A History of the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest25 July 2022 at 14:28 CEST
The BBC has a rich history of Eurovision participation, and has stepped in to host the Contest numerous times when the previous years’ winning broadcaster could not.
Along with a wealth of historic highs and agonisingly near-misses, the United Kingdom has some of the most passionate and dedicated fans on the planet.
|1967||Sandie Shaw - Puppet On A String|
|1969||Lulu - Boom Bang-A-Bang|
|1976||Brotherhood of Man - Save Your Kisses For Me|
|1981||Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up|
|1997||Katrina and the Waves - Love Shine A Light|
‘It’s Coming Home’…?
The 2023 event will be the 9th time the Contest has taken place in ‘Blighty’. To date, the UK has won the Eurovision Song Contest on 5 occasions and hosted the event on 8 previous occasions: 1960, 1963, 1968 and 1977 in London, 1972 in Edinburgh, 1974 in Brighton, 1982 in Harrogate, and 1998 in Birmingham.
On top of this, the Contest stalwarts hold the record for finishing second, taking the runner-up spot an impressive (and perhaps frustrating) 16 times.
United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1950s
Did not enter
Did not enter
Did not enter
Did not enter
Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson
Sing, Little Birdie
The United Kingdom made its debut in the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1957; the BBC would have taken part in the first Contest a year earlier, but were busy preparing for their own domestic songwriting competition, and so sent their apologies.
The first act to represent the UK was Patricia Bredin and she wasn’t messing about: her track All clocked in at 1 minute and 52 seconds, the shortest Eurovision song for 58 years, until Finland’s Aina Mun Pitää shaved it down to 1:27 in 2015.
The UK was widely expected to host the 1958 Contest (before the tradition of the previous winning country hosting was fully established) but ended up sitting it out, returning for the following edition.
It was in 1959 in Cannes, France, when husband and wife duo Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson entered with Sing, Little Birdie that the BBC tasted a degree of success with the first of their 16 second place finishes - a record tally of silver medals added to by Sam Ryder in Turin earlier this year.
United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1960s
Looking High, High, High
Are You Sure?
Say Wonderful Things
I Love the Little Things
A Man Without Love
Puppet on a String
United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1960s
1960 - Royal Festival Hall, London
1963 - BBC Television Centre, London
1968 - Royal Albert Hall, London
The Netherlands' Teddy Scholten won with Een Beetje in 1959, but the broadcaster declined to host so soon after the 1958 event in Hilversum. This prompted the BBC to grab the chance of hosting for the first time, and so the 1960 Eurovision Song Contest took place in the Royal Festival Hall in the heart of swingin’ London.
The ‘60s saw the romance between Eurovision and UK audiences blossom into a full blown love affair, as the BBC perfected their strategy of picking already popular light-entertainment stars of the day to compete.
Pop duo The Allisons, Bond theme singer Matt Monro, rock pioneer and movie star Cliff Richard, and TV legend Kathy Kirby, all represented the United Kingdom, and all finished in second place.
In 1967, the BBC finally struck gold with their first Eurovision winner: Sandie Shaw performing Puppet On A String. The barefoot chanteuse had already notched up two number one singles, and her Eurovision success would provide a third global smash hit.
Sandie notoriously hated this song ‘from the very first oompah to the final bang on the big bass drum’ as she recalled, in her autobiography. So it was a good job that it didn’t take long for the UK to produce a second champion.
Performing Boom Bang-a-Bang, Lulu won the 1969 Contest in a four-way tie with France, Spain and the Netherlands; a situation which prompted Finland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden to withdraw from the next Contest in protest.
United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1970s
Knock, Knock Who's There?
Jack in the Box
The New Seekers
Beg, Steal or Borrow
Power to All Our Friends
Long Live Love
Let Me Be the One
Brotherhood of Man
Save Your Kisses for Me
Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran
The Bad Old Days
United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1970s
1972 - Usher Hall, Edinburgh
1974 - Brighton Dome, Brighton Dome
1977 - Wembley Conference Centre, London
The 1970s saw the United Kingdom’s dominance of the Contest continue as the BBC produced another winner with Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me - still the biggest selling Eurovision single of all time.
On top of that win, during the ‘70s, the UK finished in the Top 5 at every Contest until they recorded their worst result (up until that point) in 1978 when Co-Co placed 11th with The Bad Old Days. The “poor” result caused something or a stir in the British press.
But the disappointment was to be short lived as Eurovision entered the 1980s, and Co-Co band member Cheryl Baker joined a new group which would go on to become one of the most successful Eurovision bands of all time.
United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1980s
Love Enough for Two
Making Your Mind Up
One Step Further
I'm Never Giving Up
Belle and the Devotions
Runner in the Night
Only the Light
Why Do I Always Get It Wrong
United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1980s
1982 - Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate
In 1981 the pop quartet Bucks Fizz won the Contest for the UK for a 4th time with Making Your Mind Up. The band would go on to achieve hits across the globe including The Land Of Make Believe and My Camera Never Lies - truly the Måneskin of their day.
The ‘80s ended with two near misses for the United Kingdom as Scott Fitzergerald and Live Report finished second to both a young Céline Dion and the first Yugoslavian victory, respectively.
United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1990s
Give a Little Love Back to the World
A Message to Your Heart
One Step Out of Time
Better the Devil You Know
We Will Be Free (Lonely Symphony)
Love City Groove
Love City Groove
Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit
Katrina and the Waves
Love Shine a Light
Where Are You?
Say It Again
United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1990s
1998 - National Indoor Arena, Birmingham
After another two silver medals for Michael Ball and Sonia in ‘92 and ‘93, the 1990s saw a run of disappointing (for the era) results for the United Kingdom, punctuated by Gina G’s breakout hit Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit.
The dance floor ditty stomped across various Top 40 charts in Europe and landed in the US Billboard Hot 100 - a rarity for a Eurovision entry, and one that placed 8th at that.
That iconic outfit Gina wore in Oslo was custom made by Paco Rabanne for Cher, who was living in Wapping, London, at the time. For whatever reason, the Believe-hitmaker cast aside the glittering garment one afternoon at the Warner Bros offices, where later on Ms G stumbled across it hanging up just days before the contest. She stuffed it into her handbag and the rest is history.
It wouldn’t be until the following year, 1997, that the United Kingdom would win the Eurovision Song Contest for a 5th and (so far) final time.
Love Shine A Light was originally written as a track for the Samaritans organisation, but several friends and colleagues convinced Katrina Leskanich to enter it into that years’ Song For Europe where it romped to victory, 11,138 votes ahead it’s nearest competition: Yodel In The Canyon Of Love by Do-Re Me feat Kerri.
Victory meant the United Kingdom would be expected to host in 1998, and so they did - in Birmingham!
The Contest in the Midlands became notable for a number of reasons: televoting determined the winner for the first time; it was the final Eurovision where acts were expected to perform in their native language; and it became the last show to feature a live orchestra.
Imaani was the UK’s fifteenth runner-up, narrowly missing out on a home-turf victory when Where Are You? landed second place as the final jury dished out their scores.
But, of course, Birmingham produced an iconic winner regardless: Israeli superstar Dana International won by a margin of 6 points with her track Diva - dressed in feathers by Jean Paul Gaultier and becoming the first openly trans winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.
United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 21st Century
Don't Play That Song Again
No Dream Impossible
Hold On to Our Love
Touch My Fire
Flying the Flag (For You)
It's My Time
That Sounds Good to Me
Love Will Set You Free
Believe in Me
Children of the Universe
Still in Love with You
Joe and Jake
You're Not Alone
Never Give Up on You
Bigger than Us
My Last Breath
United Kingdom Host Cities in the 2020s
2023 - TBD
As the Contest entered the 21st Century, the United Kingdom’s love of Eurovision continued to boom, even if the points on the scoreboard rarely matched the nation’s enthusiasm.
The first victim of the UK’s very own Eurovision ‘millennium bug’ was chart act Nicki French. She set off to Stockholm with the ominously titled Don’t Play That Song Again… and needless to say it wasn’t played again over the end credits.
Jessica Garlick achieved a third place finish in Tallinn in 2002 with Come Back, but hopes of another run of British success were well and truly dashed in Riga the following year as duo Jemini recorded the United Kingdom’s first ever nil points.
Over the next 20 years they’d be followed by 4 other acts finishing at the foot of the scoreboard: Andy Abraham, Josh Dubovie, Michael Rice and James Newman.
But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for UK fans.
Boyband Blue finished 5th in the televote (and 11th overall) in 2011, while Jade Ewen (with a little help from Andrew Lloyd Webber) finished 5th in 2009 before joining Amelle and Heidi in the final iteration of the Sugababes.
And of course, finally, in 2022, Sam Ryder fell just short of winning in Turin, but as runner-up with SPACE MAN, the TikTok sensation brought the United Kingdom back to the top end of the Eurovision Song Contest scoreboard.
Now, with the opportunity to host a 9th Concours Eurovision de la Chanson, UK fans will be hoping that this is the start of another successful era, and perhaps one that will eventually result in a first win for the United Kingdom in nearly 25 years.