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7 May 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 2:59am

Franco’s win at Eurovision…

How La La La pipped Congratulations to first place at the 1968 Eurovision Song Con

By Jonathan Rice

Forty years on, we are being asked to believe that General Franco ordered his top television executives to offer bribes to all and sundry to make sure that Spain’s entry won that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, and thus deprive Congratulations and Cliff Richard of the title that should have been his. Let us leave aside the fact that this information has been released to promote a Spanish TV documentary, and see what other evidence there might be for such skulduggery at Eurovision.

Actually, there is none. The Spanish song was a bouncy little number, adventurously titled La La La, performed with gusto by a 20 year old miniskirted girl, professionally known as Massiel. There have been many worse songs that have won the competition, and many worse singers. The song was one of the more fancied, although Cliff was the odds-on favourite. It is true that Spanish television featured Massiel very heavily after her win, and treated the victory as a triumph of Spanish culture over the rest of Europe, but then almost every winner of the contest has gone on to local stardom, and a few, like Abba and Celine Dion, to world domination. Did we ignore Brotherhood Of Man after their triumph with Save Your Kisses For Me? If only we had.

The voting system in 1968 was theoretically open to bribery and corruption. Each participating country had a ten person jury who each awarded one point to their favourite song. There were seventeen entries that year, so there were 150 people to bribe (Spain couldn’t vote for itself and the UK jury was presumably incorruptible), which seems an awful lot of trouble for a pretty tacky prize. The voting soon developed into a three horse race between Spain, UK and France, whose entry La Source was sung by the 1962 winner Isabelle Aubret. After six juries had voted, the scores were France 17 points, UK 10 points and Spain 7. The vote rigging was not working.

France, the tenth jury to vote, went against all historical prejudice and gave UK four votes, but also gave Spain four votes. Spain gave no votes to UK, and UK gave no votes to Spain. The key vote was the last but one jury, West Germany. They gave Spain 6 votes and UK only two, to give Spain the lead for the first time. And why? Were Franco’s links with Germany still that strong? Well, the most likely reason is that Massiel had performed the song on German television the week before, and it would have been one of the few songs that the West German jury were familiar with. What’s more. UK had won in 1967, with “Puppet On A String” and there may well have been a feeling that they should not win again. The final jury, from Yugoslavia, ignored both Spain and UK entirely and awarded six votes to Ireland’s entry, two to Italy and three to Switzerland. When it was pointed out that this made eleven votes from ten people (Communist states were never too familiar with democratic voting processes), they took one away from Switzerland. But it made no difference. Spain had won.

If you want Eurovision voting scandals, you’d do better to look at the 1969 competition, held in Madrid, which produced a four way tie, with a truly awful Spanish entry among the winners. Or 1994, when Ireland desperately tried not to win for a third time in a row, but still did. Or the 1964 competition, in which Norway changed their vote to allow Denmark to win. But not 1968. It may have been the ‘wrong’ result, but it was not a fix.

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Jonathan Rice is co-author of Complete Eurovision Song Contest Companion

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