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In conversation with Teddy Johnson (UK 1959)

14 September 2017 at 17:38 CEST
Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson represented the United Kingdom in 1959 Joop van Bilsen / Anefo (Nationaal Archief)
The United Kingdom has finished second in the Eurovision Song Contest a record 15 times since they started participating in 1957. Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson became the first UK act to finish second back in 1959 with the song 'Sing Little Birdie'. We caught up with Teddy to learn more about those early days of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Teddy Johnson began performing at an early age and formed his own band when he was 15 years old, becoming a professional at the age of 18. "I was working as an office boy, earning about one pound and five schillings per week, which was the going rate for an office boy in those days," he said. Initially starting out as an entertainer on cruise ships, he later took to theatre stages to perform as a solo act. Teddy also tried his hand at stand up comedy before focusing on music. "I performed all over the country with a variety show and became known as a recording artist, drummer and singer."

Pearl and Teddy - the birth of a double act

Both Pearl and Teddy were both sucessful singers before they met in 1950. "I was hired by the BBC to be a vocalist and presenter on a programme called Black Magic. Pearl was a singer on the show and it was suggested that we performed a duet together. I didn't want to do it, I was a solo singer, I didn't do duets," he said laughing. "I was offered a variety tour after Black Magic. I told Pearl that I'd be away for the summer and that I wouldn't see her for a while. She replied saying that she would come with me on the tour. At the time she was in a band called The Keynotes, that's how we started." Not long after the pair began dating and were married in 1955.

Sing Little Birdie - Eurovision 1959

Pearl and Teddy's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest happened almost by chance. "I had never heard of Eurovision to be honest. When our agent phoned and asked if we would like to do it, I asked what it was!" The pair agreed to meet with the BBC and enter the national selection. "We went to the offices at Shepherd's Bush in London where we selected the songs. In hindsight I was suprised they allowed a duo as there were no groups. There was one song that nobody wanted, it was called Sing Little Birdie and as soon as it played, Pearl and I looked at each other and agreed to do it. The rest is history, we are still singing the damn song!"

Pearl and Teddy were chosen to represent the UK and flew off to Cannes for the 1959 Eurovision Song Contest with an open mind. "We didn't go with any expectancy at all really, we just wanted to do a good job". 

"We didn't stay to listen to the votes actually, we sat smoking, which is what people did in those days. We were happy to be told the results rather than hear them coming in. At one point the French floor manager came running up to us shouting "Vous gagnez." My French was good enough to know that he was telling us we were winning at that point. We finished second in the end after the Italian jury gave the Dutch their votes but nothing to us. I still love singing the song, it has been a very good friend to us over the years." The following year Teddy's brother, Bryan, represented the UK. "He finished second too," Teddy said with a smile. 

Life after Eurovision

Pearl and Teddy continued as a double act on the variety circuit until the 1980s. In 1987 they performed in the musical Follies in London's West End before retiring in 1990. In 2015 the pair celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and both live together in London. Unfortunately Pearl was unable to be interviewed due to ill health but Teddy, who is 97, still has fond memories of the Eurovision Song Contest. "After the Eurovision Song Contest Pearl and I had a whole season of summer shows and we never had an empty seat. Eurovision really helped to cement our career in the industry."

The Eurovision Song Contest is unrecognisable now when compared to those early days. Do Teddy and Pearl still watch the show? "We watched it a few years ago, it was huge and vast. It was very different, they were using groups, which wasn't allowed in our days. To be honest, the reason why we didn't see it very often was because we were working. I see Australia is in it now, that's amazing."

Does Teddy have any advice for any aspiring performers? "Be yourself and use common sense. I never aspired to be anything beyond what I thought I could do. It's hard to advise people, it's depends on what you are selling really, what you aspire to and the type of performer you want to be."

Thank you to Teddy Johnson for taking the time to speak to and to Alan Ramshaw for arranging this interview.