The Eurovision Song Contest, a blend of the EU and the most embarrassing talent show you have ever watched, is difficult to explain to anyone who has never seen it, and the UK’s continuing relationship with this absurd event will make no sense whatsoever to anyone who has never heard veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan on the topic.
Suffice to say, the selection of Engelbert Humperdinck (75) as Britain’s champion on this year’s competition is a master stroke.
Engelbert Humperdinck. There is a name to conjure with. With his square jaw, handsome face, luscious lips and legendary sideburns, the big lunged, smooth-toned crooner famously dented the Beatles image of invincibility when his melodramatic cover of forties weepie Release Me enraptured the nation. Dressed in a tuxedo and big bow tie, his only concession to youth culture being an almost absurdly thick head of dark hair, Humperdinck held the number one slot for six weeks in 1967, keeping the double A-side single Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields at bay, and leading to questions in the press about whether the Beatles were finished…
…He has, it must be said, the most absurd name in pop. His given name of Arnold Dorsey doesn’t exactly reek of glamour, but it is hard to imagine the thought process that led Dorsey and manager Gordon Mills to decide appropriating the peculiar, overlong, difficult-to-spell moniker of an obscure, dead German composer was the route to fame and fortune. The only argument in its favour is that it worked.
…So what is this blue rinse superstar doing representing Britain at the Eurovision Song Contest? Clearly, the notion that our thriving national pop culture should be embodied by a 75-year-old cabaret crooner is someone’s idea of an ironic joke. For decades, Britain’s participation in this frankly ridiculous contest has been half hearted at best, but this suggests either desperation or surrender. Recent attempts by the BBC to reclaim Britain’s euro glory have ended in further humiliation. We’ve had X Factor style singing competitions, drafted in Andrew Lloyd Webber as composer and given reformed boy band Blue a shot at the title, but still been unable to impress the Czechs and Estonians. While our pop stars continue to conquer the world (there are five British artists in the US hit parade this week, Adele, Coldplay, Jessie J, The Wanted and One Direction), the aura of artistic tastelessness and commercial failure have made the Eurovision a poisoned chalice.
But the Hump is beyond harm. He is a venerable old legend who can be counted on to go out there and do what he always does: deliver a big, cheesy ballad in a rousing fashion, and do it with commitment, sincerity and a straight face. Humperdinck’s appointment is an acknowledgement of the camp values that underpin this whole absurd competition, and the failure of the BBC to concoct a credible response. The thinking seems to be, if we can’t beat ‘em, we might as well have some fun at their expense.
I hope Humperdinck surprises everybody. He will, at least, have a name people across Europe recognise, even if they can’t pronounce it.