Eurovision: 50 years ago today the Eurovision Song Contest came to Edinburgh
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That Eurovision arrived in the capital 50 years ago today was a whim of fate. The city inherited the final when 1971 winners Monaco realized they were unable to provide a venue to host the following year’s event, as it was, and it’s always the tradition.
The responsibility of producing and finding a venue for the 1972 final ultimately fell to the BBC who chose Edinburgh, the first time a venue outside of London had been selected for a UK final. Usher Hall, with a capacity of just under 3,000, was the preferred venue and internationally renowned Scottish ballet dancer Moira Shearer was chosen to present the annual song festival. Distinctive tones from actor Tom Fleming provided the commentary.
Representing the UK that year, The New Seekers with the song Beg, Steal Or Borrow. Against 17 other countries, they were the respectable finalists for Luxembourg’s Vicky Leandross, whose song Apres Toi collected 128 points against 114 for the United Kingdom.
Even back then, organizing the contest was considered a prestigious honor and a huge undertaking for any broadcaster. The man responsible for transforming Usher Hall’s choir stage and loft into a glittering television set that would be seen around the world was famed light entertainment director Terry Hughes. His vision saw a large screen on stage featuring each country with an image of their act, name and song title, while swirling animations played on the screen behind them as they performed.
The screen also showed the interval act from the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, however, this was not live. Instead, archival footage of the Edinburgh military tattoo from 1968 has been released.
The vote and the juries, both professional and public, also came from the Château. During the contest, the best song was chosen by a jury, no telephone vote at the time. Each participating country had two judging members, one aged 16 to 25 and one aged 26 to 55, awarding between one and five points for each song. Of course, they were not allowed to vote for their own candidacy.
The public vote came after the interval act, with members of the public jury appearing onscreen, each holding a card with a number from one to five, much like a judge would on Strictly Come Dancing.
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Broadcast in 28 countries, the Edinburgh production cost the BBC the colossal sum of £81,000 to stage.
As Hughes recalled in Eurovision historian Gordon Roxburgh’s book, Songs For Europe: The United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest, Volume Two – The 1970s, “I’m sure the venue had already been decided before I got involved, although I think it was my idea to have the jury at Edinburgh Castle, which I think would be suitably different. They were always going to be in a different venue because we we just didn’t have room in the Usher room.
“I was instrumental in choosing Moira Shearer as presenter; we had a short list and I pushed for it. I remember going to see her, and she was a little reluctant at first, because she had never done anything like this before, but she was a lovely woman who brought elegance and class, and she spoke quite French.
“I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was so wonderful to be in Scotland. It was the only time I had spent a lot of time there, and I really enjoyed it. I was surrounded musicians, a great team, people from other countries who remained good friends and contacts, and it was great to be part of such an event.
Rehearsals for the competition began on Wednesday, March 22, with each country entitled to an initial 50-minute rehearsal with the 44-piece orchestra before the big night.
Manchester-born musical theater star Lyn Paul was a member of The New Seekers at the time and she remembers the frenzy of fans who met the band when it came time for them to hit the Usher Lobby from the Caledonian Hotel, where they had been. confined.
The actress, who has since appeared in Edinburgh several times on hit shows like Blood Brothers and Footloose, recalled: “The Eurovision Song Contest was huge in the 70s. One artist sang all 12 songs from which the entry of the year was chosen, so we were on the Cliff Richard Show for 13 consecutive weeks. The first week in the studio, we were relatively unknown, but we’ve built a huge fanbase through this show.
“Staying at the Caledonian Hotel before the competition was amazing. Thousands of fans arrived to wish us luck and we made the big mistake of walking up to shake hands with some of them. The next thing I knew we were on the floor and people were trying to pick us up. It was horrible but quite exciting. They brought us back inside but the fans broke down the Caledonian’s swinging doors trying to reach us. In the end, they had to take us through the hotel kitchens.
With all points on the scoreboard, the order of finish for the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest was Luxembourg, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Portugal , Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Monaco, Malta, Belgium.
If only the UK could score so well these days.