
In 2014, we are completely reliant on the internet for our daily Eurovision fix.  It could be argued that there is no longer a need for a preview show.  Which is just as well really, as the BBC shows no interest in resurrecting the preview format.  But we can make our very own preview shows by watching the clips on YouTube, or at, or head on over to SVT Play to watch theirs.  The BBC has, however, announced a pop-up radio station, BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, broadcasting from Thursday 8th May.  This is quite an inspiring move, and hopefully the content will deliver.  (Although I hope they remember to put the shows on iPlayer, in case we won't be around to listen to all the shows as they're broadcast). 
And as for those cassettes?  Well, they survived for a number of years then I started digitising my music collection and unfortunately they were destroyed.  Happily, YouTube is a great source of archive national final footage.  Long may it continue - and it looks as if the EBU's plan to create a massive digital Eurovision archive is under way.  Bring it on!

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