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Wogan: "Keep flames of friendship and song burning"

06 May 2009 at 20:29 CEST

In his speech, titled "My long and happy journey with the Eurovision Song Contest", he said: "I'm a friend of this Contest, possibly its oldest friend. How do friends behave to each other?  hey don't indulge in idle flattery. If a friend does something silly, you tellhim so, and you laugh at him, just as he would at you," he told delegates at the EBU's annual Eurovision TV Summit a week before the 54th Eurovision Song Contest. "Just describe what you see and if you find it silly, say so!"

"I lost weight that evening"

Wogan also shared some of his Eurovision Song Contest memories with the summit's audience: "I had presented the song contest from Birmingham, UK the year Dana International won (1998), and I'm bound to say that I did laugh heartily, remembering how Dana had decided to change her dress when it was announced that she/he was the winner. Leaving me standing speechless in front of one hundred million viewers, while she changed...That was tough, particularly as I had not only presented the show, but after every announcement, had to jump off the stage and run round the back to do the commentary.  I lost weight that evening."

Wogan said that Eastern countries do so well in the Contest because they stage their best artists. Other countries, especially the UK, do not want to take the risk of presenting their most famous singers, and that is why they don't receive the best ranking according to the former commentator.

He exorted that all EU commentators should have the freedom to express their comments without being too concerned about national sensitivities. "Just describe what you see and if you find it silly, say so!" The Eurovision Song Contest is primarily a fun show and that is what millions of EU audiences come back to watch year after year.

Dr Death and the Tooth Fairy

Wogan's witty but often critical Song Contest commentaries have been a key to the show's ratings success in Britain. But his description of the two presenters of the 2001 Contest in Copenhagen, for example - he called them "Dr Death and the Tooth Fairy" - did not go down well in Denmark.

"Greatest television event"

Today, Wogan (photo: BBC) described the Eurovision Song Contest as "the world's greatest international television event.  ... exciting, camp, foolish spectacular, fun .... the most brilliantly produced three and a half hours of live television ever seen."

For the first time since the early 1970s, Wogan will not be in the BBC commentary box for the Song Contest when this year's event takes place in Moscow next week. He will be replaced by Graham Norton, host of the recently created Eurovision Dance Contest.

Bjørn Erichsen, Director of Eurovision TV at the EBU - the Geneva-based association of Europe's public service broadcasters - presented Wogan with a Swiss cuckoo clock as a token of appreciation. Wogan said he now regretted that he would not be able to take the clock into the commentary box this year. He urged the delegates in Lucerne to "keep the flames of friendship and song burning", and never to forget what the Contest was really about: "Nations coming together in a friendly musical competition."

You can download Terry Wogan's full speech on the EBU website.