TVEYE

EL-TEL'S EURO VISION
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Far from fostering peace, love and understanding, the Eurovision Song Contest is fuel to the Eurosceptic fire, according to its long-time presenter Terry Wogan. "It plays right into Sir James Goldsmith's hands. If only it had been held the week before the election, the Referendum Party would have got in. The British public, incensed beyond belief by anti-British voting, would have swarmed to Sir James's side," he deadpans. "

It is just this sort of mocking approach that has always characterised Wogan's hosting of the contest. Over the years, it has turned into unmissably camp viewing. "The Europeans have always taken it with deadly seriousness," he asserts. "It is to Britain's eternal credit that the public here have regarded it as grandiose silliness from the beginning."

This mischievous view has landed Wogan in hot water with the Eurovision- ophiles, a zealous bunch who don't hesitate to reach for the green ink if they feel their beloved contest has been maligned. I met the President of the Norwegian branch of the Eurovision Fan Club last year in Oslo, and he was indignant about Wogan's irreverent attitude.

"They write me letters saying, `Do you think it's funny to send up this great and grand occasion?'," Wogan reveals. "There are not an awful lot of good-looking people in the Eurovision fan clubs. You feel the need to shout things out as they go by, like `Get a life'. I hope I've convinced the British public into a netherworld where we can look at the contest in the correct spirit, which is jeering.

"Europeans say to me, `If you don't like it, why do you come every year to laugh at it?' The answer is that it's kitsch of a high order, which is why you get huge clubs of people behaving in a camp way. People switch on just for the scoring - it got 15 million viewers last year. I love it with a deep and abiding love. It's such an insane idea."

Even though he has been commentating on it since 1971 - "300 years" in his estimation - the eccentricities of Eurovision never cease to delight the 58-year-old Wogan. "Some Scandinavian voters, in a desperate attempt to be PC, always vote for Bosnia. But you don't vote for people because they're plucky. Last year, they revealed Eurovision thinking at its very finest. They excluded Germany from the final, instantly losing 50 million viewers. But they still turned to the Germans and said, `Can we have all your Deutschmarks to run this concatenation?"'

The key to all Wogan's broadcasting is that he mocks himself as much as his subject-matter. As personable and fluent an interviewee as he is an interviewer, he trades in self-effacement. "The way I do everything is in a spirit of self-deprecation," he affirms. "It's an appreciation of my own shortcomings. You look for things to send up, but the first thing you send up is yourself. As Willie John McBride said on a British Lions rugby tour, you get your retaliation in first. Before others have a chance to cut you off at the knees, you cut your own knees off. It's important to be tongue-in-cheek. It's too easy to get pompous.

"When I started broadcasting, just after the Peninsula Wars," he carries on, "a number of people were reading out letters in praise of themselves. I felt that was the wrong tone. Friends don't communicate in that way. I wanted to establish an atmosphere of mutual recrimination. You mustn't ever show that you care."

Sipping coffee in a 14th-floor restaurant hard by Broadcasting House in central London, Wogan shows the same kind of sensible perspective about his own TV career, claiming that Auntie's Bloomers, the bloopers programme he presents for BBC1, could be fronted by a blindfolded aardvark. He does not even bear grudges towards the BBC executives who decided to replace his chat show with the ill-fated Spanish village soap Eldorado - without bothering to tell him. "It was time to kill me after five years in utopia," he reflects with admirable equanimity. "They got fed up with looking at me. But they missed the point, which was repetition. The BBC would kill now for the kind of figures we got at 7pm on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday."

Perhaps the BBC realises this, because it is bringing back selected highlights from the chat-show, to be introduced by Wogan himself. "I'm not going to do it in a spirit of reverence. I'm going to say, `This was the wrong person to have', or `This person was drunk or under the influence of drugs'."

But despite his hugely successful return to the Radio 2 breakfast slot, his television career is by no means confined to trawls through the archives. Just last year, he made the documentary series Wogan's Ireland for BBC1. "Various people are coming up with suggestions, like, `Why don't you go back to Ireland - permanently?' In the next few years, I shall be rediscovered, then rejected, then rediscovered again in my seventies and rejected again in my eighties. That's what my future holds. Either that, or in a couple more years, the bosses at Radio 2 will say, `Clear off - we've got this exciting new morning show based around a village in Spain'."

The Eurovision Song Contest is at 8pm tonight on BBC1 and Radio 2

Comments